Preservation week: 5 questions with Charlotte Thai

April 29, 2016
Richenda Brim
Charlotte Thai, Project Archivist, Special Collections

In our final blog post for Preservation Week we’re talking with Charlotte Thai, Project Archivist in Special Collections on the Cabrinety-NIST Project. Digital preservation, a critical concern for modern archives, is supported by the Digital Library Systems and Services department and Special Collections. From born-digital access and preservation to digital reformatting across formats, it takes a small, technically-savvy village to care for our growing digital collections.

For more information about Preservation Week including resources, quick tips, and free webinars visit the American Library Association’s Preservation Week site.


Tell us about your work, Charlotte.

This project is a grant-funded cross-country collaboration between Stanford and NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) to perform large-scale digital preservation of the software series in the Stephen M. Cabrinety Collection in the History of Microcomputing, ca. 1975-1995. The software comes in formats that include computer cassettes, video game cartridges, 3-5, 5.25-, and 8-inch floppy disks, and optical media.

The primary goal is to perform bit-level data capture from the obsolete storage media and migrate both the forensic disk images and their associated SHA-1 checksums into the National Software Reference Library. These checksums are being added to Reference Data Sets that NIST provides to law enforcement personnel – basically a set of ‘benign’ checksums related to commercial software that can be used to quickly filter out irrelevant files when investigating computers seized during criminal investigations. The data is also being migrated into the Stanford Digital Repository for long-term preservation. In addition to creating disk images, the physical materials that make up each software package are also being photographed – so box covers on all sides, the software media, manuals, and ephemera. My responsibilities during this project have been wide ranging and include everything from managing the logistics of shipping collection materials between Stanford and NIST, creating registration records and descriptive metadata, taking photographs, creating forensic disk images, working with copyright holders, and performing day-to-day processing.

What is your favorite book/item to come across your bench in the past year?

There are a huge number of computer and video games in the Cabrinety collection and many of their boxes are in pristine or near-pristine condition. I occasionally photograph and tweet pictures of ones that showcase particularly beautiful art or design. Easily the most popular picture I posted in the last year was for the computer game Dune. It is in great condition, showcases some lovely coloring, and has a foldout cover that opens to reveal the gaping maw of a spice worm.

What parts of the library do you wish you knew more about?

I am interested in learning more about how Stanford manages large-volume storage for both physical and digital collection materials, and how the libraries plan to scale this upward. I’ve visited SAL3 and from what I understand even they are running out of space! I’d also like to see more of the backend when it comes to the digital preservation work. Currently I just hand a bunch of data off to the library engineers in Digital Library Systems & Services and then as far as I am concerned ‘magic’ happens. But I do wonder about the physical servers and the backups that are apparently stored at Iron Mountain – what do they look like? Who’s running the place? And have they seen the show Mr. Robot?

Do you have a favorite tool/operation/piece of equipment?

My favorite piece of equipment is the Retrode. I believe it is no longer being manufactured – but it is a useful little USB adapter that can read Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis cartridges. There are even slots for plugging in the original controllers. One of the computer scientists at NIST also wrote up a detailed post about how to use the Retrode to capture forensically viable ROM images (basically the video game cartridge version of a disk image).

What's something about your job we'd be surprised to learn?

A surprisingly large number of Sega Genesis games in the Cabrinety collection contain a Fruit Roll-up snack inside as a promotional item. The Sega Genesis came out in 1988 so these snacks are almost 30 years old!