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Debugging and Debugging at the Burke Library

July 26, 2014

In two days at the Burke, I did two different kinds of debugging.

And some helping to develop and expand their social media strategy, but I couldn’t shoehorn that into the title of this post.

On Thursday, I finished working on saving a professor’s files from a bunch of floppy disks, as part of archiving a professor’s papers. Disks with only one or two files, totaling under 1 MB, were a bit mind-boggling, now that several times that amount of data can fit on an even smaller thumb drive.

Also worth thinking about: in order to read the disks, I hooked an external disk drive to my computer, because computers being made now do not have floppy disk drives. Some don’t have CD drives either. It’s worth thinking about at the institutional level, and also on the personal level. What do you have backed up from old hard drives? Where have you stored it? CD? Floppy? ZIP drive? The cloud? (Speaking of the cloud– think about that for a moment: Who created the Cloud? Who owns the access to what’s there? Where is it, anyway?)

For the most part, I was able to copy the files without incident. There were a few errors. “This disk needs to be formatted. Would you like to format it?” No, I would not, because I definitely don’t want to risk losing the files that might be there! Or one file would encounter some kind of nebulous error while the others copied.  I set those aside.

In a small handful of cases, I was able to use what I’d learned in my Digital Curation class last semester. When a file had a name like “Sermon.95” or “Essay.996,” I remembered what I had learned in the class about incorrect file extensions becoming problematic for reading documents. The documents I was copying successfully had extensions like .doc and .ppt. So, something was clearly up!

The first thing I did was make copies of the files, so that I wouldn’t run the risk that my experiment would harm the original. And then I renamed the files, so that “Sermon.95” became “Sermon-95.doc.” And I tried to open the file, and there it was, the paragraphs of a sermon! Problem solved! I was able to rescue six or seven files that way, and was extremely proud of myself. Being able to do something clever like that was exactly the reason I took the Digital Curation class. Renaming the files, or, sometimes, trying to open them in a text editor to look at the metadata, was literally all it took! Still don’t know what to do about one or two of the files that wouldn’t copy from the disks at all, but at least I was able to save a few more!

The other kind of debugging I did this week was… stickier.

“It’s integrated pest management,” said Brigette. “We’re going to check the traps!”

I’m sure the look on my face was priceless.

“How much are we likely to… catch?” I couldn’t help asking. “And is it likely to be furry?”

The idea of dealing with dead rodents caught in sticky traps had me feeling squeamish.

I was assured, however, that it was likely to be insects, which was (marginally) less vile.

And off we went. There were three of us, who took turns with the tasks of checking the traps, getting new glue traps ready, and taking notes on their log.

Although I felt a few qualms when it was my turn to check for bugs, I’m glad to report that they were only minor insects.  So, on balance, an interesting learning experience about preservation, library strategy and maintenance, and a good tour of the Burke stacks. A good reminder that library and archives work isn’t all the glamor of finding aids and circulating books.



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