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Processing Notes: Digital Files From the Bruce Conner Papers

The following post includes processing notes from our summer 2015 intern Nissa Nack, a graduate student in the Master of Library and Information Science program at San Jose State University’s iSchool. Nissa successfully processed over 4.5 GB of data from the Bruce Conner papers and prepared the files for researcher access. 

The digital files from the Bruce Conner papers consists of seven 700-MB CD-Rs (disks) containing images of news clippings, art show announcements, reviews and other memorabilia pertaining to the life and works of visual artist and filmmaker Bruce Conner.  The digital files were originally created and then stored on the CD-Rs using an Apple (Mac) computer, type and age unknown.  The total extent of the collection is measured at 4,517 MB.

Processing in Forensic Toolkit (FTK)

To begin processing this digital collection, a disk image of each CD was created and then imported into the Forensics Toolkit software (FTK) for file review and analysis.  [Note: The Bancroft Library creates disk images of most computer media in the collections for long-term preservation.]

Unexpectedly, FTK displayed the contents of each disk in four separate file systems; HFS, HFS+, Joliet, and ISO 9660, with each file system containing an identical set of viewable files.  Two of the systems, HFS and HFS+, also displayed discrete, unrenderable system files. We believe that the display of data in four separate systems may be due to the original files having been created on a Mac and then saved to a disk that could be read by both Apple and Windows machines.  HFS and HFS+ are Apple file systems, with HFS+ being the successor to HFS.  ISO 9660 was developed as a standard system to allow files on optical media to be read by either a Mac or a PC.  Joliet is an extension of ISO 9660 that allows use of longer file names as well as Unicode characters.

With the presentation of a complete set of files duplicated under each file system, the question arose as to which set of files should be processed and ultimately used to provide access to the collection.  Based on the structure of the disk file tree as displayed by FTK and evidence that a Mac had been used for file creation, it was initially decided to process files within the HFS+ system folders.

Processing of the files included a review and count of individual file types, review and description of file contents, and a search of the files for Personally Identifiable Information (PII).  Renderable files identified during processing included Photoshop (.PSD), Microsoft Word (.DOC), .MP3, .TIFF, .JPEG, and .PICT.  System files included DS_Store, rsrc, attr, and 8fs.

PII screening was conducted via pattern search for phone numbers, social security numbers, IP addresses, and selected keywords.  FTK was able to identify a number of telephone numbers in this search; however, it also flagged groups of numbers within the system files as being potential PII, resulting in a substantial number of false hits.

After screening, the characteristics of the four file systems were again reviewed, and it was decided to use the Joliet file for export. Although the HFS+ file system was probably used to create and store the original files, it proved difficult to cleanly export this set of files from FTK. FTK “unpacked” the image files and displayed unrenderable resource, attribute and system files as discrete items.  For example:  for every .PSD file, a corresponding rsrc file could be found.  The .PSD files can be opened, but the rsrc files cannot.  The files were not “repacked” during export, and it is unknown as to how this might impact the images when transferred to another platform. The Joliet file system allowed us to export the images without separating any system-specific supporting files.

HFS+ file system display showing separated files
HFS+ file system display showing separated files

Issues with the length of file and path names were particularly felt during transfer of exported files to the Library network drive and, in some cases, after the succeeding step, file normalization.

File Normalization

After successful export, we began the task of file normalization whereby a copy of the master (original) files were used to produce access, and preservation surrogates in appropriate formats.  Preservation files would ideally be in a non-compressed format that resists deterioration and/or obsolescence.  Access surrogates are produced in formats that are easily accessible across a variety of platforms. .TIFF, .JPEG, .PICT, and .PSD files were normalized to the .TIFF format for preservation and the .JPEG format for access. Word documents were saved in the .PDF format for preservation and access, and .MP3 recordings were saved to .WAV format for preservation and a second .MP3 copy created for access.

Normalization Issues

Photoshop

Most Photoshop files converted to .JPEG and .TIFF format without incident.  However, seven files could make the transfer to .TIFF but not to .JPEG.  The affected files were all bitmap images of typewritten translations of reviews of Bruce Conner’s work.  The original reviews appear to have been written for Spanish language newspapers.

To solve the issue, the bitmap images were converted to grayscale mode and from that point could be used to produce a .JPEG surrogate.  The conversion to grayscale should not adversely impact file as the original image was of a black and white typewritten document, not of a color imbued object.

PICT

The .PICT files in this collection appeared in FTK and exported with a double extension (.pct.mac), and couldn’t be opened by either Mac or PC machines.  Adobe Bridge was used to locate and select the files and then, using the “Batch rename” feature under the Tools menu, to create a duplicate file without the .mac in the file name.

The renamed .PCT files were retained as the master copies, and files with a duplicate extension were discarded.

Adobe Bridge was then used to create .TIFF and .JPEG images for the Preservation and Access files as in the case of .PSD files.

MP3 and WAV

We used the open-source Audacity software to save .MP3 files in the .WAV format, and to create an additional .MP3 surrogate. Unfortunately the Audacity software appeared to be able to process only one file type at a time.  In other words, each original .MP3 file had to be individually located and exported as a .WAV file, which was then used to create the access .MP3 file.  Because there were only six .MP3 files in this collection, the time to create the access and preservation files was less than an hour.  However, if in the future a larger number of .MP3s need to be processed, an alternate method or workaround will need to be found.

File name and path length

The creator of this collection used long, descriptive file names with no real apparent overall naming scheme.  This sometimes created a problem when transferring files, as the resulting path names of some files would exceed the allowable character limits and not allow the file to transfer.  The “fix” was to eliminate words/characters while retaining as much information as possible from the original file name until a transfer could occur.

Processing Time

Processing time for this project, including time to create the processing plan and finding aid, was approximately 16 working days.  However, a significant portion of the time, approximately ¼ to 1/3, was spent learning the processes and dealing with technological issues (such as file renaming or determining which file system to use).

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