Jammin’ at the Archives

Guest blogger: MC.

Archives preserve and make available a variety of resources in a variety of mediums. People tend to associate archives with “old stuff.” Though “old stuff” is inadequate it does refer to the non-current nature of a majority of our records. So we do have ‘old stuff,’ but archives collect specific types of ‘old stuff.’ Archival materials are unique, mostly unpublished materials that documentevents and time periods. For many people such a definition brings up images of crumbling handwritten letters, faded photographs, and old home movies on super 8 film. But history is so much more and is happening at this very minute.

The twentieth and the twenty-first century were filled with momentous events and the rapid development of technologies. Often times these two merge as momentous events become recorded on those technologies and vice versa. With the advances in computer technology, people have integrated that technology into their workflow, daily lives, and creative expressions. At the Archives we receive records in magnetic computer tapes, microfilm, computer punch cards, CDs, and floppy disks. Recently we received 2 cubic feet of records from UAA’s American Russian Center (ARC) on 3.5 floppy disks. At one time these, 3.5 floppy disks were immensely popular, especially since the previous incarnation of information storage was a real floppy disk that was floppy. When I was in college, I would spend the extra dollars to get the cool 3.5 disks that were translucent and came in different colors. So to see ARC floppy disks was fairly nostalgic and a little worrying. Most computers today do not come with floppy drives. Thankfully the Consortium Library’s systems department made sure we had floppy drives in our computers. So Arlene and I figured out a plan to migrate data on the disks to our server. I did a few test cases and was happy with the results and handed the task to Frank, one of our student workers at the library. He found the disks amusing since he used similar disks when he was child to play games. (Oh well, at least he remembered what the disks were used for.)

After migrating quite a few 3.5 disks to the server Frank encountered a problem. One of the disks was jammed in the computer. For all you old timers, like myself, this was a common occurrence when disks have come to the end of their shelf life. Frank was a bit concerned because a disk was stuck in the drive. We had a disk jam session and asked Systems to help us with the problem. By the next morning, Brad came in and freed the disk and Frank returned to his migration duties. Arlene provided a tutorial on how to avoid future incidents, i.e. pay attention to the little metal ‘thingies’ that stick out and get caught in the computer. With the information provided, he migrated the rest of the disks onto our server. Thankfully, after that it was only the last one that jammed. Brad came back in that afternoon and tried to free the disk as he had done before which did not lead to much success. He extracted the whole drive from the CPU to figure out where the metal ‘thingy’ was stuck. It wasn’t! The side of the disk’s label somehow unfurled and adhered to the inside of the disk drive. Oh well, another lesson learned. As for jammin’ in the archives, I think we’ll try to limit ourselves to jammin’ to music and avoid future computer jamming! (Maybe I spoke too soon, we still have to find that zip drive!)