Or: How MSU Libraries Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Obsolete Data Carriers
Way back when, in the before times, 2019 to be precise, a small group of archivists and librarians at MSU Libraries dreamed of a lab. This lab would be one of the future, of the past. It would have modern machines that could read old disks in our collections. There would also be old computers that would maintain the old computing environments, so users could interact first-hand with the materials in the context in which they were created. We would have training sessions for the equipment and researchers could sign-up for a tutorial so they could migrate their data off of their drives or disks. It was a time of dreams.
A lot has happened since those early days. The Digital Curation Lab at MSU Libraries was established in early 2020 through funding from the Libraries’ technology budget which purchased modern machines and devices to read obsolete data carriers such as 3.5″ and 5.25″ floppy disks, zip drives, and safety equipment for digital equipment (anti-static mat, grounding bracelets, etc). Much of our initial specifications of the lab came from the MITH Digital Curation Workstation. Computers and other devices were added to the lab through donations from various units within the Library.
Due to social distancing, remote work, and departures from the Libraries, the progress on the lab moved slowly. We set aside the idea of the lab being a service point, in favor of having a place where Library curators could see what was on disks and drives prior to migrating to our servers. However, 2023 has been a very busy year in the expansion and use of the lab. We have conducted a handful of migration projects for researchers and other library units. We have also had two generous donations of legacy computing environments (and so many ancillary pieces), which we would like to highlight here.
The Commodore 64 is an 8-bit home computer introduced in 1982 by Commodore Business Machines. Guinness World Records has it listed as the highest-selling single computer model of all-time. For this reason, this acquisition could be very useful for future migration and educational outreach opportunities. One of the fascinating aspects of this machine is the use of compact cassettes as a storage medium. With this particular donation, it came with a C2N Datasette Unit.
The Atari 1040ST was introduced to the public in 1986 and marketed as a good deal for the technology, touting that its retail price was less than $1USD for each kilobyte. Our machine was donated with many floppy disks of programs and games to run, which presents many different types of programming we might run using this as a demonstration of legacy computing environments. A fun fact about this computer is that many musicians, such as Tangerine Dream, Fat Boy Slim, and Depeche Mode, have used it to create their music.
As our Digital Curation Lab grows, we continue to think of ways to utilize it to steward our digital collections as well as reach out and teach the MSU Community about the importance of digital preservation. We are excited by all the potential avenues and who we might reach. It continues to be a time of dreams.