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How to create your own digital archive: DIY [a response to my own negativity]

June 24, 2015

A few months ago, I posted an article to this blog (“How to archive a digital file: Print it”) that some readers may have interpreted as a pessimistic screed concerning our futile attempts to archive digital materials for future generations [at least, I interpreted it that way].

Although my post was the product of considerable rumination (it hurt my brain and left me disheartened), I really hate to be that the kind of person who relishes in reporting what we can’t do. So I’m here to describe what we can do for better digital archiving [And for those souls who like DIY projects, I have included some notes so that you can do-it-yourself].

Besides the issues that I outlined in my last post, the main long-term problem with digital storage is “data degradation”. Things break down. Stuff rots. Entropy eats away at all order. In other words, your data decays and files won’t open.

How does this manifest? Bits of data disappear. This is sometime referred to as “bit rot” [this term is used for other phenomena, so for disambiguation purposes, see this Wikipedia page], but I’ll just call it “data degradation”.

Data degradation occurs in all media (hard drives, floppy discs, compact discs, tapes, etc.), and it ‘s hard to detect. You usually don’t know it has happened until you find a file that doesn’t open. By then it may be too late to recover it, or you may have to spend a small fortune employing a data forensics expert to extract as much data as she can from the damaged file.

The solution is to have utilities that constantly check for “data integrity” on archival media. These data integrity verification systems employ, among other things, checksums and/or cyclic redundancy checks (crc). When they discover that a bit of data has been lost, they generate a report concerning which hard drive has been effected.

But it’s not enough to know that a bit of data has disappeared. That lost bit of data has to be reinserted into the original file. That requires a backup copy.

In order to secure files from data degradation, digital archives require at least three components: 1) Multiple storage media; 2) Data integrity verification utilities; and 3) Backup systems. And all three must work in tandem. When a system detects that a bit of data has been lost, the archive must then retrieve the lost information from the backup system and reinsert it. But it must also advise the user whether the affected hard drive may be failing and that it needs to be replaced.

What if a hard drive fails completely? What if two hard drives fail completely at the same time? A good digital archive system will have enough redundant hard drives to survive such a calamity. Depending on the amount of storage needed, a user can configure a digital archive so that it survives even three or more hard drives failing at one time.

FreeNAS ( is an open-source operating system built for this type of need. It has the following components:

1) A FreeNAS machine contains multiple hard drives for storage and replication;

2) It employs the ZFS file system ( which provides data integrity tools;

3) It employs a RAID Z backup/replication structure for redundancy and restoration.

You can build your own FreeNAS machine. It isn’t any more complicated than building a regular computer. So for a fun DIY project:

1- Here is a guide for building your own FreeNAS machine:

2- Here is a guide for configuring the operating system on a FreeNAS machine:

Before you begin to build a FreeNAS machine, be sure to read the configuration guide first. The configuration of the operating system is critical to protecting your data, especially if you plan to use the machine “at work”. The author of the configuration guide, someone who goes by the name of “Cyberjock”, is very good at enumerating all the pitfalls of poor configuration that will mitigate all the advantages of FreeNAS. In other words, if you don’t do it right, you may lose everything: Everything. All your data. Gone.

For those of you looking for solutions “at work” and who are too frightened to configure their own systems after reading Mr. Cyber Jock’s guide, the FreeNAS website does advertise FreeNAS machines from a vendor. I have never used such a system; nor do I endorse them here. But they appear to exist.

I have read some literature from another vendor that sounds like its machines run FreeNAS, but the language is so vague that it was unclear whether the machines were “digital ARCHIVE” ready as described above. Data degradation is slow enough that most vendors aren’t concerned with providing tools to detect it. Most commercial storage systems are not created to store data for twenty, fifty, or a hundred years.

An alternative to FreeNAS is the software from the Data Conservancy Project begun at Johns Hopkins University: Its software runs on three Linux servers using Fedora and Solr, both open-source applications.

Last summer I attempted to create my own system using the DataConservancy software. I was not successful. I made it pretty far into the process, but in the end, there was a file from the DataConservancy that created the library structure (or some such thing) in SOLR that I just could not get to work.

For those interested in pursuing this as a DIY project, I have attached my step-by-step notes on the entire installation process that I completed successfully [I include my original document, an -.odt file made using OpenOffice, which offers working hyperlinks that move you around to different portions of the process. Also attached will be a -.doc version, but the hyperlinks don’t work in the Word version.] This includes many commands [for the dreaded Linux “command line”] as well as notes on discrepancies and other problems. If you follow the process and fail at the same spot I did, you still should have a working CentOS Linux machine running the Fedora archive application and SOLR.

Recapitulation: Digital archiving can work if the system has multiple hard drives configured to take advantage of data integrity and of backup/restoration tools. Such systems are within the reach of even the most budget-beleaguered organizations, because you can do-it-yourself. With a little help from a Mr. Cyber Jock.

Notes on DataConservancy Project-OpenOffice version– with working hyperlinks

Notes on DataConservancy Project-Word version

CRD-PaLA: A Great Way to Build Your Academic Library Career

June 18, 2015

Author’s note: I wrote a version of this article for the spring 2015 newsletter of the Western Pennsylvania West Virginia Chapter of the Association of College & Research Libraries ( I am pleased to be able to modify and share this with you. Thanks to CRD Board Chair Larissa Gordon for her review of my early draft and for her helpful suggestions.

* * *

When I began working in Pennsylvania in 2004, the general impression I received from many librarians was that the Pennsylvania Library Association (PaLA) had little to offer academic librarians. This surprised me. I had just arrived from Texas, where the Texas Library Association annual conference is one of the largest library events in the world–larger than most national conferences–and where academic librarians serve in key roles in planning, service, and programming. Because I lived in San Antonio, a major destination for conventions, I regularly participated in the annual conference planning group. In addition, because of San Antonio’s proximity and close relationship to Mexico, I also was a member of the Texas-Mexico Relations Committee, through which academic and public librarians in Texas and Mexico had the opportunity to meet, collaborate, and share information.

Nevertheless, it didn’t take me long to learn that maybe there was more for academic librarians in PaLA than my fellow librarians realized. I soon learned about the College & Research Division of PaLA (CRD-PaLA) and the information-sharing, funding, and even publishing it does on behalf of academic libraries in the Commonwealth.

For example,

  • In the spring, the CRD-PaLA board meets in person to review proposals submitted for the Pennsylvania Library Association’s annual conference. At this meeting, board members review proposals related to academic libraries and select 10 to 12 sessions to sponsor as part of an annual conference academic library track. In addition, at annual conference, CRD- PaLA hosts a luncheon featuring an often nationally known keynote speaker. At the 2014 conference, the speaker was Alison J. Head, Executive Director of Project Information Literacy (PIL).
  • Annually in the spring, CRD-PaLA hosts an all-day workshop on topics of interest to academic library personnel. In the past, workshops have focused on support for open access, e-books, the changing higher education environment for libraries, and digital and media literacy.
  • CRD-PaLA administers a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant that provides funding for a number of academic library-oriented professional development programs held throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This year, LSTA monies have supported programs on makerspaces, 3D printing, building community between academic libraries and their audiences, and bridging the gap between school and academic librarians in developing information literacy skills.
  • CRD-PaLA also periodically funds placement for an academic librarian at the PaLA Academy of Leadership Studies (PALS), an effort between PaLA and the Office of Commonwealth Libraries to offer leadership development for librarians.
  • Throughout the year, the division hosts several online educational programs through its “Connect & Communicate” series. Recent sessions have discussed open educational resources (OERs), digital learning objects and materials, diverse literacies, and circulating iPads through your library.
  • CRD-PaLA also is involved in sharing the voices and experiences of Pennsylvania libraries and library personnel. It is the sponsor of Pennsylvania Libraries: Research & Practice, aka PaLRaP, an online open access journal ( The journal is produced twice a year by a volunteer editorial team made up of CRD-PaLA members. Issues feature research and practice articles, editorials, commentaries, features, and news for, by, and about Pennsylvania librarians. While the focus of the journal has, heretofore, been on academic library topics, articles and news items about all types of libraries are welcome.
  • In addition, CRD hosts a blog, It’s Academic!, featuring news and opinions of academic librarians throughout Pennsylvania. Ten new bloggers were recently added to the crew (including yours truly); these bloggers provide fresh content regularly.
  • A column called “It’s Academic!” also appears regularly in the PaLA Bulletin, the quarterly newsletter of the Pennsylvania Library Association. Recent columns have presented views on open access, a wrap-up on academic sessions offered at the 2014 PaLA conference, and library use of Pinterest I just penned a column on scholarly communication (aka library support for research and publication) as a concern not just for academic librarians, but also for public and school librarians. See the PaLA Publications page on the PaLA website for more information and access,

Through CRD-PaLA, I’ve edited a journal, I’ve written columns, I’ve blogged, I’ve presented, and I’ve reviewed LSTA funding applications. In other words, I’ve gained valuable professional knowledge, honed my library skill set, and even rediscovered my career roots. (I used to be an editor in a previous, pre-library career life.) Hopefully, too, I’ve contributed my knowledge as well.

So if you’re looking for a place in the Pennsylvania academic library community, want to learn from it, and offer something in return, please give CRD a try. I’m confident that you–and your academic library career–will be glad you did.

Registration reminder for PA Forward Information Literacy Summit, July 29th

June 16, 2015

The 2015 PA Forward Information Literacy Summit Planning Committee is pleased to announce that registration for our July 29, 2015 Summit – “Framing the Value of Information Literacy” – is still open at

You do not need to be a member of PaLA to register and attend!
ACT 48 credits will be available for those who need them.

The event will be held at the Paterno Library, Penn State University, State College, PA and our two keynote presentations are:

ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education:
“Understanding the ACRL Framework for Student Learning”
presented by Merinda Kaye Hensley
Chair, ACRL Student Learning and Information Literacy Committee
Instructional Services Librarian, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


PA Model Curriculum:
“Making the Model Curriculum Work for You: It’s Not Just for the Runway Models,”
presented by Allison Burrell
Vice President, PA School Librarians Association
District Librarian and Media Specialist, Southern Columbia Area School District

and Cathi Fuhrman
Hempfield School District Library Department Supervisor
Our thirteen breakout sessions have also been finalized, and you can find full details on the registration site under Keynotes, Breakout Sessions, & Presenter Information.

If you would like to book a room at the Nittany Lion Inn, we have secured a discounted Summit rate. Reservations must be made by June 28, 2015. More information about the program, hotel discount code, and parking at Penn State are available on the reservation website under Program Details, Description, Parking, & Hotel Information.

Registration will remain open through July 29, or until capacity is reached. Please visit for more information!
This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services as administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor, through the College and Research Division ( of PaLA. Show your appreciation by becoming a member of PaLA! And if you are a member – thank you!

Getting an Education vs. Getting a Degree

June 12, 2015

College is not a commodity. Stop treating it like one.

This article is one of the best I have seen about the true purpose of attending college.  I am sure I will use some of these ideas to inform my own interactions with students.

Four Stories

June 10, 2015

Having recently completed my first academic year as a full-time community-college librarian in central Pennsylvania, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect. I’ve done a good bit of “official” reflecting since I just submitted my self-evaluation/ professional portfolio to determine if I’m on the right path toward tenure, but I thought I would take this opportunity to share stories on a more personal level describing students and other library users I’ve encountered during the Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 semesters. To protect their privacy, all names have been changed in this post. I have also constructed the quotes based on my memory, so I am certain they are not exact.


Destiny is a wheelchair-bound student, who was in a developmental English class for which I taught a lesson on website evaluation. Before the start of class, she was very vocal about her health problems (diabetes), and in the process of trying to get the class started and be positive, I and the course instructor commented on how she needed to take care of herself. Destiny then shared that she had “lost her best friend last night” presumably to a health issue and made other remarks implying that she wasn’t concerned about taking care of her own health at that time. The course instructor seemed to be accustomed to such comments from Destiny, again encouraging her that she is important and should pay attention to her self-care. Awkwardly, I managed to transition into the instruction I had planned, resolutely staunching my inner voice that was screaming, “Why the heck should she care about website evaluation; when her best friend just died!”

We got to the point in the lesson where students were looking on their own for a website to evaluate. (They were doing research on Holocaust-related topics.) Suddenly, Destiny blurted out, “Hey, this one site says the stars the Jews had to wear were yellow, but this other site says they were different colors.” She wanted to know which was “right.” After looking at the websites with her, the instructor suggested that maybe the colors related to different countries. Destiny became focused on finding out more about the star labels and the reasons for the colors, periodically sharing verbal updates on her discoveries.


Carrie was a student on “work release.” Early on in my interactions with her, I didn’t really know what that meant. Conversations with other librarians and comments she made during our various encounters helped me understand that she was on release from prison. In Pennsylvania, inmates who have committed less serious crimes [my interpretation] and who are determined to be trustworthy are eligible for educational/vocational training programs, which in Carrie’s case, allowed her to take classes, earning mostly general education credits. (See the Pennsylvania Code for more information). She was a nontraditional student–I’m guessing approximately my age–with a rough appearance and a gruff voice to match. She spent many hours in the library, including hours on Fridays and Saturdays; and she often had citation questions.

“Why can’t there just be one citation format? I just get MLA down and then they have to go and change things and make me do APA! And all this work on the computers. We didn’t do all this electronically when I was in school!” are examples of her frettings. In the course of assisting her with APA, I learned that she loved golden retrievers and enjoyed working outside. I would run into her in the restroom and she would lament that other people living at her house had “trashed her place again.” Even when I couldn’t relate to a particular concern, I tried to sympathize with her current plight.

Crossing paths with her over two semesters, I knew I would always hear a complaint, “I’ll be here in school until I’m 90,” but I also saw growth, “I know never to do something that dumb again!” Slowly, an increased confidence in her academic ability also emerged. I will miss Carrie. The last time I saw her was at the end of Spring semester. She strode through the library beaming after coming to campus to get a copy of her transcript. When she saw me, she declared, “I passed everything–I was worried about Computer Science, but I did it–I can transfer all my credits and start at Thaddeus Stevens in the fall!”

The Visitors

I was answering reference questions one day, and a staff member directed a particular library user to me. She was a striking woman in traditional African dress; and when she spoke it was with very proper, but somewhat halting English. “I am seeking information on making drinking water from urine,” she told me. I walked her to a library computer, opened up our list of science databases on the library website, and explained how we could search for periodical articles. She indicated that she wanted to see more, so I conducted a keyword search in ScienceDirect, not sure what I would find since I had not looked for information on this topic before. I generated a list of results, and we started reading the titles and abstracts, some of which seemed to be on target. Her gaze was intense as she read. I asked if she wanted to save or print any of the articles, and she declined. “Wait,” she instructed, “I must bring my son and show him.” She disappeared for a minute and returned with a typical-looking, older teenage boy.  She pointed to the screen and said, “See.” He nodded in acknowledgement. From ensuing conversation I came to understand that in “their country” the idea of turning urine to water would be considered preposterous, and she wanted to show her son that such ideas are not ridiculous.

Cindy & Lora

Finally, in April, I attended presentations at a student research conference on one of the campuses where I work. The team of Cindy and Lora had created an impressive poster display, complete with original research and correctly-cited sources, so I decided to attend their panel presentation later in the week. For their research project,”Aggressive Music Videos & Intimate Partner Violence,” Cindy and Lora analyzed music videos from three main genres (country, rock, and rap/hip-hop) by identifying and counting images and lyrics portraying women being disempowered or victimized, sometimes violently, because of their sex. They used a set criteria based on their research to determine such instances and found disturbingly high numbers across the musical genres, in some cases for songs that had spent significant time at the top of the popularity charts. Their conclusion was that this needs to change because the pervasive nature of these images of intimate relationship violence and women as objects, especially in music with huge fan followings, suggests a tacit acceptance of these negative behaviors and attitudes. Their analysis was compelling; their supporting research was solid; but the clincher was the conclusion of their presentation. Lora pulled out a guitar and performed a song she had composed–a ballad which described her personal experience as a victim of domestic violence. In a room of around 20 audience members, an awed silence followed her last chord. Then, thunderous applause; and lastly, follow-up questions about the project.

Each of these stories does two things for me. First, they each remind me, at a most fundamental level, why I am a librarian. I love empowering people with information, especially when it is information that energizes them, helps them solve a problem, or allows them to take another step forward toward a larger goal. Second, these stories exemplify the huge diversity of library users one can experience as a community college librarian. Meeting the needs of all users from every socioeconomic strata is the goal of all libraries, but the intersection of such a broad spectrum of people with higher education still seems to happen most readily at the community college level. As a community college librarian, I work with the students who struggle with basic skills as well as with those who are truly on the cusp of graduate-level work. I welcome and attempt to steer those who have the capacity to learn much, but whose education has been interrupted by various circumstances. Every day of the past year has provided me chances to grow and become enriched through service to my unique community of students and other library users.

FDLP Academy

June 8, 2015

This may not be news to those of you who work with government documents on a regular basis, but I was delighted to learn about this resource which has information that would be helpful to both librarians and patrons in multiple subject areas. Here is the information from their website  FDLP Academy

The goal of the FDLP Academy is to:

  • Inform and educate the Federal depository library community about Federal Government information resources;
  • Assist Federal depository libraries in better serving their communities; and
  • Advance Government information literacy.

Through this collaboration between the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO), Federal depository libraries, and other Federal agencies, FDLP library partners and the public will be better engaged and empowered with Federal Government information.

Check out the webinars produced by Community Members, Federal Agencies, and the GPO.

In case you missed it: A recap of the CRD Spring Workshop

June 5, 2015

We are pleased to announce that the CRD’s Spring Workshop was nothing short of a great success! This year’s program took place at Millersville University on May 29th, featuring three keynote speakers, a panel of PA librarians, and a rich selection of donuts. Below is a brief recap of each presentation.

Melissa Bowles-Terry, University of Nevada Las Vegas

Helping Students Cross the Finish Line: Libraries Contribute to Student Retention and Graduation

In her presentation, Melissa asked the audience to think critically about their work as librarians and how that work either contributes to or hinders student success. Pointing out that the average graduation rate in U.S. colleges and universities is just 59%, Melissa provided an overview of recent research on student retention and more specifically, the potential of librarians to increase retention via high impact practices, increasing student engagement, assisting with course and assignment design, and sharing research data with faculty. Melissa also discussed the various initiatives that UNLV is taking to increase student success, including professional development certificates for student workers, targeted assessment of student work from first-year courses, and an increased focus on research consultations and direct instruction. Librarians at UNLV also practice transparency—in other words, making sure that the purpose, task, and criteria for instruction sessions is made clear to all students. Collaboration with faculty on course and assignment design is regular and often involves real-life learning experiences in order to increase student engagement. For example, one recently-created assignment involves students observing criminal behavior (under the supervision of police officers) and connecting their observations to the research they find in library databases (um, how cool is that?).

Key takeaways from Melissa’s presentation:

  1. Data is a powerful story-telling tool. While some faculty are comfortable with numbers and statistics, it doesn’t work for everyone; therefore, using data to tell a story and sharing that story with faculty in order to influence course design can be a powerful skill for librarians.
  2. Library services have been proven to have a stronger correlation with student success than library spaces.
  3. Sometimes, keeping track of student retention means gathering personal information about students; this tends to raise privacy issues that could be tricky to approach. (If you have any experience/thoughts on gathering personal data to increase student retention, please share them in the comments below!)

Melissa’s slides can be accessed via the link below (see slides 21 & 22 for relevant research and reading materials):

Nancy Kranich and Megan Lotts, Rutgers University

Listening to Many Voices: Community Conversations at Rutgers University Libraries

Nancy began the discussion by describing the future roles of library liaisons at Rutgers, mentioning that librarians need to turn outward and serve as primary catalysts for community conversations. She emphasized the importance of focusing on aspirations rather than identifying problems or visions for the future—the reason being that aspirations create possibility, whereas identifying problems leads to complaining, and visioning creates false hope. As a result of the conversations at Rutgers, librarians learned that they need to focus on building inclusive communities, engaging students through informal relationships, and teaching critical thinking skills that will help students succeed both in and out of school.

Megan continued by describing current initiatives to build such connections. She spoke of her own efforts in reaching out to the Rutgers SAS Honors Program in which students choose the primary theme and reading material for their own colloquium course. Megan took the liberty of immersing herself in the course by visiting student spaces, creating a LibGuide for the course, and providing information about the library. Other initiatives include “Scarlet Knight Days,” which features caricatures, open mic night, and snacks in the library, and “RU Game?,” an event in which librarians partnered with the campus’s Super Smash Bros. Club in order to increase engagement and strengthen informal relationships with students.

Key takeaways from Nancy and Megan’s presentation:

  1. Librarians need to turn outward in order to hold successful community conversations (be where the students are; “just show up”)
  2. We need to build connections, not just collections!
  3. Building informal relationships is essential to increasing engagement (especially if it involves Super Smash Bros….and food).

Nancy and Megan’s slides can be accessed via the link below:

Finally, the afternoon ended with a panel of PA librarians featuring Marilyn Kay Harhai from Clarion University; Tina Hertel from Muhlenberg College; Monty McAdoo from Edinboro University of PA; Lisa Stillwell from Franklin and Marshall College; and Rob Weidman from Lehigh University. Nancy served as moderator and posed questions regarding outreach initiatives, student retention efforts, and our role in preparing for the next generation of librarians.

Key takeaways from the panel:

  1. PA librarians engage in a variety of outreach initiatives including Librarian House Calls, Happy Hour, and circulating bicycles.
  2. Outreach is a mutual effort; if you want others on campus to attend library events, you must attend theirs as well.
  3. Attendees: please add your own comments below! What did you learn as a result of our awesome panel?

We would like to thank ALL presenters and attendees for making this year’s program so successful; it wouldn’t be possible without you! We must also give credit to Christina Steffy, Vice Chair of the CRD and head of the Workshop planning committee, for pulling together such a successful event.

See live tweets from the workshop by searching for the hashtag, “#crdpala2015” on Twitter. (Don’t forget to follow us @CRDPaLA).

Stay tuned for details about next year’s workshop. We hope to see you then!


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