Digital Arghhh-iving!

Ahoy, mateys! John Dunning, Digital Archivist here, to tell ye’ of the new voyage underway in Special Collections. Driven to better preserve, collect, and hoard (as all good pirates do) the history and treasures of the 20th and 21st centuries, we have sailed into the digital seas. The booty we seek? – digital treasure!

For years we have successfully digitized physical material in the library and made it accessible within our Digital Collections repository However, starting in 2023, we began a focused effort to archive and preserve digital materials. The greatest part of this focus has been devoted to born-digital materials.

People often ask us: what are born-digital materials? Born-digital materials are digital files created in a computer environment and saved as digital data. They include everything from web pages to Microsoft PowerPoint files to email messages to TikTok videos. Born-digital materials can be stored in multiple ways including on a thumb drive, floppy disc, SIM card, computer hard drive, or in a cloud environment. Born-digital materials have always existed digitally, unlike digitized materials which were first created in an analog or physical format and were later made digital. For example, a photograph taken with your cell phone is born-digital versus a photograph produced on a “polaroid picture” (“Shake it, sh-shake it, shake it, shake it, sh-shake it, uh-oh”) taken with a Polaroid SX-70 camera.

Example of born-digital item:

Members of East Carolina University's women's basketball team

Women’s Basketball History Booklet:


Much of the past year has been spent testing technological tools, improving efficiency, and refining workflows. Thanks to our developers, IT Department, Digital Collections team, and the curators within Special Collections at Joyner & Laupus Libraries, we’ve processed approximately 197 gigabytes worth of born-digital files from 132 different accessions.

As times change, so does the way we create and store content produced for work, school, or pleasure. With the digital archiving program picking up steam our ability within Special Collections to preserve born-digital content is well on its way.

Avast, me hearties! That treasure we were scanning the high seas for? It’s all around us! And we are rich beyond our wildest dreams now that we can collect and preserve it!

Stay tuned for the next installment of this 3-part series on digital archiving in Special Collections.


Additional examples of born-digital items:

Adverse Possessions: The True Story of Robert E. Harrill "The Fort Fisher Hermit"

Adverse Possessions: The True Story of Robert E. Harrill “The Fort Fisher Hermit”: