Born-digital collections opened for research in 2022

November 30, 2022
Annie Schweikert
Photo of packaging for software called "Appointment Calendar Plus"

Special Collections receives a large amount of born-digital material every year—this year, more than 10 terabytes and counting. Special Collections and Born Digital Preservation Lab (BDPL) staff work together to image and process the digital material we receive, with the ultimate goal of making this material available through Stanford’s catalog. Here are some highlights of the digital materials we’ve opened for research over the past year.

In concert with the exhibit "Paper Trails: The Art of Processing Archival Collections" (on view in Hohbach Hall through December 16), we have processed and made available material from the 5.25" floppy disks in the John Perry Barlow papers. Barlow was a multi-hyphenate with a wide range of interests, and the content in the files (dating from 1979-1991) reflects this quality, ranging between ranch operations, Wyoming Outdoor Council operations, song lyric drafts and transcripts, film scripts and treatments, and personal correspondence and memos, such as the below letter, in which Barlow asks about acquiring a Mac Plus to facilitate interactive remote composition with Bob Weir. The rest of the born-digital collection, comprised of more than 240 computers, hard drives, floppy disks, optical disk cartridges, and other computer media, is currently being imaged and processed, and much more material will become available to researchers over time. The physical portion of the Barlow papers have been processed by Franz Kunst, Processing Archivist, and are open for research.

The Elbert "Big Man" Howard papers document the life of Elbert Howard, a founding member and Deputy Minister of Information of the Black Panther Party. The born-digital portion of the collection largely consists of writings and drafts by Howard, including autobiographical work, as well as documentation of Sonoma County activist events and organizations. As part of this processing work, we were also able to make available Howard’s self-published collection of essays, "As I See It," as its own catalog record.

The Histories of African Americans in Silicon Valley and Medicine and innovation: oral histories and archive of medical technology collections are initiatives of the Silicon Valley Archive. These oral histories, conducted from 2019 through the present, collect the stories of interviewees who invented coronary stents (Julio Palmaz) and embolectomy catheters (Thomas Fogarty), represented Silicon Valley companies and advocated for racial justice (Harry Bremond), and documented the stories of Black technology pioneers (Kathy Cotton, whose interview appears below). Transcripts for these interviews are available and can be downloaded at the bottom of the media player. Thanks to Spencer Gondorf, Curatorial Assistant for History of Science and Technology Collections for his work on metadata for this collection.

The Dennis Witmer collection of Alaska as the Measure is a collection of landscape photography, largely made in the Alaskan wilderness. Though Witmer was an analog photographer, he used digital publishing technology to create printed work; the digital portion of the collection consists of the 75-plate photograph portfolio "Alaska as the Measure" and a series of 41 digital artist books made by Witmer. You can read more about the collection in this blog post.

We continue to make available new born-digital programs in the New Dimensions Media records, a collection of radio broadcasts by the independent, listener supported, educational broadcasting group based in Ukiah, California. Interviews by the group are carried by public and community radio stations and feature a gamut of eclectic voices including artists, scientists, ecologists (such as the interview below with biologist and fungi expert Sheldon Drake), social architects, healers, spiritual leaders, and indigenous voices. The Stanford Media Preservation Lab has also been steadily at work digitizing older recordings on analog audio formats, which you’ll see at the catalog record as well. Thanks to Esther Wan, Metadata Assistant, for her work on metadata for these recordings.

The David Bacon photography archive is a collection of photography highlighting labor and social justice issues by photojournalist, union organizer, and social activist David Bacon. Special Collections has been processing his collection in phases; this most recent phase encompassed a selection of photos of Dolores Huerta, received digitally from Bacon. You can browse his photography by topic at the collection’s online Spotlight exhibit. Thanks to Laura Wilsey, Cataloging and Metadata Librarian, who created metadata for these objects, and processed everything else you see in the exhibit!

Finally, the BDPL continues to preserve and release historical software in the Stephen M. Cabrinety Collection in the History of Microcomputing. While copyright restrictions keep us from making the imaged software itself accessible online, the accompanying documentation is available to the public. At the end of 2022, 2380 pieces of software are now available at the catalog record. The software encompasses a wide range of topics, from calendaring software (also at the top of the post) to role playing games (below).

Many of these materials are fully accessible online. Some files, due to copyright and/or privacy restrictions, may only be accessed through an in-person visit to the Special Collections Field Reading Room in Green Library. If you see an image or file that looks low-quality, such as this lyrics sheet, the low quality usually indicates that the file can only be viewed in the Reading Room. (You can check the "Access conditions" note below the file viewer to confirm.) The Field Reading Room is open to the public with prior registration. If you’re interested in viewing any of these materials in person or have questions about access, please contact