A Simple Act of Digital Preservation: The Checksum and Oral History

Have you ever had a digital file corrupt? Probably. I have certainly encountered data file corruption and it is, personally, very frustrating, and, from an archival perspective, it can be devastating. Most of the time we do not know whether our data files are intact or not until we try to open the file and get a warning message. In enterprise systems, merely depending on an automated backup is flawed when your server has backed up your corrupt file with a corrupt version of the file. In this scenario, your unique, one-of-a kind digital oral history interview is lost. One way that archival repositories are creating an initial reference point to measure future data file integrity is with a simple measurement called a checksum.

A checksum is a measurement of data fixity and a confirmation of data file integrity. By capturing a checksum measurement early you create a baseline measurement to monitor and verify that the data remains intact.  I recommend you take a checksum of a digital file from the original media that you recorded your interview on.  If you recorded onto an SDHC card, capture the checksum before you transfer the file to your computer.  You then create a baseline that can be used for future comparison each time you move a file or suspect that a file may have been damaged. View this video introduction to the checksum, a simple act of digital preservation of oral history.

Digital preservation can be intimidating, and I always recommend partnering with an institution that has a clearly articulated digital preservation plan.  If you are not working with an archive, read up on digital preservation and begin incorporating some of the core principles into your personal workflow.  If you are working with an archive, turn the checksum in with your digital file–your digital preservationist will love you.







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