A Comprehensive Approach to Born-Digital Archives

  • Laura Carroll
  • Erika Farr
  • Peter Hornsby
  • Ben Ranker


This paper discusses how the arrival of born-digital content into archives has both dictated innovations in archival practice and promises to bring significant change to research methodologies. As a collection’s scope moves from discrete files to operating systems and complex digital collections, archives must build upon practices developed over recent decades in the handling of electronic records while also radically reconsidering the extent of acquisition and approaches to access. These changes are discussed within the context of the manuscripts and computers that comprise Salman Rushdie’s personal literary “papers,” which are housed in Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL). Early in the development of the Rushdie project, the library made a commitment to approach the material as holistically as possible, to prioritize the integration of paper and digital, and to balance the needs of donors with those of researchers. The paper will outline how the library developed researcher tools that allow concurrent exploration of the paper material and the born-digital material via emulation and item-level, databasedriven searches.


Ce texte explore comment l’arrivée aux archives de contenu créé dès l’origine sur support numérique a engendré des innovations dans la pratique archivistique et promet d’apporter des changements importants aux méthodologies de recherche. Alors que l’étendue d’une collection se déplace de fichiers isolés (« discrete files ») vers des systèmes d’exploitation et des collections numériques complexes, les institutions d’archives doivent se fonder sur les pratiques développées au cours des dernières décennies pour manipuler des documents numériques, tout en repensant radicalement la quantité des acquisitions et les approches relatives à l’accès. Ce texte aborde ces changements dans le contexte des manuscrits et des ordinateurs qui font partie des « manuscrits » littéraires personnels de Salman Rushdie, conservés à la Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library (MARBL) de la Emory University. Très tôt dans le développement du projet Rushdie, la bibliothèque s’est engagée à approcher ce matériel de façon aussi holistique que possible, à donner la priorité à l’intégration du papier avec le numérique et à établir un équilibre entre les besoins du donateur et des chercheurs. Ce texte montrera comment la bibliothèque a développé des outils de recherche qui permettent de repérer à la fois le matériel en format papier et le matériel créé en format numérique, et cela grâce à l’émulation et à la recherche au niveau de l’item à partir de bases de données.

Author Biographies

Laura Carroll

Laura L. Carroll is a manuscript processing archivist at the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University, where she has recently served as the lead archivist on the Salman Rushdie born-digital archives processing project. Prior to joining the staff at Emory in January 2008, Laura was the archivist at the American Medical Association, Chicago, Illinois. She has also worked at the Newberry Library and Loyola University’s Women and Leadership Archives. She holds a master’s degree in Public History from Loyola University (2002), in addition to an MLIS from Dominican University (2007). She has presented on the Rushdie born-digital archives processing project at a workshop for the Association of Canadian Archivists, the Society of Georgia Archivists Annual Meeting, and the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section Pre-Conference.

Erika Farr

Erika Farr is Coordinator for Digital Archives, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University, where she leads the born-digital archives program and supports a range of digital initiatives. She received her Master’s in Library and Information Science from the University of North Texas in 2010, with a focus on digital libraries and human information behaviour. After completing her dissertation on spatial tropes in early modern poetry, she received her PhD in English Literature from Emory University in 2004. Erika’s current research interests include born-digital archives, information-seeking behaviour in archival settings, and digital humanities. She co-authored a white paper on born-digital, personal literary papers for the Office of Digital Humanities, National Endowment for the Humanities, and has presented on born-digital archives at Digital Humanities, iPres, the Rare Books and Manuscripts Pre-Conference, and other professional conferences and events.

Peter Hornsby

Peter Hornsby has worked at Woodruff Library, Emory University, for the last five years. Since 2008, he has been part of the development team for the Salman Rushdie born-digital archives project. Previous to his current software engineer position, he worked as a systems administrator within Woodruff Library, and earlier, as a mainframe operator in the Network Operations Center, Georgia State University. He credits his love of science fiction and his varied career within the IT industry for helping him understand the many facets of the digital world. His novel work on the emulated environment for the Rushdie collection has been featured in the New York Times, the Atlantic, and Slashdot, among others. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Georgia State University.

Ben Ranker

Ben Ranker is a Senior Software Engineer at Emory University Libraries. He came to the Libraries in 2009 from a professional background in Internet security with a concentration in network protocols and data analysis. His current professional and research interests revolve around World Wide Web architecture, and applying new technologies and tech-enabled models to research and collaboration in the humanities.

How to Cite
Carroll, Laura, Erika Farr, Peter Hornsby, and Ben Ranker. 2011. “A Comprehensive Approach to Born-Digital Archives”. Archivaria 72 (December), 61-92. https://archivaria.ca/index.php/archivaria/article/view/13360.