Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant Supports Digital Forensics Work for Collecting Institutions

October 19, 2011

Dr. Cal LeeCHAPEL HILL - The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Information and Library Science (SILS) has received a grant for $600,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a project that creates and analyzes systems for archivists, librarians and other information professionals to incorporate digital forensics methods. 

The BitCurator project will be a joint effort-led by SILS and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland, which will involve contributors from several other institutions-to develop a system for professionals who manage collections to incorporate the functionality of digital forensics tools and methods into their work. The BitCurator project will be a natural and fruitful extension of two recent Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grants: "Digital Acquisition Learning Laboratory" at SILS and "Computer Forensics and Born-Digital Content in Cultural Heritage" at MITH. The BitCurator project will address a set of needs and opportunities that were identified in both of those projects.

Materials with significant cultural value are now predominantly "born digital." Collecting institutions have great opportunities to acquire and preserve resources created throughout the creative process. In order to seize these opportunities, information professionals must be prepared to extract digital materials from removable media in ways that reflect the rich metadata and ensure the integrity of the materials. They must also support and mediate appropriate access: allowing users to make sense of materials and understand their context, while also preventing inadvertent disclosure of sensitive data.

"There are already many cases of self-contained packages that bundle many of the tools in order to support digital forensics activities," said Dr. Christopher (Cal) Lee, principal investigator of the BitCurator project. "However, they are not likely to be very approachable to library/archives professionals in terms of interface and documentation. Even more importantly, there are two fundamental needs for collecting institutions that are not addressed by software designed for the digital forensics industry: incorporation into the workflow of archives/library ingest and collection management environments, and provision of public access to the data."

Matt KirschenbaumThe BitCurator project is an effort to build, test and analyze systems and software for incorporating digital forensics methods into the workflows of a variety of collecting institutions. Dr. Matthew Kirschenbaum, associate director of MITH is the co-principal investigator of the project. Kam Woods, postdoctoral research associate at SILS, serves as the technical lead for the BitCurator project. Two groups of external partners will contribute to this process: a professional expert panel of individuals who are at various levels of implementing digital forensics tools and methods in their collecting institution contexts, and a development advisory group of individuals who have significant experience with development of software.

BitCurator will define and test support for a digital curation workflow that begins at the point of encountering holdings that reside on removable media-either new acquisitions or materials that are within a repositories existing holdings-and extends to the point of interaction with an end user.  BitCurator will address both the client side tools required at the point of initial data extraction and back-end tools for batch processing of disk images, which are likely to reside on a remote server.
"This project speaks to several of the key findings from the earlier Mellon-funded report on Digital Forensics and Cultural Heritage Collections," said Kirschenbaum. "It's especially exciting to see an iSchool and a digital humanities center collaborating on tools that will benefit not only the archivists processing born-digital materials, but also the scholars who will be using them."

For more information about the project, please visit the BitCurator Web site at: and follow @bitcurator on Twitter.