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Special Collections Unbound



Cassette capture in progress

In the ongoing Cabrinety-NIST Project, NIST normally performs all disk imaging, but there is an exception to the rule. When the Stanford fall session begins in late September, a subset of the Cabrinety collection will be used as teaching materials in the Rhetoric of Gaming class. Rather than send the Cabrinety boxes containing these materials to NIST (which is located in Gaithersburg, MD), and risk them not returning in time for the class, I decided to do all disk imaging at Stanford.

One of the more challenging media formats found in the Cabrinety collection are computer cassettes, also known as datasettes. These media carriers can form nightmarish tangles, so audiovisual archivists working with them must maintain constant vigilance to forestall potential chaos.

The Cabrinety “teaching set” consists of 16 boxes containing 666(!) software packages, 60 of which are computer cassettes. The Stanford Media Preservation Lab (SMPL) provided invaluable assistance with capturing data from this obsolete format.

In a dedicated space located in the Stanford University Libraries branch location in Redwood City, CA, there is a room equipped with 8 Nakamichi CR-7A cassette decks. The outputs from these 8 cassette decks are recorded simultaneously while connected to 2 Mytek 8x192 ADDA converters, with Cubase 7 software being used to capture the PCM audio stream as WAV files. [Note: This is an oversimplification of a complex process that also involves several layers of quality control.] I stayed in that room for several days and created a lot of noise pollution – computer cassettes make a very unpleasant sound, akin to that of a dial-up modem. Here’s a 7-second sample!

Computer cassette WAV file

There were also normal audio cassettes mixed in with the computer cassettes to provide relaxing pockets of intelligible sound in the midst of the data noise.

Audio cassette MP3 file

One of the problems I encountered while working with the very last set of computer cassettes was that the Coleco ADAM format did not fit into the cassette decks. The cassettes seemed like they should fit, but the cassette deck player doors would not close. The reason for this was that the Coleco ADAM cassettes were missing holes in the bottom that would allow the doors to close. There were two solutions to this: a) Drill the holes or b) Temporarily rehouse the cassettes. I went with option b in order to maintain the integrity of the original media carrier.

Rehousing Coleco ADAM cassettes in the Stanford Media Preservation Lab


This was the basic workflow for rehousing the Coleco ADAM computer cassettes:

1.Prepare an empty cassette shell by removing the screws and opening the top.

2.Open the Coleco ADAM cassette by removing the screws and opening the top to expose the tape.

3.Carefully(!) take hold of the tape reels, lift them out of the Coleco ADAM cassette, and transfer them to the empty cassette shell casing. Make sure the tape spins properly.

4.Replace the top of the temporary cassette. Check again that the tape is spinning properly.

5.LABEL the temporary cassette so you know which tape reels are inside, and also which side of the cassette is side A or side B.

6.Replace the top of the Coleco ADAM cassette so you don’t lose the tiny screws for it and set aside.

7.Perform data capture of both sides of the tape reel using the temporary cassette that was just created.

8. When the data capture is complete, reverse the earlier process to put the tape reels back into their original Coleco ADAM cassette.

There were 20 Coleco ADAM format computer cassettes, some of which contained 30-40 minutes of content on each side, so this was extremely time consuming, even with 8 cassette decks going at once. This was quite a learning experience and one that gave me a stronger appreciation for the challenges faced by those tasked with preserving analog materials. Also, I learned that whenever you are starting the long process of capturing data from time-based media, treat it like a road trip – make sure to take a bathroom break first!


The Royal Library, National Library of Denmark and Copenhagen University Library

For the month of September, Peter Chan - our digital archivist - is visiting the Royal Library, the National Library of Denmark and Copenhagen to share tools and processes for managing born-digital materials in collections. While hosted by the Digital Preservation Department, he will also spend time with Digital Humanities team, the Digital Forensics team and finally the Game Preservation team (based on Peter's work with born-digital workflows, ePADD-email archiving software project and the NIST-Cabrinety project at the library as well as the GAMECIP project with UCSC).

Natalie Jean Marine-Street

The Stanford Historical Society (SHS) and University Archives are pleased to announce that Natalie Jean Marine-Street has joined our ranks as the Oral History Program Manager (OHPM) for the SHS. As OHPM, Natalie will manage current oral history projects, plan and execute new projects, and serve as steward for existing SHS oral history collections.

Natalie is a Ph.D. candidate in United States History at Stanford. Her research focuses on the interrelationships between business, gender, and politics and the role of persuasion in the economy.  Her dissertation project examines the history of female sales agents who, from the mid-nineteenth century, sought economic independence by travelling to sell new, mass-produced consumer goods. Inquiring about “lady agents” sheds light on how mass consumerism spread, how work and identity interact, and how occupations become gender-typed, contributing to economic inequality.

Please join us in welcoming Natalie to the fold.

We are delighted to share that Special Collections and University Archives has been awarded a National Leadership Grant for Libraries through the Institute for Museum & Library Studies (IMLS), to fund additional development of ePADD, open source software that supports archival processes around the appraisal, ingest, processing, discovery, and delivery of email archives.

The initial public release of ePADD was made available on Github on June 30, 2015, following two years of development funded through the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.

This second phase of development, beginning November 1, 2015, will specifically focus on building out additional functionality that advances the formation of a National Digital Platform, through expanding the program’s scalability, usability, and feature set. Special Collections & University Archives will undertake this work with partners at University of California, Irvine, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Harvard University, and the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO). 

More information about ePADD, including links to the software, documentation, community forums, and the mailing list, can be found on the ePADD project website

For additional information, please contact the project team at, or follow the project on Twitter at @e_padd.

Franz Kunst

We are thrilled to announce that Franz Kunst has joined our Department as a Manuscripts Processing Archivist. Please join us in welcoming him to the fold.

This is not his first appearance in Special Collections as he has been at Stanford University since 2006, when he began working as an intern at the Hoover Institute on an assessment of their audio holdings for their Radio Free Europe collection. In 2007 he joined the Manuscripts Division in Special Collections and has worked for us and the Archives of Recorded Sound on many special projects over the past nine years. Some of these have been bulk processing projects which opened up over 80 undocumented collections in the Archives of Recorded Sound and several large collections in Special Collections, including: Douglas Engelbart, Donald McQuivey, Washington Apple Pi. Additionally Franz has completed several smaller collections: Karl Cohen, Tom Law poster collection, Fred Buenzle.

 Other notable projects are: the Riverwalk Jazz Project and the Educational Collections project where he processed several major collections, such as the papers of Ruth Asawa and Gyorgy Kepes. Franz has a B.A. from UNC, Chapel Hill in American Studies and Folklore and an MLIS from San Jose State University. 

GSB in China, 2002

The Stanford University Archives is pleased to announce that it has recently acquired, and made available, two collections from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Stanford University, Graduate School of Business, Records (SC1266)

Founded in 1925, The Stanford Graduate School of Business was formed in order to establish a West Coast alternative to the business schools of the East Coast.

Ralph Hansen, University Archivist, 1967

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Stanford University Archives. To celebrate, the Archives has launched a 50 day Twitter campaign featuring iconic images of Stanford. Follow us on Twitter @stanfordarchive or see all of the images posted thus far via #StanfordArchive50. This fall, the Archives will formally celebrate the anniversary with an exhibit in the East Wing of Green Library. Stay tuned for more information.

Aldine Greek Bible 1518

Stanford University Libraries is the grateful recipient of a very generous donation of some 700 individual leaves from early printed books, the gift of Donn Faber Downing and Letitia Leigh Sanders. The vast majority of these leaves are from books from the 15th and 16th centuries and serve not only as examples of which texts were being printed with this “new” technology (Gutenberg’s Bible was printed about 1455, the first book printed in the western world with moveable type) but also how these texts were presented: their typefaces, page layout, and format.  It is a remarkable, rich collection, and will be used in a wide variety of classes.