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Stanford Libraries preserves historical software collection with Federal Agency



Ubisoft, The Chessmaster 3000, published for DOS, Windows 3.x., 1991

Two-year project will image one of the largest pristine historical collections of microcomputing software in the world for historical and cultural research.

Stanford University Libraries has partnered with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to preserve one of the world’s largest collections of software. Funded by the National Software Reference Laboratory (NSRL), Stanford and NIST will spend two years digitally preserving the 15,000 software titles in the Stephen M. Cabrinety Collection in the History of Microcomputing held by Stanford University Libraries (SUL).   

The Cabrinety Collection is one of the largest pristine historical collections of microcomputing software in the world, including titles from virtually all of the major microcomputer platforms, including home computer and video game consoles. The collection was assembled by Stephen M. Cabrinety (1966-1995), who began collecting software as a young teenager and maintained an intensive interest in computer history throughout his life. Stanford University acquired the entire collection as a gift from the Cabrinety family in 1998.

The work of capturing disk images - exact copies of the data on the original software media - will proceed as a cross-country collaboration between SUL and NIST. SUL Special Collections staff will catalog and prepare the materials for shipment to the NSRL forensics lab in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The software disk-images, associated digital photography of box covers, manuals and inserts will then be sent to Stanford for long-term preservation in the Stanford Digital Repository.  SUL’s Digital Library Systems and Services group will be responsible for project management and acquisition of NSRL’s project output.

“In our world, software has become a vital medium of communication, entertainment, and education,” said Stanford University Librarian Mike Keller.  “Our partnership with NIST is a significant step towards the goal of long-term historical preservation of the portion of contemporary culture and technology that is embedded in this medium.”

Stanford University Libraries is a leading proponent and practitioner of digital preservation of research materials. Beside the millions of page images from books it has created and preserved, it captures and makes accessible faculty research documents and data, historic maps, manuscripts, born-digital materials and photographs through the Stanford Digital Repository. It created and continues to support the LOCKSS program for preservation of digital journal content and similar innovations in assuring long-term availability of digital content.

Preservation of the Cabrinety Collection will contribute valuable information for future software preservation activities. For example, tracking the success rates of the project’s efforts to read data off original media from the 1970s through 1990s will produce a unique data-set on the viability of various digital media formats of this period.  In addition, the SUL team will contact holders of intellectual property rights for permission to provide access to the disk images created by the project.  This effort will tell us more about the software industry’s support for preservation activities that involve providing greater access to historical titles.

For further information on the Cabrinety project:

Andrew Herkovic, (, 650.725.1877)
Henry Lowood (, 650.308.6538)
Michael Olson (, 650.723.4602)

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March 9, 2016