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Accessing Born-Digital Manuscript Material

This guide describes how to place a request for born-digital files and provides instructions for using the tools and applications to open and view them.


Please note: For privacy and security reasons, most digital files may only be viewed on a designated workstation in the Manuscript Reading Room. Contact the Manuscript Reading Room 2-3 business days in advance via the Ask a Librarian form or email at [email protected] to request access to born-digital files.

Letter reproduced in Quick View Plus. Rhoda Métraux Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

Born-digital files are those that were created in digital form and can include everything from Microsoft Word documents and Excel spreadsheets to software programs, photographs, and Outlook email archives.

Born-digital files acquired by the Manuscript Division undergo a number of standard processes in order to prepare them for preservation and access. These processes are based on professional best practices to ensure long-term preservation and authenticity of the records, laying groundwork to ensure persistent, reliable access to content.1

The Manuscript Division's born-digital holdings originate from the early 1980s to the present. Reflecting this historical span, born-digital content may be received from a wide range of acquisitions sources including 5.25" floppies, 3.5" floppies, CDs and DVDs, USB drives, personal computing devices, and cloud-based applications.

When digital files are included in a collection, the files on each storage location are referred to as a digital ID set and each digital ID set is assigned a digital ID. In most cases, files in a digital ID set are processed together and largely maintained in the order they are received, thereby preserving the creator’s original organization and creative process. Much like a box number, the digital ID is what patrons need to request access to a set of digital files.

The born-digital access workstations in the reading room are equipped with a variety of applications and tools to allow researchers to view, compare, and analyze digital files. Researchers may also copy files from the workstation to their own external storage device if permitted by the Gift Agreement for each collection. Detailed information about how to request and then access born-digital files may be found on the pages of this guide.

  1. This definition was adapted from Princeton University Library External Back to text