Dorothy Waugh

Dorothy Waugh

Last updated on 22 November 2018

Dorothy Waugh is Digital Archivist at Emory University in the USA

On this World Digital Preservation Day, we’re here to remind you of the humble floppy disk, last century’s save icon. Though limited in terms of capacity, these inexpensive and lightweight disks were the dominant storage device for three decades, as is evidenced by the boxes of floppy disks now found among the stacks of most archives. Among the disks at Emory University are files created by novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker, poet and former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, poet and writer Lucille Clifton, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (an Atlanta-based organization founded in the wake of the 1957 Montgomery Bus Boycott under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King). Unfortunately, the deterioration of such magnetic media due to age and poor storage conditions has been difficult to avoid and, with even the youngest of these disks now approaching twenty years old, recovery of data frequently proves challenging.

Enter the KryoFlux, a floppy disk controller that supports the preservation of valuable cultural heritage data stored on this often fickle form of legacy media. Though frequently identified as a powerful tool for archivists due to its support for a wide variety of encoding formats and its ability to effectively handle degraded data and generate bit-for-bit disk images, uptake of the KryoFlux among archives and digital preservation programs has been severely hampered by a lack of accessible documentation and training resources. At professional conferences and meetings, we heard archivists and other LAM professionals express frustration at the lack of documentation and a reluctance to engage in KryoFlux user forums that assume a high level of technical knowledge and can, as a result, be somewhat intimidating to newcomers (we’re looking at you, author of the words “This is ugly, maybe your head azimuth is off”).

Hearing this, and having experienced such difficulties ourselves, we formed a small working group that included Jennifer Allen at the University of Texas at Austin, Matthew Farrell at Duke University, Alice Prael at Yale University, Shira Peltzman and her wonderful students at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Dorothy Waugh at Emory University. Together, we set out to create a resource that would help level the steep learning curve that had frustrated archivists’ attempts at incorporating KryoFlux into their preservation workflows. The Archivist’s Guide to KryoFlux ( was made available via GitHub in July of this year.

The Archivist’s Guide to KryoFlux provides what we hope is accessible information and guidance for archivists wrestling with the challenges involved in preserving legacy born-digital content. It includes:

  • An introduction to the KryoFlux and its effectiveness as a tool for digital preservation;
  • A guide to floppy disk formatting;
  • Step-by-step instructions on installation and use of the KryoFlux (using both the command line interface and the graphical user interface);
  • Troubleshooting tips and tricks;
  • A glossary and list of additional resources.

The Guide is written in two parts. “Part One: Getting Started” provides practical guidance on how to set-up and begin using the KryoFlux and aims to be as inclusive and user-friendly as possible. It includes instructions for running KryoFlux using both Mac and Windows operating systems. Instructions for running KryoFlux using Linux are also provided, allowing archives that use BitCurator (an Ubuntu-based open-source suite of digital archives tools) to incorporate the KryoFlux into their workflows.

“Part Two: In Depth” examines KryoFlux features and floppy disk technology in more detail. This section introduces the variety of floppy disk encoding formats and provides guidance as to how KryoFlux users can identify them. Readers can also find information about working with 40-track floppy disks. Part two covers KryoFlux-specific output too, including log files and KryoFlux stream files, and suggests ways in which archivists might make use of these files to support digital preservation best practice. Short case studies documenting the experiences of archivists at other institutions are also included here, providing real-life examples of KryoFlux in action.

As with any technology, the KryoFlux hardware and software will undergo updates and changes in the future, which could have an effect on the currency of the Guide. Cognizant of this, we chose GitHub as the Guide’s platform in order to support the integration of community-driven contributions, including revisions, corrections, and updates.

We hope that this Guide will prove useful to other digital archivists and digital preservation practitioners like us, but more than that, we hope this Guide will prove useful to those archivists who do not consider digital preservation to fall under their purview but who, like so many others, have found themselves with a pile (or several piles) of floppy disks and don’t quite know quite what to do with them. We hope that our Guide may go some way towards giving them the encouragement and the confidence necessary to engage more fully in the preservation of data stored on aging floppy disks.

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