Workbook on Digital Private Papers > Appraisal and disposal > Useful appraisal tools

Useful appraisal tools

Paradigm experimented with a number of tools and approaches to assist in the appraisal process. These included tools for generating directory structures, directory management tools, synchronisation tools and digital forensics tools.

Directory tools

Paradigm experimented with tools such as DirPrinting and Karen's Directory Printer, which can be used to generate a complete list of all folders, subfolders and files in a directory providing the archivist with an overview of the accession. DirPrinting offers a drive/directory window and a file list, which can be arranged and sorted according to various criteria. This list can be sent to any printer, copied to the clipboard and pasted into an application, saved as file, and sent as an email. Karen's Directory Printer, as the name suggests, gives the user the option of printing out the directory or saving to a disk as a simple text file. The software has options for sorting the directory by file name, extension, file size, date created, date last modified, date last accessed. The usefulness of these tools can be limited if files and folders have been assigned poor titles, but the process should identify where data and system files reside.

Directory management tools

Directory management tools such as Windows Explorer Browser, a standard feature of Microsoft Windows, can be helpful during the appraisal process. By selecting the 'details' option from the 'views' menu it is possible to see details of each document, including title, size, document type, date created, etc., but not to output these in a useful way. Users can also select which bits of metadata to view (if those metadata exist for a particular file) from a dialogue box located at 'View' > 'Choose Details..'. An example would be to view all the images in the 'My Pictures' folder. For each image, useful descriptive and technical metadata is displayed, though it should be remembered that the metadata does not necessarily provide accurate information about creation date and creator.

Synchronisation

Paradigm experimented with synchronisation tools as a means of identifying duplicates within and between accessions. Tools such as Unison (a file synchronisation tool for Unix and Windows) are able to compare two sets of files and identify whether the individual files have changed or if they are identical to the other set. This is a useful tool for appraising a series of snapshot accessions to determine which, if any files, have changed.

File comparison tools

Other useful tools include 'compare features' functions, such as that of OpenOffice, which allow the archivist to examine two documents (perhaps two with the same name) to determine exactly where they differ.

Digital forensic tools

Paradigm utilised some digital forensic tools as a means of exploring digital archive accessions. These provide similar features to directory tools, but often include additional functionality, such as the ability to preview certain types of file in the forensic application, or to export a list of file metadata, including file path and checksum, in CSV format. Paradigm found this metadata export very helpful, and used it to generate a spreadsheet to manage the appraisal and arrangement of the digital components of the personal archive of former cabinet minister Barbara Castle.