IMLS Bestows Grant for Digital Forensics Research


San José State University School of Information faculty members are participating in a $499,664 three-year research grant recently funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services that will explore and illustrate the importance of digital forensics tools in higher education.

Dr. Katherine Skinner is co-leading the effort to examine institutional and technological factors that may hinder the ability of library and information science (LIS) educators to teach digital forensics tools and methods, and address those through building models and content for administering digital forensics education. The preliminary research findings will be implemented by Alyce Scott and Michael Olsen in their master’s-level courses and refined for public access.

Digital forensics is innovative technology that allows libraries and archives to safeguard the “completeness, authenticity, and availability” of data, according to the grant proposal. Digital forensics enables users to find and locate sensitive information, and identify the characteristics of digital collections, among other activities.

“We’ll develop both empirical findings about institutional needs (what do institutions not have that they need in order to teach digital forensics) and practical content (learning objects) that will contribute substantially to digital curation research and practice,” Skinner said.

Digital forensics tools are crucial for libraries, archives, and museums because of the multitude of digital collections that have been or are being created—from DAT recordings, ZIP drives, five-inch floppy disks, and old computers of many types. Forensic tools will identify what is on various machines and storage devices and create “disk images” that replicate content and metadata while migrating the information on newer hardware where the content can be accessed.

“Those tools also allow us to do other really important things, like run checks for personally identifying information and intentionally leaving out particular files according to a donor’s wishes or rights or PII concerns as we migrate the data from its original container to a new media device,” Skinner explained.

The grant project involves several partner universities and institutions, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science, the Educopia Institute, the BitCurator Consortium, and the Council of State Archivists. A project advisory board and professional expert panel will also provide input and guidance.

All of the research project outputs will be compiled and published with a CC-BY license to a website,, which will be made available to LIS professionals and instructors to learn about digital forensics—what it is; why it matters to libraries, archives and museums; and how to use them. The planned start date for the project is July 1, 2018, and the final public release of learning objects is slated for 2021.

More information about digital forensics and its applications across libraries, archives, and museums can be found on the international digital forensics community, BitCurator Consortium. The website features guides, videos, webinar recordings, and overview documentation that will provide anyone, from novice to expert, with food for thought regarding the practices of digital forensics and their use in a digital curation workflow.