Information Processing: Files, Metadata, and the Command Line

Certificate Eligibility: 
5 ARC, 0.75 CEU
1 day
Max Attendees: 
Tools and Services


Previously titled Command Line Interface

Learn the basics of digital files, data manipulation, and computer scripting for efficient digital collection management.


For archivists working in contemporary collecting institutions, basic digital skills are essential. As technology makes it easier to create text, image, audio, and video files, and as archivists continue digitizing analog collections, the impact of digital records on our work only increases. For archives, there is a heightened risk of loss or inability to access these records if basic computing skills for ingest, management, and preservation are not acquired as part of the archivist’s toolkit. Archivists may also find themselves working with tools that require comfort with the command line interface and an understanding of hierarchical file structures.


In this course you will learn hands-on skills for working with digital archival objects at the most basic levels: files, data, and the computer operating systems in which they live. These basics establish manual and automated capacities for protecting the bits, automating/extracting metadata, and preparing for the next steps of building and managing digital archives.


You will get an overview of digital information at an atomic level – that is, how digital information is stored and communicated, and why this matters for identifying file types or working with file systems. You'll also learn simple methods to deconstruct file formats in order to understand the difference between file metadata and file system-generated metadata. From there, the course will introduce logic concepts by demonstrating data manipulation techniques using spreadsheets (e.g., MS Excel, LibreOffice Calc, Google Sheets). Finally, you will receive an introduction to and hands-on training in the use of command line programs for working with files and metadata, such as ExifTool, and built-in operating system commands to manipulate or extract metadata from files. These skills can then be applied to most command line tools that support identification, transfer, storage, metadata generation, and monitoring of digital collections. You will come away with a clear knowledge of how to use computers' natural languages, how to combine multiple tools and skills, what role they play in collection management workflows, and a sense of how to implement their use.


This course is less about a specific processing approach and more about providing archivists with basic computing skills that will help them make use of any tools that come their way and learn to speak the native language of the computing environments in which archival objects reside.


Participants will be required to use a computer with all applications downloaded and installed in order to participate in hands-on exercises. All applications are available free of charge on the Internet. A list of applications and file sets will be distributed to participants.

Note: The demonstrations and exercises in these modules were developed for the Mac/*-ix command line terminal (*-ix is shorthand to refer to Linux-based environments like Ubuntu or Unix derivatives like the MacOS or FreeBSD). The commands and syntax (the language or phrasing used to communicate with the computer) will be different on Windows machines. Windows 10 users can enable the Linux bash shell on their computers by referring to the optional Module 10. Alternatively, Module 11 demonstrates how to translate Mac/Linux commands to the Windows command prompt (CMD).


Previously titled Command Line Interface

Learning Outcomes: 
Describe the basic composition of digital files and how computers and software create and work with them.
Identify applicable data and metadata that enable a digital file to be understood, preserved, and used.
Navigate a command line interface.
Write basic shell scripts that perform multiple commands.
Who Should Attend: 

Archivists, managers, practitioners, museum professionals, and records managers

What You Should Already Know: 

Basic understanding of general archive functions and practicies; it is recommended that participants have watched the Thinking Digital webinar

This course builds on others in the Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) curriculum, such as Basics of Managing Electronic RecordsElectronic Records—The Next StepThinking DigitalAccessioning and Ingest of Electronic Records, and Metadata Overview for Archivists.

DAS Core Competency: 
1. Explain the nature of digital records and their lifecycle.
2. Communicate and define terminology, requirements, roles, and responsibilities related to digital archives to a variety of stakeholders.
3. Formulate strategies and tactics for appraising, acquiring, describing, managing, organizing, preserving, and delivering digital archives.
4. Incorporate technologies throughout the archival lifecycle.
5. Strategically plan for the sustainability of digital archives.
6. Employ standards and best practices in the management of digital archives.
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