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Accessing Digital Archives: Born-Digital Collections

Need Help?

If you are experiencing issues accessing digital files from the Special Collections and would like assistance, please contact our Research and Instructional Services team.

About Born-Digital Collections

Much of the material available in the Digital Collections Repository (DCR) were acquired by the Wilson Special Collections Library on various types of digital storage devices. The devices range from floppy disks to DVDs to USB drives to Dropbox. In order to preserve the materials effectively we must carefully move the digital files to storage that is contemporary and optimized for long-term preservation. We employ best practices to analyze and migrate digital files from donated storage devices to the DCR for preservation and access. Many of the files available for download in the DCR may be in legacy formats, meaning that their programs are no longer available or widely used. Some examples of legacy formats are MacWrite, Word Perfect, and QuarkXPress files. Obsolete and current digital storage devices

Access in the DCR

Many collections are open for use and download in the DCR, but some collections have restrictions. The common restrictions you may encounter are:

  • UNC-Chapel Hill authentication: this means that only folks with current UNC-Chapel Hill credentials (an ONYEN) can access the files online by logging-in. Folks unaffiliated with the university may still be able to access the files onsite in the Wilson Library. Please contact for details.
  • View Metadata Only: this means anyone can read information about the file and collection, but no one can download or view files. Some of these collections may be accessed onsite at Wilson Library. Please contact for details. 

General Advice for File Format Access

LibreOffice and text editor programs like Text Edit or Notepad are useful generally for opening a wide variety of word processing formats. You can learn more about LibreOffice here.

Microsoft Word is set up to prevent legacy Word versions from opening. You can adjust these settings under Files > Options > Trust Center > Trust Center Settings > Fire Block Settings > uncheck the box next to “Word 2.0 and earlier binary documents and templates.” This should allow you to open some older files (no format conversion necessary). In the same menu, you can click “Restore Defaults” to reset the Fire Block Settings.

Audio Visual formats can be accessed in the VLC Media Player program which supports a wider range of formats than Windows Media Player or Quick time.

File extensions are not always present in filenames especially for older files. If you are unable to identify a file format, please contact us for assistance.

Formats List

This Formats List details some of the specific obsolete or difficult to access file formats found in our collections.

We have attempted to identify free, open-source programs that will work for each file type, but that is not always possible. The programs we have listed may reproduce the content of the file clearly and in a mostly readable manner. Not all the programs listed will be able to recreate the original formatting and layout of the files. Older files do not always have a file extension. 

Programs that are freely available are marked with an asterisk. If you download a program from the internet, it is recommended that you virus scan the file before use.

Adobe Photoshop

  • File extension: .psd
  • Programs: Adobe Photoshop, XnView*, Google Drive*, Quick View Plus, Libre Draw*

Encapsulated PostScript

  • File Extension: .esp
  • Programs: Adobe Illustrator/Photoshop, Apple Preview, EPS Viewer*, LibreOffice Draw*, Microsoft Word (via Insert function), Google Drive*

High Efficiency Image File Format (image format common to iPhone)

  • File Extension: .heic 
  • Programs: Preview (Mac), Google Drive*

Internet Video Recording

  • File Extension: .ivr
  • Programs: RealPlayer* version 11 or later.

iWork Suite (Apple)

  • File Extension: .pages, .numbers, 
  • Programs: iCloud, Pages, Numbers

Mac QuickDraw

  • File Extension: .pict, .pct
  • Programs: Adobe Creative Suite, Apple Preview, XnViewMP Photo Viewer*

MacWrite, MacWrite II, MacWrite Pro

  • File Extension: .MACWRITE
  • Programs: LibreOffice*, Text Edit (Mac)*, QuickView Plus (for MacWrite II)

Microsoft Word and Microsoft Word for Macintosh - we have a wide variety of versions of Word in our collections

  • File Extension: doc, docx, no extension
  • Programs: Microsoft Word, Notepad* (PC), Google Drive*, LibreOffice*

Microsoft Works Word Processor

  • File Extension: .wps
  • Programs: QuickView Plus

NEF (Nikon Electronic Format)

  • File Extension: .nef
  • Programs: Windows Photos app, Preview (Mac), Adobe Photoshop


  • File Extension: .qxp or no extension
  • This software is still available for free trial or purchase at QuarkXPress also provides a free converter tool, so you can convert older versions and open in the latest version. Downloads require an account.



  • File Extension: wpd, .wp, .wp5, .wp4, .wp6, .wp7, or no file extension
  • Programs: Microsoft Word, LibreOffice*, QuickView Plus, Corel WordPerfect

What we mean by born-digital

In the libraries and archives profession, we create or collect and manage digital materials that tend to fall into two categories. One set of materials are made digital from an analog source. We call this process digitization and refer to the materials as "digital collections" or "digitized collections." One example of this process is reformatting VHS to a digital format like an .mp4 file. The other set of digital materials have always been digital which refers to formats like websites, Word documents, or emails. This set of materials is referred to in our profession as "born-digital" to distinguish it from digitization processes. 

Software Preservation

Software Preservation is an emerging area of practice for long-term access to archival collections. To learn more, visit the Software Preservation Network website