My letter to Terry McAuliffe and Dietra Trent about the importance of the Library of Virginia

Below is a letter that I wrote to Governor Terry McAuliffe and Secretary of Education Dietra Trent about the proposed layoffs at the Library of Virginia. 26 state employees have to be laid off state-wide, and out of that number 15 are currently proposed to come from the Library of Virginia. It is unfair, inequitable, and devastating to an agency that has born more that its share of layoffs going back to 2002.

I urge you to contact the Governor and the Secretary using the form on their website and tell them why you support the Library of Virginia and why these cuts are completely unfair.

Dear Governor McAuliffe and Secretary Trent,

I strongly urge you to reconsider the layoffs of 15 people from the Library of Virginia out of a statewide layoff total of 26. The first issues is the issue of fairness. No one wants layoffs to come from their agency, but the fact that the Library of Virginia is bearing over half of the layoffs for their entire state government simply isn’t fair. Spreading them across the Executive Branch helps minimize the impact to any one agency; if things are allowed to stand as they are, the programs and services of the Library will be gutted.

But secondly, more importantly, is a message that you may not have heard much, but that is very, very true: the Library is a critical and key part of state government and our Commonwealth and needs to be protected and grown. The Library performs critical services for the Commonwealth, such as records management, the preservation of Virginia’s historical record, and educating students and the public about the importance of primary sources, among many other things.

The records retention schedules created by the records analysis team and the records collected, preserved, and made available by the archivists at the Library of Virginia are the cornerstone of open and transparent government here in the Commonwealth. The records at the Library have been used in court cases, by members of the media, by citizens of the Commonwealth, and by members of your own administration to review the day-to-day actions of the government. The Library is also one of the first in the country to publish, en masse, the emails of a gubernatorial administration with the emails of Tim Kaine now available online. In a day where emails are constantly in the news, this project shows what an archive can do. All of this is threatened by these potential layoffs.

This last point, about the emails of Governor Tim Kaine, also illuminates a larger point. With the records of state and local government becoming primarily digital, rather than paper, the human and resource cost for appropriate records retention, long-term archival storage, and processes to make these documents available just like paper records is skyrocketing. We need more records managers and archivists to deal with this new future, not less, and the Library needs more resources to make sure that there isn’t a massive gap in the historical record because we aren’t able to deal with digital archives.

The Library also does dozens of educational programs every year, ranging from teaching school-aged children about the importance of primary sources, to genealogy workshops to Virginia residents of all ages, to book talks given by important authors from Virginia and beyond. These include events requested by members of the General Assembly during the legislative session, which is a perk that the members get to give their constituents who are able to come to Richmond. This is an important educational experience for Virginians, both young and old, to learn about primary sources.

If these cuts are allowed to take place in the way they are currently constituted, you will be doing irreparable harm to the historical record of Virginia, the openness of government in Virginia, and the education of the citizens of Virginia. I urge you to spare the Library of Virginia, which has already been hit with devastating layoffs in every round since 2002, and spread these layoffs more equitably across state government agencies. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Benjamin Bromley

Using a Western Digital My Passport Ultra on Linux

I’ve been trying to build a home file server, mostly to store backups, using a Raspberry Pi and a Western Digital My Passport Ultra as the main storage unit. For years, I used an old Compaq desktop tower as my backup computer, but the fact that it won’t turn on and the fact that it would cost more to fix it than to just buy a Raspberry Pi has lead me down this new road.

But after I bought the My Passport Ultra, I tried to plug it into my laptop, running Debian Sid. It would mount, but I could not access it through the file manager or on the command line. At first, I did what any good Linux user (or librarian) would do: I googled around for an answer. According to everything I read, the encryption on the My Passport Ultra required a Mac or Windows computer to decrypt, and even then you would still have a vestigial piece of their encryption on the drive.

I first tried to use their decryption software using Wine; that didn’t work because it couldn’t find the drive, even though it was plugged in and I had used winecfg to make sure the drive was discoverable. I then tried to use my wife’s old Mac, but quickly remembered why she doesn’t use it anymore and why I got her an Android tablet for Christmas last year: every 20-60 seconds, it would shutdown and reboot, so I didn’t ever have time to try and even download the decryption software.

However, being a Linux user, I decided to just try stuff. So I plugged the drive back into my computer. GParted would not run and would not recognize the drive, so I couldn’t format it that way. However, I finally found a solution, and a simple one at that: I unmounted it and then just ran the most basic formatting command out there.

sudo mkfs.vfat /dev/sdb1

Completely blew threw all of the My Passport Ultra’s supposed encryption (which I think was just software encryption, and nothing on the drive itself was actually encrypted) and made the whole thing completely usable by me. I later formatted it into btrfs for use on my file server, and it is now receiving an rsync of all of the pictures, music, and files from my laptop. Since there is so many threads out there about how it isn’t possible to use this drive on Linux without freeing it on a Windows or Mac computer, I figured I’d write this up so people know that yes, you can do it just on Linux.