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Records Management

Could better Records Management have saved the clones? Orphan Black, inadequate archivists and the 5¼” floppy disk dilemma

14 May 2015

By Siân Collins


I am currently catching up with the second series of Orphan Black. Although I’m enjoying the story I’ve been distracted by two things. First of all, Sarah was led down to the crypt of a church where the archives of a local institution were held. The “archivist” then proceeded to leave her to look through the records unsupervised and without adequate desk space. (There are also issues about whether she had the right to see what was possibly the sensitive personal data of living individuals….) Wincing at the sight of 100 year old files and volumes on the floor, I was further distressed when the “archivist” told Sarah that some of the files had gone missing following an earlier unsupervised visit by someone else. There are some immutables in the life of an archivist, one of which is never, never, never allow unsupervised access to the records. The problem with unique primary sources is once they’re gone, they’re gone.

The second element that has me distracted is whether or not they will be able to extract vital genetic data that is held on some old 5¼” floppy disks. The disks have been stored in the bottom of a biscuit tin by a scientist on the run. They allegedly hold the information that can save the lives of the clones, who are succumbing to what is sometimes known as “costume drama cough”.[1] As of episode 8 they had not attempted to use the disks but the rogue scientist has asked the Evil Cloning Corporation for a floppy disk drive. Whether or not they can find one and make it work is keeping me hooked!

Of course, had the rogue scientist considered the accessibility of the data in the future (as advised in our Research Data Management training), he would have implemented a digital migration strategy back in the 1980s and transferred or copied the data onto more up-to-date storage devices before they became obsolete. Another issue is how the disks have been stored over the years – have they been kept at the optimal temperature and humidity levels, for example? Will the data be accessible even with a floppy disk drive?  The Evil Corporation he worked for is at fault too for not having appropriate back-up procedures or a vital records strategy: either of these would have meant the data surviving the Suspicious Fire. All of these things really should have been covered in their organisational staff training programme.

Intriguingly, the book that Rogue Scientist gave to little Keira had scientific looking scribbles all through it – will the day (and the clones) be saved by old fashioned pen and paper??? I can’t wait to find out what happens in Episode 9 and beyond…!


Training on Data Protection, Records Management and Research Data Management is available for Cardiff University staff from Governance and Compliance: or (for Managing Research Data).



[1] As soon as a character in a costume drama coughs, you know they won’t make it to the end of the next episode.