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This single-day free webinar provides an introduction to the command line interface (CLI) and a few tools for digital preservation with a focus on audiovisual assets. It's provided by the Digital Preservation Outreach & Education Network (DPOE-N), part of the Pratt Institute's School of Information and New York University's Moving Image Archiving Program (MIAP).

See this link for more info about DPOE-N workshops

The presentation slides can be accessed at this link

Table of Contents

Course Description


Readings and Resources

Tools list

Install Instructions

Presenter Bio


Course Description

With the ever-increasing scale and complexity of digital archival collections, archivists need to adapt their tools, workflows, and processes to match. While every institutional context is different, there are often opportunities to employ open source and command line tools to meet these challenges. Among the many benefits of utilizing the command line, the two most immediate tend to be: increased reliability of processes and more interesting work for archivists.

This 4-hour workshop will cover the basics of the command line interface (CLI) with a focus on its use in audiovisual archival workflows and digital preservation. The command line software discussed will help archivists navigate their terminals, find/ move/ rename digital objects, understand checksums and CRCs, create Bags per the BagIt specification, and introduce principles of scripting and automation for handling file data at scale.

This is an introductory course and users with no programming or command line experience are welcome; any archivist who routinely moves files, verifies metadata across systems, or works with audiovisual materials will learn techniques to improve their efficiency and gain familiarity with systems and workflows which take advantage of CLI capabilities. Users don't need to have administrative privileges or the ability to install software on their local machines in order to participate. For users who can install software on their machines, there will be office hours prior to the workshop to go over any questions that arise as part of the setup (and instructions are provided at this link).


Part 1 - History, Context, Objectives

what the command line is, what we can do with it, why it matters

Part 2 - Intro to Commands

basic structures, navigation, inputs & outputs


Part 3 - CLI Tools for Digital Preservation

moving files, verifying integrity of files and metadata

Part 4 - Intro to Scripting

workflow setup, loops, managing scripts

Command-Line Software Discussed

While not an exhaustive list, the webinar will touch on some fundamental software to managing digital files, with an emphasis on audiovisual formats.

These tools include:



md5sum + shasum

BagIt + grabbags



Readings & Resources

Programming is Forgetting: Toward a New Hacker Ethic by Allison Parrish

Heroes in a Bash Shell by Command Line Heroes

The Bash Parser - what happens after you press enter on a command in the terminal

Script Ahoy - a bash helper for archivists by Dianne Dietrich and Jarret Drake

Bash for Archivists - an intro course by Reto Kromer

ffmprovisr - an ffmpeg helper maintained by Ashley Blewer

Man Pages - the Wikipedia page for "man pages" aka manual pages, describing the history and use of manual pages in the command line

Install instructions

Test Files

Please download a set of test files ( that you'll use during the webinar at this link

Text Editor

You will need a text editor - text editors are different than Microsoft Word. You'll be editing .txt and .sh files. On Windows, the default editor is Notepad, which will work fine. There's also Notepad++. On Mac, the default text editor is TextEdit, also fine.

I strongly recommend looking into the Atom text editor, which is available on all platforms. It's a little heavy on RAM usage but has excellent features and customization. The most popular text editor is Microsoft's VSCode but I don't use it and can't provide support for it.

I will mostly be using a terminal-based text editor (i.e. a text editor that opens within the terminal) named Vim, which is probably already installed on your system. Vim is legendarily difficult to use, though, and I don't really recommend it for beginners. Still, if you want to dive into the deepest deep end, it's there.

OS-specific installs

Mac Setup Instructions

Macs ship with an application named “Terminal” which is their default command line interface. It will work great for this webinar

To install the tools/ software for this webinar, we will be using something called a “package manager.” Package managers help people manage their software without the use of “installers” like you might be used to, they’re very common on Linux nad in programmer spaces, generally.

For Macs, the packagae manager is named Homebrew and, once you have installed it, proceed to the tools install section

Install Homebrew

If you have administrative access to your machine, you can install Homebrew with the steps on their website (it’s a Terminal command).

If you don't have admin access on your Mac, you can still install Homebrew and the other tools for this workshop by using the below steps.

  1. Open Terminal
  • type Cmd + Space to search your mac
  • type terminal and press enter
  1. In Terminal, navigate to your home folder
  • type cd ~/ and press enter
  1. install Homebrew in your home folder
  • type the below and press enter
  • /bin/bash -c "$(curl -fsSL" and press enter
  1. Once that command completes, go to Terminal -> Preferences -> Shell
  • In the "Startup" Section, check the box to "Run Command"
  • type this command into the box export PATH=$PATH:${HOME}/brew/bin
  • Check the box to "Run inside shell"

With either install method, you can check if your install was successful by opening Terminal and typing brew help - if you get help output, you're good; if you get an error, email me.

Windows setup instructions

This workshop is based on the BASH programming language/ shell, which is not available on Windows as it is on Mac. Windows uses a proprietary command-line interface referred to as cmd.exe, originally released in 1993. It’s like bash in its operation but there are many, many syntactical and technical differences. Because it's Windows, and they can't do anything just one way, there's another application called PowerShell which is a bit more Bash-like. While I have experience scripting on Windows, it was how I initially learned most of this, those skills are not very sharp at this time and I just don’t think I can support you at the level I’d need to in this workshop.

That being said, you are welcome to follow along in CMD/ PowerShell and make the modifications necessary, if you’d like.

Otherwise, we’re going to install Bash on your Windows machine, through the Windows subsystem for Linux (WSL). WSL is like having Linux installed, except without the headache of partitioning discs or creating bootable disc images - it’s Linux running as a Microsoft Windows application. It’s an official Windows software, so you can trust it at the same level you trust anything from them (😉)

With WSL installed, we will then use the Ubuntu Linux package manager, named apt, to install software.

Once you have installed WSL, proceed to the tools install section

Install Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL)

To install WSL, follow the instructions on the Microsoft website

Here is a great video describing the steps, as well

Install command line tools

This section assumes that you have completed the above steps to install Homebrew/ WSL

This software is installed entirely via the command line. Each command is written on its own line and will appear formatted like this. Type the command in exactly as you see it here and press enter after each command.


grabbags is a software tool maintained the Association of Moving Image Archivists Open Source Committee and it helps archivists manage bags in the manner of the Library of Congress’ BagIt specification.


brew tap amiaopensource/amiaos

brew install grabbags


cd ~/

git clone


ffmpeg is one of the most important and widely-used software projects on earth - it’s the backbone of Netflix and Facebook streaming services, as well as VLC. ffmpeg helps people stream, transcode, and investigate audiovisual media files. We won't be learning much about its use in the webinar, but I will deploy it as an example a few times, and it's handy to have.


brew install ffmpeg


Choose one of the following options

apt-get install ffmpeg

Note that I haven't tested every functionality of the above ffmpeg build. There may be commands which won't work due to licensing issues with non-free formats (notably H.264 and mp3). The below build is probably better.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:mc3man/trusty-media

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

sudo apt-get install ffmpeg


MediaInfo creates structured technical metadata from a variety of audiovisual media filetypes, everything from sample rates to listing subtitle tracks. We won't be learning MediaInfo directly in this webinar, but I will be using it in a couple of examples. And, it's handy to have.


brew install mediainfo


apt-get install mediainfo

Presenter Bio

Brendan Coates is a gardener, musician, proud cat-parent, and member of the Los Angeles Tenants Union. He has been working to ensure the long-term stability and relevance of archival audiovisual materials since 2011, with a particular focus on oral histories, for which he's contributed to programs at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, The History Makers, and, currently, at the Computer History Museum. His background with historical AV also led him to the UCSB Library, where he headed the Special Research Collections digitization lab for four years, contributing to their cylinder program and The National Jukebox projects, among others. A lifelong interest in computers and aversion to boring work inspired him to start learning Bash and Python and integrating them into his professional life, and he's just been on that path ever since. He's a graduate of the University of Michigan's School of Information (#HailToTheVictims), a winner of the James A. Lindner Prize for QCT-Parse, a winner of the IGF Nuovo Award with Cassie McQuater for his contribution to her web game Black Room, and an active member of The Association for Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) and the Oral History Association's Archives Interest Group (OHAAIG).


As a project about open-source software, this presentation is also entirely open source. As such, it is built on top of the work of others, notably:

Natalie Baur, Emma Volk, Kevin, Juana Suarez, Jess Cayer, and the team at NYU MIAP - our gracious hosts who spent many hours reviewing applications

Lauren Sorensen - who initially approached me about this in 2021

Ashley Blewer, Dianne Dietrich, Jarret Drake, Reto Kromer - as mentioned above, these people don't just do good work they also share it

Morgan Morel, my bud who helped brainstorm all this

The presentation framework is reveal.js | all images via me or Wikimedia Commons