The International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC) is the leading international organisation dedicated to improving the tools, standards and best practices of web archiving, promoting international collaboration and the broad access and use of web archives for research and as cultural heritage.
This year, for the first time the IIPC’s annual General Assembly in Reykjavik was accompanied by a three-day conference, bringing together web archivists, curators, IT specialists and researchers to discuss challenges related to acquiring, preserving, making available and using web archives. With over 150 participants, including leading experts – most prominently the internet pioneer Vint Cerf – the conference provided a unique opportunity to learn about web archiving strategies and projects around the world, and to keep up to date with emerging trends in research and latest technological developments.
The first day, after a warm welcome by Ingibjörk Sverrisdottir, Iceland’s National Librarian, was dedicated to the ‘big questions’ of web archiving: What’s worth saving? (Hjalmar Gislason) and how to avoid a Digital Dark Age? (Vint Cerf). How might new services look like, which tools and strategies for preservation are available (Emulation!), or being developed? Or, in the words of Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive: ’20 years of Web Archiving – What do we do now?’ (video of his talk introducing the ‘National Library of Atlantis’ prototype for integrated web archive discovery)
On the second day, the conference continued with two separate tracks, discussing either policies, practices and strategies for capture and preservation of web material, or looking more at the user side of web archives, and at how web archive data be accessed, searched, analysed and visualised as a resource for research.
The third day was the hands-on day with workshops exploring search interfaces such as the SHINE interface developed at the British Library for the UK Web Archive, DIY web archiving tools such as webrecorder.io, the open-source platform Warcbase for analysing web archive data, and discussing the future of the WARC archive format.
There was plenty of time for Q&A and discussions between and after the talks and presentations, and open, friendly atmosphere of the conference encouraged informal conversations with web archiving colleagues and networking during coffee and lunch breaks, and on visits like the tour of the National and University Library of Iceland.
Once again it became clear that web archiving practice is at the same time extremely diverse and depending on joint efforts and collaborations:
For example, the priorities in curating a relatively small collection of Electronic Literature at the German Literary Archive Marbach are very different from these in capturing and preserving the .EU domain at the Portuguese National Foundation for Scientific Computing FCCN, owing the scope, size and structure of the collections, and the resources available to build and maintain them. Similarly, quality assurance policies and workflows differ considerably between national domain scale archives, such as the Legal Deposit UK Web Archive containing millions of websites, and specialized archives curated and captured by university libraries like the North Carolina State University. Researchers approach the UK Government Web Archive with different research questions than those they would use to look at archived Twitter data.
But no matter the size and scope of the web archive, the resources available at a web archiving institution, or the focus of a particular project, the underlying challenges are very similar:
- How do we decide what to capture?
- How to capture it?
- How to preserve it for the future?
- How to provide access and facilitate discovery?
- How to use web archives for research?
Working collaboratively and across disciplines, including perspectives from archivists, curators, IT engineers and researchers seems to be the best way forward, and the practice of sharing knowledge and experience, and to openly discuss problems gets certainly embraced by the web archiving community. A particular project might have ‘failed’ in terms of achieving the intended outcome, but it can still provide valuable lessons for the next project elsewhere, and in the long run, for developing best practice, policies and standards for web archiving as a discipline.
Curators might be slightly overwhelmed by technical details discussed by web crawl engineers (I certainly was!) and ‘the IT guys (and girls)’ might sometimes be confused by the curatorial way of thinking; web archiving cultures in North America seem to differ considerably from the approaches in Europe, where Legal Deposit regulations have a strong impact on collection strategies and access to archives. STEM researchers look at data in different ways than historians and social scientists.
International conferences like the IIPC Web Archiving Conference 2016 are invaluable for bringing together these different perspectives, for fostering discussion and knowledge sharing and for providing an opportunity to establish new and strengthening existing contacts with web archiving colleagues in archives, (university) libraries and research institutions worldwide.
Web archivists love to produce new social media content:
The conference seen through the participants’ Tweets: #iipcwac16.
(Now we just have to archive that!)
Not least, the Reykjavik conference provided a rare opportunity to meet web archiving colleagues from other UK Legal Deposit Libraries outside the usual committees and institutional settings. One of the conference lunch breaks was turned into an ad-hoc UK Legal Deposit Web Archive meeting, discussing user interface redevelopment – and where else but in Iceland can you have a Friday late afternoon conference debrief whilst soaking in a giant outdoor geothermal bathtub (aka the Blue Lagoon)?