#WAWeek2017 – Researchers, practitioners and their use of the archived web

This year, the world of web archiving  saw a premiere: not only were the biennial RESAW conference and the IIPC conference, established in 2016, held jointly for the first time, but they also formed part of a whole week of workshops, talks and public events around web archives – Web Archiving Week 2017 (or #WAWeek2017 for the social medially inclined).

After previous conferences Reykjavik (2016) and Arhus (RESAW 2015), the big 2017 event was held in London, 14-16 June 2017, organised jointly by the School of Advanced Studies of the University of London, the IIPC and the British Library.
The programme was packed full of an eclectic variety of presentations and discussions, with topics ranging from the theory and practice of curating web archive collections or capturing whole national web domains, via technical topics such as preservation strategies, software architecture and data management, to the development of methodologies and tools for using web archives based research and case studies of their application.

Even in digital times, who doesn’t like a conference pack? Of course, the full programme is also available online. (…but which version will be easier to archive?)

Do web archives have politics? How can web archives be catalogued? And archived websites cited in academic publications? How are contemporary events reflected on the web, and can be studied through web archives? What do we know about the North Korean web domain? Who uses web archives how and why? The gaps in web archives? How to capture social media? Or build collections across national domains? The history and future of the web? How does technology shape content – and vice versa? How can web archive collections be searched, filtered and analysed? What are the ethical implications of preserving web content, and using web archives for research?

Many questions, and few definite answers – yet. After all, ‘The Web’ is still very young (what are 25 years compared to millennia of manuscript traditions, and centuries of printed knowledge and culture?),  web archives a very new and complex resource, and everyone is still learning how to capture, preserve and use the enormous amount of linked and layered information. The only thing that seems clear is that without being adapted and extended traditional theories, methods and approaches of creating, maintaining and using archives can hardly be applied to web archives, and that indeed new ways of ‘thinking archives’ have to be found. (One example: describing web archives).

Matthew S. Weber about the perils and promise of web archives. Like lemmings, web archive people are very sociable – but we are trying hard to avoid that cliff!

Consequently, any meeting of ‘web archive people’ – that is, the small but growing international community of archivists, curators, software engineers, information specialists, historians, sociologists and media theorists – is buzzing with conversations and debate, and everyone is eager to share their own ideas, experiences and views for feedback and in order to help develop best practice, methodologies and theoretical frameworks for an emerging discipline. Whereas the resources available for web archiving are often scarce – as pointed out by the participants of the Digital Conversations panel discussion on the first conference day – in there is certainly no lack of enthusiasm, commitment and collaborative spirit of those who work in the field.

Digital Conversations: Jefferson Bailey, Andy Jackson, Jane Winters and Valerie Schafer discussing web archives, truth, lies and politics – and the importance of archiving the web for documenting contemporary events, public opinion and culture of debate in the 21st century.

The Bodleian’s contribution to the discussion was a presentation about a web archiving project we have undertaken in 2015 and 2016 in collaboration with the Library of Trinity College Dublin. Within (and outside) of the UK Legal Deposit Web Archive we curated a web archive collection around the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, to capture the varied ways in which the Irish and British states, cultural and educational institutions, as well as communities and individuals reflect on and engage with the Rising in its centenary year. The Easter Rising 1916 Web Archive was also a test case for exploring how themed, curated web archive collections can be used to promote the value and potential of web archives to a wider audience, and how web archives can be integrated into an academic library’s wider collection and public outreach strategies.

Including a web archive in an exhibition (Easter Rising: Responses and Reflections, Bodleian Library Proscholium, 1 February – 3 April 2016)…

…and talking about it. Team Bod-TCD proudly presents: The Easter Rising Web Archive (RESAW/IIPC conference, University of London Senate House, 14 June 2017)                                        Photo: Helena Byrne, BL

If you would like to delve deeper into the fascinating world of web archives: abstracts of the conference papers are available here, and selected full papers – including ours on the Easter Rising Project – are published here.

Or why not explore the Bodleian Libraries’ own Web Archive? You can browse our collections or get involved by nominating a website to archive.
There is also the UK Web Archive, and if you want to go really big: the Internet Archive with its Wayback Machine and more than 298 billion archived web pages at your fingertips/ mouse clicks is another good place to start a digital time travel adventure. Or, of course, some serious research.

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