Category Archives: Digital archives

Archiving web content related to the University of Oxford and the coronavirus pandemic

Since March 2020, the scope of collection development at the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive has expanded to also focus on the coronavirus pandemic: how the University of Oxford, and wider university community have reacted and responded to the rapidly changing global situation and government guidance. The Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive team have endeavoured (and will keep working) to capture, quality assess and make publicly available records from the web relating to Oxford and the coronavirus pandemic. Preserving these ephemeral records is important. Just a few months into what is sure to be a long road, what do these records show?

Firstly, records from the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive can demonstrate how university divisions and departments are continually adjusting in order to facilitate core activities of learning and research. This could be by moving planned events online or organising and hosting new events relevant to the current climate:

Capture of http://pcmlp.socleg.ox.ac.uk/ 24 May 2020 available through the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive. Wayback URL https://wayback.archive-it.org/2502/20200524133907/https://pcmlp.socleg.ox.ac.uk/global-media-policy-seminar-series-victor-pickard-on-media-policy-in-a-time-of-crisis/

Captures of websites also provide an insight to the numerous collaborations of Oxford University with both the UK government and other institutions at this unprecedented time; that is, the role Oxford is playing and how that role is changing and adapting. Much of this can be seen in the ever evolving news pages of departmental websites, especially those within Medical Sciences division, such as the Nuffield Department of Population Health’s collaboration with UK Biobank for the government department of health and social care announced on 17 May 2020.

The web archive preserves records of how certain groups are contributing to coronavirus covid-19 research, front line work and reviewing things at an extremely  fast pace which the curators at Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive can attempt to capture by crawling more frequently. One example of this is the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine’s Oxford Covid-19 Evidence Service – a platform for rapid data analysis and reviews which is currently updated with several articles daily. Comparing two screenshots of different captures of the site, seven weeks apart, show us the different themes of data being reviewed, and particularly how the ‘Most Viewed’ questions change (or indeed, don’t change) over time.

Capture of https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/ 14 April 2020 available through the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive. Wayback URL https://wayback.archive-it.org/org-467/20200414111731/https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/

Interestingly, the page location has slightly changed, the eagle-eyed among you may have spotted that the article reviews are now under /oxford-covid-19-evidence-service/, which is still in the web crawler’s scope.

Capture of https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/ 05 June 2020 available through the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive. Wayback url https://wayback.archive-it.org/org-467/20200605100737/https://www.cebm.net/oxford-covid-19-evidence-service/

We welcome recommendations for sites to archive; if you would like to nominate a website for inclusion in the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive you can do so here. Meanwhile, the work to capture institutional, departmental and individual responses at this time continues.

New catalogue – Oxford Women in Computing: An Oral History project

The catalogue of the Oxford Women in Computing oral history project is now available online.

This oral history project captures the experiences of 10 pioneering women who were active in computing research, teaching and service provision between the 1950s and 1990s, not only in Oxford, but at national and international levels. The rationale for the project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, through grants held by Professor Ursula Martin, was that women had participated in very early stages of computing; aside from a few exceptions their stories had not been captured – or indeed told. Among the interviewees are Eleanor Dodson, methods developer for Protein Crystallography and former research technician for Dorothy Hodgkin and Linda Hayes, former Head of User Services at the Oxford University Computing Service – now University of Oxford IT services. Leonor Barroca left Portugal in 1982 as a qualified electrical engineer to follow a boyfriend to Oxford – later that year she was one of three women on the university’s MSc in Computing course. Leonor also worked briefly as a COBOL (common business-oriented language) programmer for the Bodleian Libraries.

Themes throughout the interviews, which were conducted in 2018 by author and broadcaster Georgina Ferry, include:

  • career opportunities and early interests in computing
  • gender splits in computing
  • the origins and development of computing teaching and research in Oxford
  • development of the University of Oxford’s Computing Service and the commercial software house the Numerical Algorithms Group (NAG).

The Oxford Women in Computing oral histories serve as a source for insight into nearly half a century of women’s involvement in computing at Oxford and beyond.  The collection will particularly be of use to those interested in gender studies and the history of computing.

The interviews can be listened to online though University of Oxford podcasts here.

Communications programmer Esther White in the early days of the University of Oxford’s Computing Service. © University of Oxford

 

 

Web Archiving & Preservation Working Group: Social Media & Complex Content

On January 16 2020, I had the pleasure of attending the first public meeting of the Digital Preservation Coalition’s Web Archiving and Preservation Working Group. The meeting was held in the beautiful New Records House in Edinburgh.

We were welcomed by Sara Day Thomson who in her opening talk gave us a very clear overview of the issues and questions we increasingly run into when archiving complex/ dynamic web or social media content. For example, how do we preserve apps like Pokémon Go that use a user’s location data or even personal information to individualize the experience? Or where do we draw the line in interactive social media conversations? After all, we cannot capture everything. But how do we even capture this information without infringing the rights of the original creators? These and more musings set the stage perfectly to the rest of the talks during the day.

Although I would love to include every talk held this day, as they were all very interesting, I will only highlight a couple of the presentations to give this blog some pretence at “brevity”.

The first talk I want to highlight was given by Giulia Rossi, Curator of Digital Publications at the British Library, on “Overview of Collecting Approach to Complex Publications”. Rossie introduced us to the emerging formats project; a two year project by the British Library. The project focusses on three types of content:

  1. Web-based interactive narratives where the user’s interaction with a browser based environment determines how the narrative evolves;
  2. Book as mobile apps (a.k.a. literary apps);
  3. Structured data.

Personally, I found Rossi’s discussion of the collection methods in particular very interesting. The team working on the emerging formats project does not just use heritage crawlers and other web harvesting tools, but also file transfers or direct downloads via access code and password. Most strikingly, in the event that only a partial capture can be made, they try to capture as much contextual information about the digital object as possible including blog posts, screen shots or videos of walkthroughs, so researchers will have a good idea of what the original content would have looked like.

The capture of contextual content and the inclusion of additional contextual metadata about web content is currently not standard practice. Many tools do not even allow for their inclusion. However, considering that many of the web harvesting tools experience issues when attempting to capture dynamic and complex content, this could offer an interesting work-around for most web archives. It is definitely an option that I myself would like to explore going forward.

The second talk that I would like to zoom in on is “Collecting internet art” by Karin de Wild, digital fellow at the University of Leicester. Taking the Agent Ruby – a chatbot created by Lynn Hershman Leeson – as her example, de Wild explored questions on how we determine what aspects of internet art need to be preserved and what challenges this poses. In the case of Agent Ruby, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art initially exhibited the chatbot in a software installation within the museum, thereby taking the artwork out of its original context. They then proceeded to add it to their online Expedition e-space, which has since been taken offline. Only a print screen of the online art work is currently accessible through the SFMOMA website, as the museum prioritizes the preservation of the interface over the chat functionality.

This decision raises questions about the right ways to preserve online art. Does the interface indeed suffice or should we attempt to maintain the integrity of the artwork by saving the code as well? And if we do that, should we employ code restitution, which aims to preserve the original arts’ code, or a significant part of it, whilst adding restoration code to reanimate defunct code to full functionality? Or do we emulate the software as the University of Freiburg is currently exploring? How do we keep track of the provenance of the artwork whilst taking into account the different iterations that digital art works go through?

De Wild proposed to turn to linked data as a way to keep track of particularly the provenance of an artwork. Together with two other colleagues she has been working on a project called Rhizome in which they are creating a data model that will allow people to track the provenance of internet art.

Although this is not within the scope of the Rhizome project, it would be interesting to see how the finished data model would lend itself to keep track of changes in the look and feel of regular websites as well. Even though the layouts of websites have changed radically over the past number of years, these changes are usually not documented in metadata or data models, even though they can be as much of a reflection of social and cultural changes as the content of the website. Going forward it will be interesting to see how the changes in archiving online art works will influence the preservation of online content in general.

The final presentation I would like to draw attention to is “Twitter Data for Social Science Research” by Luke Sloan, deputy director of the Social Data Science Lab at the University of Cardiff. He provided us with a demo of COSMOS, an alternative to the twitter API, which  is freely available to academic institutions and not-for-profit organisations.

COSMOS allows you to either target a particular twitter feed or enter a search term to obtain a 1% sample of the total worldwide twitter feed. The gathered data can be analysed within the system and is stored in JSON format. The information can subsequently be exported to a .CVS or Excel format.

Although the system is only able to capture new (or live) twitter data, it is possible to upload historical twitter data into the system if an archive has access to this.

Having given us an explanation on how COSMOS works, Sloan asked us to consider the potential risks that archiving and sharing twitter data could pose to the original creator. Should we not protect these creators by anonymizing their tweets to a certain extent? If so,  what data should we keep? Do we only record the tweet ID and the location? Or would this already make it too easy to identify the creator?

The last part of Sloan’s presentation tied in really well with the discussion about the ethical approaches to archiving social media. During this discussion we were prompted to consider ways in which archives could archive twitter data, whilst being conscious of the potential risks to the original creators of the tweets. This definitely got me thinking about the way we currently archive some of the twitter accounts related to the Bodleian Libraries in our very own Bodleian Libraries Web Archive.

All in all, the DPC event definitely gave me more than enough food for thought about the ways in which the Bodleian Libraries and the wider community in general can improve the ways we capture (meta)data related to the online content that we archive and the ethical responsibilities that we have towards the creators of said content.

Because Digital Objects can Decay too: Conducting a Proof of Concept for Archivematica

Like other archives, the Bodleian Libraries has been searching for ways to optimize the conservation of our digital collections. The need to find a solution has become increasingly pressing as the Bodleian Electronic Archives and Manuscripts (BEAM), our digital repository service for the management of born-digital archives and manuscripts acquired by the Special Collections, now contains roughly 13TB worth of digital objects, with much more waiting in the wings.

In order to help us manage the ingest of digital objects within our collections, the Bodleian Libraries undertook an options review as part of its DPOC project. This lead to a decision to conduct a proof of concept of Archivematica. This proof of concept included the installation of a QA and DEV environment with the help of Artefactual followed by an extensive testing period and a gap analysis.

In November 2018 we started testing the system to establish whether or not Archivematica met our acceptance criteria. We mainly focussed on three areas:

  1. Overall performance/ functionality: Is the system user friendly? Can it successfully process all the different file types and sizes that we have in our collection?
  2. Metadata: Can Archivematica extract the metadata from the Excel sheets that we have created over time? What technical metadata does Archivematica automatically extract from ingested files?
  3. File extraction and normalization: Are disk images extracted properly? Is the content of a transfers normalized to the right file type?

Whilst testing, we also reached out to and visited other organisations that had already implemented Archivematica as well, including the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, the University of Edinburgh, the National Library of Wales and the Wellcome Trust.

Based on the outcomes of the tests we conducted, and the conversations we had with other institutions, we identified five gap areas:

  1. Performance: The Archivematica instance we configured for the Proof of Concept struggled with transfers over 200GB or transfers that contain over 5000+ files.
  2. Error reporting: It was often unclear what a particular error code and message meant. The error logs used by system administrators are also verbose, making it hard for them to pinpoint the error.
  3. Metadata: Here we identified two gaps. Firstly, there is the verbosity of the metadata. Because Archivematica records individual PREMIS events for each digital file, the resulting METS file becomes unwieldy, compromising the system’s performance. Secondly, we require a workflow to migrate our spreadsheet-held legacy pre-ingest capture metadata and file-level metadata into Archivematica, and to go on including this pre-ingest metadata, which will continue to be recorded in spreadsheet form for the foreseeable, in future ingests.
  4. User/ access management: Archivematica does not offer a way to manage access to collections or Archive Information Packages, and allows all users to alter the system work-flow. We are a multi-user organisation, and wish to have tighter controls on access to collections and workflow configurations.
  5. General reporting: Archivematica currently does not offer many reports to monitor progress, content and growth of collections.

Once we identified these gaps we had an intensive two day workshop with Artefactual to pinpoint possible solutions, which we subsequently presented to the wider Archivematica community during the Archivematica Camp in London in July 2019.

We will use all the input gathered from the proof of concept to inform our initial implementation of Archivematica, which will begin in January 2020. The project will focus on the performance and metadata gaps identified during the proof of concept, allowing us to bring Archivematica into production use 2021. We are keen to work with the Archivematica community, so do get in touch at beam@bodleian.ox.ac.uk if you’re interested in finding out more about our work.

A new project in Archives and Modern Manuscripts: the conversion of the Bodleian’s Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts

The summer of 2019 saw the beginning of an exciting and much anticipated new project in Archives and Modern Manuscripts: the conversion of the Bodleian’s Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts into machine-readable format, ready for greater online accessibility through the newly launched Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts website.

What is the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts?


The Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts edited by Richard W. Hunt, Falconer Madan and P. D. Record (1915)

The Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts is key to accessing our collections. The ten volumes were compiled to list all of the Western manuscripts held by the Library, as a summary of the collection (they are aptly named), and a finding aid for researchers and readers. The first seven volumes, edited by Richard W. Hunt, Falconer Madan and P. D. Record, provide an overview of manuscripts acquired before 1915. The last three volumes, edited by Mary Clapinson and T. D. Rogers, were published in 1991 and describe acquisitions made between 1916 and 1975.

Together, the volumes of the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts describes approximately 56,000 shelfmarks (physical places within our archival storage), and thus a substantial part of our vast and eclectic collection. The material ranges from manuscripts acquired singly such as an Album of genealogical tables of ruling families of Europe and the Middle East from classical times to the 20th century, to large archives such as the archive of John Locke (full catalogue coming soon).

If you want to learn more about the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts and the acquisition of material at the Bodleian Libraries, alongside our interesting history, we highly recommend William Dunn Macray’s Annals of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, A.D. 1598-A.D. 1867, which you can read online here. William Dunn Macray worked here at the Bodleian during the nineteenth century.

How can you discover what’s in the Summary Catalogue now?

The volumes of the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts are accessible in paper format in the Weston library and have also been digitised to be accessible remotely. Digitised scans, in PDF form, are available via SOLO: the first seven volumes are accessible here, and the last three volumes there.  The first few Summary Catalogue descriptions that we’ve converted since the project began in September have been published in Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts. You can find details of what’s been published so far on our New Additions page.

Meet the team:

We are two archivists working exclusively on the project: Alice Whichelow and Pauline Soum-Paris. Our colleague Kelly Burchmore also devotes some of her time to the project.

Alice Whichelow – Hi! I qualified as an archivist in September 2019, gaining my qualification in Archives and Records Management from University College London. As a history enthusiast, getting to explore some of the lesser known treasures of the Bodleian Libraries’ collection is great, and getting to share them is even better!

Pauline Soum-Paris – After completing my Master of Archives and Records Management at the University of Liverpool, I became a qualified archivist in September 2019. With interests in languages, history and religions, I can only see the collection held by the Bodleian Libraries as a goldmine and I am looking forward to sharing a few of the gems I come across every day!

Kelly Burchmore – As a project archivist who qualified in Digital Curation in March 2019, I work mostly on modern collections. Therefore, through the conversion process I enjoy learning about the physical characteristics of more traditional archive material; it’s interesting to read about the binding of the manuscripts, and see the meticulous methods by which they were catalogued. It’s great to work with Alice and Pauline to share the value of this project, and indeed, the collections and items themselves.

What you can expect from us:

The conversion of these Summary Catalogue descriptions into machine-readable form for online discovery is now well-underway, and new descriptions will be added regularly to Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts over the course of 2020 and 2021. We will be using this blog to keep you updated on what we find, sharing blog posts about items and collections from the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts which have sparked our interests. Likewise, if you have used the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts and have suggestions regarding items that fascinated you, do let us know in the comments. So, keep an eye out and enjoy!

“All the kick, the go, the cheese”: Lady Clarendon’s letters in Bodleian Student Editions

This term, the Bodleian Student Editions workshops have entered their fourth year.

Students at the 30 October workshop get acquainted with Lady Clarendon’s diaries

They continue to attract students from across the university, undergraduate and postgraduate, arts and science students. This year we have been editing the letters of Katharine, Countess of Clarendon (1810-1874), to her sister-in-law, [Maria] Theresa Lewis, and these letters are proving to be as fascinating as the very popular Penelope Maitland correspondence.  Some of the letters have been uploaded into our ongoing catalogue on Early Modern Letters Online.

Students working on Lady Clarendon’s letters

Staff and students grapple with tricky handwriting, 6 Nov 2018

These letters fulfil the criteria that we have laid down for suitable material for the workshops – they are in good condition, unpublished, interesting, readable for non-specialists, have no copyright complications, and are in a format that allows the letters to be distributed among the students in the workshop. As the students work in pairs, we require six  or seven individual letters in each workshop, with more in reserve should the transcripts be completed quickly. The perfect format is the fascicule which makes the letters much easier to handle – one fascicule can be given to each pair. Inevitably, most of the good runs of letters that fulfil these requirements tend to be in 19th-century collections of papers that were never bound. This allows us to make a virtue of necessity, because there are very large collections of 19th-century letters acquired relatively recently (i.e. post-1970) that are well worth exploring for their historical interest.

Lady Clarendon’s letters in fascicules

Selection of the Lady Clarendon letters was undertaken by myself and Balliol student Stephanie Kelley, the Balliol-Bodley scholar in early 2018, who also provided digital photographs of many of the letters. Though the workshops give access to original papers, digital images are also made available for detailed checking of difficult words.

The letters were purchased by the Bodleian in 1982, to add to the archive of her husband the 4th Earl of Clarendon already deposited here in 1949 (the 4th Earl’s papers were transferred to Library ownership in 2013). The choice of Lady Clarendon as a subject for the workshops is fortunate in that this year we have been joined by Andrew Cusworth, who is placed in the Bodleian in connection with the Prince Albert Digitisation Project. The Earl and Countess of Clarendon were intimate with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and court gossip is one of the interesting aspects of the letters.

Lady Clarendon to Theresa Lewis, Vice Regal Lodge, Dublin, 14 Dec 1847

George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon (1800-1870), was a major political figure of the mid-Victorian period, and his wife’s letters are of considerable political interest as she was his confidante in many matters. In the period covered by the letters, Clarendon was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1847 to 1852, and then Foreign Secretary from 1853 to 1858. His career therefore coincided with major events including the Irish Famine, the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848, the Crimean War and the Indian uprising known as the ‘Mutiny’. The recipient of Lady Clarendon’s letters was Maria Theresa Lewis (nee Villiers), Clarendon’s sister, and the wife of George Cornewall Lewis (1806-1863), another Liberal politician who served as Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs from 1847 to 1850, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1855 to 1858, Home Secretary 1859 to 1861, and War Secretary from 1861 to 1863. The letters do not only discuss politics however. There is a great deal about family matters, the activities, and above all the illnesses of children, parents and other family members. Lady Clarendon’s lively style provides a very accessible glimpse of aristocratic Victorian life and preoccupations, and the student editions will provide a very useful adjunct to the catalogues of the various parts of the extensive Clarendon archives in the Bodleian.

The workshops have been kept entertained by Lady Clarendon’s fascinating take on mid-Victorian life. Here are just a few examples of her inimitable style – more extracts will follow so watch this space! All letter are to her sister-in-law Theresa Lewis.  Look out for a follow-up Blog with further extracts.

Vice Regal Lodge, 22 Sep 1847 – on the arrival of her mother-in-law in Ireland

Here is Mrs. George sick, tired, but having had a good short passage … she has blue pilled and Speedimanis’d … [Speediman’s pills were a Victorian remedy for stomach complaints]

Vice Regal Lodge, 14 Dec 1847 – on Irish troubles

Lord Clancarty told me … that Bishop Derry the Catholic Bishop of Clonfort had inadvertently let out before Lord Sligo dining out somewhere that the landlords who had been shot deserved it richly!!!! – this Bishop is a Jesuit, I believe a clever and a wily man, but saying this was a great slip…

Vice Regal Lodge, 17 Dec 1847 – forgets to report the birth of her sixth child!

George Lewis’s Board of Controul office, his most excellent début in Parliament, on your side the water, and our dreadful murders and George’s administrative atchievements on this side have been deeply interesting to us both – only think of my not mentioning George Patrick Hyde’s birth too amongst the remarkable events!!

Vice Regal Lodge, 1 Jan 1848 – ‘my unavailing head’

 … George depends upon me for writing to you for him too as tho’ always busy he is particularly overwhelmed to-day and at this moment I hear the murmuring voices of Attorney Generals and Lord Chief Justices in his room settling all sorts of coercive and improvement measures and I don’t venture even to pop my ‘unavailing’ head (as he calls it) in…

[in the same letter] – a present that is ‘all “the kick, the go, the cheese”’

… Mama is leaving us with Robert this afternoon … – they take two small parcels to London. There is a small locket of blue enamel and rose diamonds with George’s and my hair in it, which we present with a joint kiss to you as a little Xmas souvenir– There is a chatelaine in steel which is all “the kick, the go, the cheese” and which I send to Thérèse as my birthday present …

OED  chatelaine: ‘an ornamental appendage worn by ladies at their waist … consists of a number of short chains attached to the girdle or belt … bearing articles of household use and ornament, as keys, corkscrews, scissors, penknife, pin-cushion, thimble-case, watch etc …’

OED the kick: the fashion, the newest style

OED the go: the height of fashion; the ‘in’ thing, the ‘rage’.

OED the cheesecolloquialObsolete. The right, correct, or best thing; something first-rate, genuine, or exemplary.

Students share an amusing anecdote with staff.

Bodleian Student Editions workshops are organised by Helen Brown (DPhil candidate in English), Andrew Cusworth, Chris Fletcher, Miranda Lewis (Cultures of Knowledge), Olivia Thompson (DPhil candidate in Ancient History), and Mike Webb, as a collaboration between the Department of Special Collections, Centre for Digital Scholarship, and Cultures of Knowledge. All photographs by Olivia Thompson

Old Ideas, New Technologies: Historical and Vintage Festivals in the UK Web Archive

Festivals are wonderful events that can often involve thousands of people, united by their shared love for a common activity or theme. The UK Web Archive seeks to capture, and record these often colourful and creative demonstrations of human culture and creativity.

Some Festivals are very large and documented, such as Glastonbury which often attracts over a 100,000 people. However, there are also a number of smaller and more specific festivals which are less well known outside of their local communities and networks, such as the Shelswell History Festival. However, the internet has helped level the playing field, and given these smaller festivals an opportunity to publicise their events far beyond the reaches of their traditional borders and boundaries. And this has allowed archivists such as myself to find and add these festivals to the UK Web Archive.

(The Festivals Icon on the UK Web Archive Website)

Historical and Vintage Festivals

One of the most personally intriguing parts of the UK Web Archive festivals collection for me is Historical and Vintage festivals. These festivals rarely attract the level of media attention that a high profile music festival featuring the world’s biggest pop stars would enjoy. However, the UK Web Archive, is about diversity, inclusivity, and finding value in all parts of society. People who attend, organise, and take part in historical and vintage festivals form part of a collective effort which often results in a website that helps chronicle their enthusiasm.

Thus far we have found forty eight different historical and vintage festivals that take place in the United Kingdom. These festivals are broad and varied, and celebrate a multitude of things. This includes Newport Rising which celebrates the 1839 Chartist rebellion, the Lupton House Festival of History which celebrates a historic house, and Frock Me! Which is a vintage fashion fair. Every single one of these festivals is unique and specific in their own way, but they do have something in common. They all celebrate history and the past, and are characterised by a charming sense of nostalgia and remembrance.

While the website is no substitute for attending in person, they often include:

• Basic information about the festival’s time, place, and theme.
• An array of photographs.
• Anecdotes about the events.
• Information about the festivals donors and supporters.
• And additional information, such as attendance policies and rules etc.

A notable feature of these websites is how they use relatively new technologies to organise events which celebrate old events, places, and themes. This indicates a fantastic synergy between the heritage sector, and modern technology.

Online Enthusiast Communities in the UK Web Archive

There is a saying that ‘variety is the spice of life’ and this is certainly true when you think of the types of hobbies and interests the UK public engages in. There are the hobbies we have all probably heard of such as train spotting or metal detecting and there are the more obscure ones such as Poohsticks or Hand Dryer appreciation.  Websites are a useful tool for enthusiasts to communicate and share their passion with the world. At the UK Web Archive (UKWA) the Online Enthusiast Communities  collection aims to:

‘Capture how UK based public forums are used to discuss hobbies and activities and serve as a place for enthusiasts to converse with others sharing similar interests.’

This collection includes such a diverse and wonderful selection of websites and forums. I can honestly say that curating this collection has truly been a joy – there are probably very few jobs that allow you to look at The Letter Box Study Group (a website about the history and development of British roadside letter boxes) as part of your tasks for the day.

Differences I have noticed

As a curator you get to explore lots of sites and you begin to notice differences and similarities between websites. It is interesting to see the variety in website design and levels of expertise and to me it feels like this is reflected in the websites that are archived.

I have noticed lots of online communities using a variety of website builders. The huge diversity in tools appear to have made it easier to create more professional looking sites with ease. Compared to older sites, you notice:

  • the increased use of images
  • cleaner feel
  • neutral backgrounds
  • minimal text
  • occasional e-commerce sections

However, it is nostalgic to see some of the older more ‘blocky’ sites, as I do remember the days of dial-up internet access and early web sites. To me, forums tend to have a similar feel and the designs does not deviate greatly from each other.

I have also found how often a website updates intriguing. Some are regularly updated whereas others appear to have been untouched for several years. This may reflect that many websites are run by volunteers balancing other commitments. Regularity of updates is an important factor as it will contribute to deciding how often we capture the site – it is the skill of a web archivist to judge this accordingly however these frequencies can be updated.

Some of my Favourite sites

One of the joys of curating this collection is that you get to experience sites that are really unique that you would not normally explore. I wanted to highlight a few of the sites that particularly caught my attention, specifically from the ‘Miscellaneous’ sub section as this is my personal favourite.

Pylon of the Month

Pylon of the month (February 2018) from Sweden. Image Credit: Kristin Allardh, 2018

This is a site dedicated to electricity pylons highlighting a monthly winner. These could include current pylons or historic images and entries can come from the UK and beyond. Images are usually accompanied by some interesting history or facts.

Modernist Britain

Odeon cinema Leicester, Leicestershire. Image Credit: Richard Coltman, 2010

This site is beautifully designed and celebrates modernist architecture in Britain. There are fifty illustrated images with accompanying information about the history of the buildings and photographs taken by Richard Coltman.

Cloud appreciation society

A Lenticular cloud. Image Credit: © José Ramón Sáez, 2019

This site was launched in 2005 with the aim of ‘bringing together people who love the sky’. It has an international membership with members submitting images from all over the world. They also run events, cloud related news and in 2019 they are contributing to the non-profit FogQuest project.

The online enthusiast community is also very witty, there are some fantastically named sites and forums such as:

  • Planet of the Vapes – a forum about vaping
  • DIYnot Forum – a forum about DIY
  • Frit-Happens! – an online community for glass blowing and glass crafting

Curating the online enthusiast collection has been incredibly enjoyable. Having to actively seek new sites has made me more aware of the variety of hobbies and diversity of interests the public engage in.

As this collection develops, more sites relating to the variety of hobbies and interests will be captured and persevered for future generations explore, enjoy and research. However, due to the size, complexity and technological challenges of archiving all UK websites, some may get missed or we just do not know about them . If there is a site that you think should be included then you can nominate it on the ‘Save a UK website‘ page of the UKWA.

Developing collections on Gender Equality at the UK Web Archive

The Gender Equality collection

The UK web archive Gender Equality collection and its themed subsections provide a rich insight into attitudes and approaches towards gender equality in contemporary UK society and culture. This was previously discussed in my last blog post about the collection, which you can read here.

Curating the collection

A great deal of the discussion and activity relating to gender equality occurs predominantly in an online space. This means that as a curator for the Gender Equality collection, the harvest is plenty! The type of content being collected by the UK Web Archive includes:

Of course there is some crossover, not only regarding the type of content but also within subsections of the gender equality collection.

This image is made available and reproduced by CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0. [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/legalcode]

Specifically, I find the event sites in the collection really interesting. As well as documenting that the event(s) even existed and happened in the first place, they can give us a snapshot of who organised the event, as well as who the intended audience were. Also, the collection exhibits the evolution of websites related to gender equality over time (which can be very speedy indeed when it comes to sites like twitter accounts!), and the changing priorities, trends, initiatives and more that can tell us about attitudes towards gender equality in the UK. These kinds of websites are being created by and engaged with by humans right now.

Nominate a website!

The endeavour of the UK Web Archive never stops – if you would like to help grow the Gender Equality collection (or indeed, any other collections) click here to nominate a website to save. Go on…whilst you’re at it, you can explore the UK Web Archive’s funky new interface!

 

Image reference: Workers Solidarity Movement (2012) March for Choice

 

Festivals in the UK Web Archive

Live events are funny things; can their spirit be captured or do you have to “be there to get it”? Personally I don’t think you can, so why are we archiving festival websites?

Running throughout the year, though most tend to be clustered around the short UK summer, festivals form a huge part of the UK’s contemporary cultural scene.  While it’s often the big music festivals that come to mind such as Glastonbury and Reading or perhaps the more local CAMRA sponsored beer and cider festivals; these days there is a festival for pretty much everything under the sun.

UK Web Archive topics and themes

In part this explosion of festivals from the very local and niche to the mainstream and brand sponsored has been helped by the internet. You can now find festivals dedicated to anything from bird watching to meat grilling to vintage motors.

With the number of tools and platforms available for website creation and event and bookings management and the rise of social media, it seems anyone with an idea can put on a festival. More importantly with increasing connectedness that the web gives us, the reach of these home grown festivals has become potentially global.

Of course most will remain small local events that go on until the organisers lose interest or money such as Blissfields in Winchester which had to cancel their 2018 event due to poor ticket sales. But some will make it big like Neverworld which started in 2006 in Lee Denny’s back garden while his parents were away for the week but now 10+ years on has sold out the 5000 capacity festival venue it has relocated to.

The UK Web Archive‘s Festivals collection attempts to capture the huge variety of UK festivals taking place each year and currently has around 1200 events being archived that are loosely categorised based around 15 common themes, though of course there is a great deal of crossover as they can be found combining themes such as:

In this collection of UK festivals sites, while we cannot capture the spirit of a live event we can still try to capture their transient nature. Here you can see their rise and fall, the photographs and comments left in their wake, and their impact on local communities over time. Hopefully these sites and their contents can still give future researchers a sometimes surprising and often candid snapshot of contemporary British culture.

Emily Chen