Category Archives: Digital archives

Conference Report: IIPC Web Archiving Conference 2021

This year’s International Internet Preservation Consortium Web Archiving Conference was held online from 15-16th June 2021, bringing together professionals from around the world to share their experiences of preserving the Web as a research tool for future generations. In this blog post, Simon Mackley reports back on some of the highlights from the conference.  

How can we best preserve the World Wide Web for future researchers, and how can we best provide access to our collections? These were the questions that were at the forefront of this year’s International Internet Preservation Consortium Web Archiving Conference, which was hosted virtually by the National Library of Luxembourg. Web archiving is a subject of particular interest to me: as one of the Bodleian Library’s Graduate Trainee Digital Archivists, I spend a lot of my time working on our own Web collections as part of the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive. It was great therefore to have the chance to attend part of this virtual conference and hear for myself about new developments in the sector.

One thing that really struck me from the conference was the huge diversity in approaches to preserving the Web. On the one hand, many of the papers concerned large-scale efforts by national legal deposit institutions. For instance, Ivo Branco, Ricardo Basílio, and Daniel Gomes gave a very interesting presentation on the creation of the 2019 European Parliamentary Elections collection at the Portuguese Web Archive. This was a highly ambitious project, with the aim of crawling not just the Portuguese Web domain but also capturing a snapshot of elections coverage across 24 different European languages through the use of an automated search engine and a range of web crawler technologies (see their blog for more details). The World Wide Web is perhaps the ultimate example of an international information resource, so it is brilliant to see web archiving initiatives take a similarly international approach.

At the other end of the scale, Hélène Brousseau gave a fascinating paper on community-based web archiving at Artexte library and research centre, Canada. Within the arts community, websites often function as digital publications analogous to traditional exhibition catalogues. Brousseau emphasised the need for manual web archiving rather than automated crawling as a means of capturing the full content and functionality of these digital publications, and at Artexete this has been achieved by training website creators to self-archive their own websites using Conifer. Given that in many cases web archivists often have minimal or even no contact with website creators, it was fascinating to hear of an approach that places creators at the very heart of the process.

It was also really interesting to hear about the innovative new ways that web archives were engaging with researchers using their collections, particularly in the use of new ‘Labs’-style approaches. Marie Carlin and Dorothée Benhamou-Suesser for instance reported on the new services being planned for researchers at the Bibliothèque nationale de France Data Lab, including a crawl-on-demand service and the provision of web archive datasets. New methodologies are always being developed within the Digital Humanities, and so it is vitally important that web archives are able to meet the evolving needs of researchers.

Like all good conferences, the papers and discussions did not solely focus on the successes of the past year, but also explored the continued challenges of web archiving and how they can be addressed. Web archiving is often a resource-intensive activity, which can prove a significant challenge for collecting institutions. This was a major point of discussion in the panel session on web archiving the coronavirus pandemic, as institutions had to balance the urgency of quickly capturing web content during a fast-evolving crisis against the need to manage resources for the longer-term, as it became apparent that the pandemic would last months rather than weeks. It was clear from the speakers that no two institutions had approached documenting the pandemic in quite the same way, but nonetheless some very useful general lessons were drawn from the experiences, particularly about the need to clearly define collection scope and goals at the start of any collecting project dealing with rapidly changing events.

The question of access presents an even greater challenge. We ultimately work to preserve the Web so that researchers can make use of it, but as a sector we face significant barriers in delivering this goal. The larger legal deposit collections, for instance, can often only be consulted in the physical reading rooms of their collecting libraries. In his opening address to the conference, Claude D. Conter of the National Library of Luxembourg addressed this problem head-on, calling for copyright reform in order to meet reader expectations of access.

Yet although these challenges may be significant, I have no doubt from the range of new and innovative approaches showcased at this conference that the web archiving sector will be able to overcome them. I am delighted to have had the chance to attend the conference, and I cannot wait to see how some of the projects presented continue to develop in the years to come.

Simon Mackley

What’s it like to be a trainee? Francesca Miller, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2020-2022

I discovered the Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist role while looking for jobs in Oxford that gave opportunities for training and learning. Though I didn’t know much about digital archiving, as soon as I read the advert I knew it was the job for me and I was delighted when I got it. My background is quite varied, having degrees in Graphic Design and Mathematics and being part way through my MSc in Maths, all while working in the financial sector. I decided I wanted a change of direction and the traineeship was the perfect opportunity to use my skills and knowledge in an interesting and developing field.

Having no previous experience of archives hasn’t been a barrier as the work introduces you through on the job training and the PGDip at Aberystwyth University. While studying and working at the same time can be demanding, the course compliments the job and I already feel like I know so much more. While there has be some aspects of the role I haven’t be able to do, due to remote working, there is always plenty of work and I have learnt so much in 7 months. Working alongside the other two trainees has been really enjoyable and our twice-weekly web archiving session via teams has worked really well. They have both been very supportive and are always willing to answer my questions and navigate me through the complexity that is web archiving. The role has enabled me to expand on my coding skills by learning XML as part of a retro-conversion project and learn new skills around cataloguing and indexing.

I started my traineeship in September 2020 and like a lot of what has happened in the last year it hasn’t gone quite as expected! Due to the pandemic, I haven’t been into the Weston Library since my interview which took place prior to the first lockdown. Despite working from my home and not meeting my colleagues in person, I have been made to feel welcome and part of the digital archiving team. I am very much looking forward to discovering more aspects of digital archiving during the rest of my traineeship and I hope very soon to be able to experience the Bodleian Library in person!

Francesca Miller, May 2021

What’s it like to be a trainee? Simon Mackley, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2020-2022

I applied to become a Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist because I wanted a route into the profession that would also equip me with the skills for working with archives in the digital age. I have always had a keen interest in the past: I originally trained as a historian, completing a PhD in British imperial history at the University of Exeter in 2016. The following year I got my first archives job, working as an Archives Assistant as part of the Conservative Party Archive team at the Bodleian. I found the work fascinating and really rewarding, and it didn’t take me long to decide that I wanted to pursue this as a career. When the opportunity to apply for the traineeship came up, I jumped at the chance!

One of the great things about being a digital archives trainee is that you get to work across a wide range of projects and collections. For instance, my work over the past year has included reviewing, indexing, and publishing a hugely diverse range of catalogue records as part of the Summary Catalogue project, as well as more technical tasks such as retro-converting the historic catalogues of the University Archives to make them machine-readable. A particular highlight for me has been working on the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive. Not coming from a technical background, this was a completely new area for me. However, working on the web archive has become one of my favourite parts of the traineeship, and I have really enjoyed developing a new set of skills in this area.

I have also found studying for the postgraduate diploma at Aberystwyth University really interesting, and the topics covered often prove very useful in my day-to-day work. Balancing distance learning with full-time work can be challenging at times, but you get plenty of support from your fellow trainees and the tutors at Aberystwyth. As a digital archives trainee, you also get to take part in the Oxford Libraries Graduate Trainee programme, and I have really enjoyed having the chance to learn more about the wider work of the Bodleian and College libraries.

Obviously, working during the Coronavirus pandemic has brought with it its own unique challenges: my first day in the role ended up coinciding with the start of the first national lockdown! Fortunately, the nature of digital archives means that there has still been plenty of tasks to get on with while working from home. The Aberystwyth University course has also been able to continue throughout the pandemic, so I’ve not had any disruption to my studies.

I am now halfway through the traineeship, and looking back on the past year I am amazed at how much I have already learned. I really value the opportunities I’ve had in this role, and I cannot wait to see what the next year has in store!

Simon Mackley, April 2021

UK Web Archive mini-conference 2020

On Wednesday 19th November I attended the UK Web Archive (UKWA) mini-conference 2020, my first conference as a Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist. It was hosted by Jason Webber, Engagement Manager at the UKWA and, as normal in these COVID times, it was hosted on Zoom (my first ever Zoom experience!)

The conference started with an introduction and demonstration of the UKWA by Jason Webber. Starting in 2005 the UKWA’s mission is to collect the entire UK webspace, at least once per year, and preserve the websites for future generations. As part of my traineeship I have used the UKWA but it was interesting to hear about the other functions and collections it provides. Along with being able to browse different versions of UK websites it also includes over 100 curated collections on themes ranging from Food to Brexit to Online Enthusiast Communities in the UK. It also features the SHINE tool, which was developed as part of the ‘Big UK Data Arts and Humanities’ project and contains over 3.5 billion items which have been full-text indexed so that every word is searchable. It allows users to perform searches and trend analysis on subjects over a huge range of websites, all you need to use this tool is a bit a Python knowledge. My Python knowledge is a bit basic but Caio Mello, during his researcher talk, provided a useful link for online python tutorials aimed at historians to aid in their research.

In his talk, Caio Mello (School of Advanced Study, University of London) discussed how he used the SHINE tool as part of his work for the CLEOPATRA Project. He was specifically looking at the Olympic legacy of the 2012 Olympics, how it was defined and how the view of the legacy changed over time. He explained the process he used to extract the information and the ways the information can be used for analysis, visualisation and context. My background is in mathematics and the concept of ‘Big Data’ came up frequently during my studies so it was fascinating to see how it can be used in a research project and how the UKWA is enabling research to be conducted over such a wide range of subjects.

The next researcher talk by Liam Markey (University of Liverpool and the British Library) showed a different approach to using the UKWA for his research project into how Remembrance in 20th Century Britain has changed. He explained how he conducted an analysis of archived newspaper articles, using specific search terms, to identify articles that focused on commemoration which he could then use to examine how the attitudes changed over time. The UKWA enabled him to find websites that focused on the war and compare these with mainstream newspapers to see how these differ.

The Keynote speaker was Paul Gooding (University of Glasgow) and was about the use and users of Non-Print Legal Deposit Libraries. His research as part of the Digital Library Futures Project, with the Bodleian Libraries and Cambridge University Library as case study partners, looked at how Academic Deposit libraries were impacted by e-Legal Deposit. It was an interesting discussion around some of the issues of the system, such as balancing the commercial rights with access for users and how highly restrictive access conditions are at odds with more recent legislation, such as the provision for disabled users and 2014 copyright exception for data and text mining for non-commercial uses.

Being new to the digital archiving world, my first conference was a great introduction to web archiving and provided context to the work I am doing. Thank you to the organisers and speakers for giving me insight into a few of the different ways the web archive is used and I have come away with a greater understanding of the scope and importance of digital archiving (as well as a list of blog posts and tutorials to delve into!)

Some Useful Links:

https://www.webarchive.org.uk/

https://programminghistorian.org/

https://blogs.bl.uk/webarchive/2020/11/how-remembrance-day-has-changed.html

http://cleopatra-project.eu/

 

#WeMissiPRES: Preserving social media and boiling 1.04 x 10^16 kettles

This year the annual iPRES digital preservation conference was understandably postponed and in its place the community hosted a 3-day Zoom conference called #WeMissiPRES. As two of the Bodleian Libraries’ Graduate Trainee Digital Archivists, Simon and I were in attendance and blogged about our experiences. This post contains some of my highlights.

The conference kicked off with a keynote by Geert Lovink. Geert is the founding director of the Institute of Network Cultures and the author of several books on critical Internet studies. His talk was wide-ranging and covered topics from the rise of so-called ‘Zoom fatigue’ (I guarantee you know this feeling by now) to how social media platforms affect all aspects of contemporary life, often in negative ways. Geert highlighted the importance of preserving social media in order to allow future generations to be able to understand the present historical moment. However, this is a complicated area of digital preservation because archiving social media presents a host of ethical and technical challenges. For instance, how do we accurately capture the experience of using social media when the content displayed to you is largely dictated by an algorithm that is not made public for us to replicate?

After the keynote I attended a series of talks about the ARCHIVER project. João Fernandes from CERN explained that the goal of this project is to improve archiving and digital preservation services for scientific and research data. Preservation solutions for this type of data need to be cost-effective, scalable, and capable of ingesting amounts of data within the petabyte range. There were several further talks from companies who are submitting to the design phase of this project, including Matthew Addis from Arkivum. Matthew’s talk focused on the ways that digital preservation can be conducted on the industrial scale required to meet the brief and explained that Arkivum is collaborating with Google to achieve this, because Google’s cloud infrastructure can be leveraged for petabyte-scale storage. He also noted that while the marriage of preserved content with robust metadata is important in any digital preservation context, it is essential for repositories dealing with very complex scientific data.

In the afternoon I attended a range of talks that addressed new standards and technologies in digital preservation. Linas Cepinskas (Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS)) spoke about a self-assessment tool for the FAIR principles, which is designed to assess whether data is Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. Later, Barbara Sierman (DigitalPreservation.nl) and Ingrid Dillo (DANS) spoke about TRUST, a new set of guiding principles that are designed to map well with FAIR and assess the reliability of data repositories. Antonio Guillermo Martinez (LIBNOVA) gave a talk about his research into Artificial Intelligence and machine learning applied to digital preservation. Through case studies, he identified that AI is especially good at tasks such as anomaly detection and automatic metadata generation. However, he found that regardless of how well the AI performs, it needs to generate better explanations for its decisions, because it’s hard for human beings to build trust in automated decisions that we find opaque.

Paul Stokes from Jisc3C gave a talk on calculating the carbon costs of digital curation and unfortunately concluded that not much research has been done in this area. The need to improve the environmental sustainability of all human activity could not be more pressing and digital preservation is no exception, as approximately 3% of the world’s electricity is used by data centres. Paul also offered the statistic that enough power is consumed by data centres worldwide to boil 10,400,000,000,000,000 kettles – which is the most important digital preservation metric I can think of.

This conference was challenging and eye-opening because it gave me an insight into (complicated!) areas of digital preservation that I was not familiar with, particularly surrounding the challenges of preserving large quantities of scientific and research data. I’m very grateful to the speakers for sharing their research and to the organisers, who did a fantastic job of bringing the community together to bridge the gap between 2019 and 2021!

#WeMissiPRES: A Bridge from 2019 to 2021

Every year, the international digital preservation community meets for the iPRES conference, an opportunity for practitioners to exchange knowledge and showcase the latest developments in the field. With the 2020 conference unable to take place due to the global pandemic, digital preservation professionals instead gathered online for #WeMissiPRES to ensure that the global community remained connected. Our graduate trainee digital archivist Simon Mackley attended the first day of the event; in this blog post he reflects on some of the highlights of the talks and what they tell us about the state of the field.

How do you keep the global digital preservation community connected when international conferences are not possible? This was the challenge faced by the organisers of #WeMissIPres, a three-day online event hosted by the Digital Preservation Coalition. Conceived as a festival of digital preservation, the aim was not to try and replicate the regular iPRES conference in an online format, but instead to serve as a bridge for the digital preservation community, connecting the efforts of 2019 with the plans for 2021.

As might be expected, the impact of the pandemic loomed large in many of the talks. Caylin Smith (Cambridge University Library) and Sara Day Thomson (University of Edinburgh) for instance gave a fascinating paper on the challenge of rapidly collecting institutional responses to coronavirus, focusing on the development of new workflows and streamlined processes. The difficulties of working from home, the requirements of remote access to resources, and the need to move training online likewise proved to be recurrent themes throughout the day. As someone whose own experience of digital preservation has been heavily shaped by the pandemic (I began my traineeship at the start of lockdown!) it was really useful to hear how colleagues in other institutions have risen to these challenges.

I was also struck by the different ways in which responses to the crisis have strengthened digital preservation efforts. Lynn Bruce and Eve Wright (National Records of Scotland) noted for instance that the experience of the pandemic has led to increased appreciation of the value of web-archiving from stakeholders, as the need to capture rapidly-changing content has become more apparent. Similarly, Natalie Harrower (Digital Repository of Ireland) made the excellent point that the crisis had not only highlighted the urgent need for the sharing of medical research data, but also the need to preserve it: Coronavirus data may one day prove essential to fighting a future pandemic, and so there is therefore a moral imperative for us to ensure that it is preserved.

As our keynote speaker Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures) reminded us, the events of the past year have been momentous quite apart from the pandemic, with issues such as the distorting impacts of social media on society, the climate emergency, and global demands for racial justice all having risen to the forefront of society. It was great therefore to see the role of digital preservation in these challenges being addressed in many of the panel sessions. A personal highlight for me was the presentation by Daniel Steinmeier (KB National Library of the Netherlands) on diversity and digital preservation. Steinmeier stressed that in order for diversity efforts to be successful, institutions needed to commit to continuing programmes of inclusion rather than one-off actions, with the communities concerned actively included in the archiving process.

So what challenges can we expect from the year ahead? Perhaps more than ever, this year this has been a difficult question to answer. Nonetheless, a key theme that struck me from many of the discussions was that the growing challenge of archiving social media platforms was matched only by the increasing need to preserve the content hosted on them. As Zefi Kavvadia (International Institute of Social History) noted, many social media platforms actively resist archiving; even when preservation is possible, curators are faced with a dilemma between capturing user experiences and capturing platform data. Navigating this challenge will surely be a major priority for the profession going forward.

While perhaps no substitute for meeting in person, #WeMissiPRES nonetheless succeeded in bringing the international digital preservation community together in a shared celebration of the progress being made in the field, successfully bridging the gap between 2019 and 2021, and laying the foundations for next year’s conference.

 

#WeMissiPRES was held online from 22nd-24th September 2020. For more information, and for recordings of the talks and panel sessions, see the event page on the DPC website.

Newly available: Recollecting Oxford Medicine oral history project

Born digital material from the Recollecting Oxford Medicine oral history project has been donated to the Weston Library since the early 2010s, and the project is still active today with further interviews planned. A selection of interviews from the project are now available to listen to online,  via University of Oxford podcasts.

The Recollecting Oxford Medicine oral history project comprises interviews with Oxford medics, which provide individual perspectives of both pre clinical and clinical courses at the Oxford Medical School, medical careers in Oxford and other locations, and give an insight into the evolution of clinical medicine at Oxford since the mid 1940s.

The interviewees have worked in a range of specialisms and departments including psychiatry, neurology, endocrinology and dermatology to name a few. Episode 18 comprises an interview with John Ledingham, former Director of Clinical Studies (a position he held twice!), recorded by Peggy Frith and Rosie Fitzherbert Jones in 2012.  In episodes 11-12 we can learn about Chris Winearls – a self proclaimed ‘accidental Rhodes Scholar’ from medical school in Cape Town – his journey into nephrology and how he later became Associate Professor of Medicine for the university.

Listen to the Recollecting Oxford Medicine oral history podcast series online at https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/recollecting-oxford-medicine-oral-histories

In episode 1, John Spalding,  interviewed by John Oxbury  in 2011, discusses working under Hugh Cairns, firstly as a student houseman at the Radcliffe Infirmary during the second world war.  Spalding also recounts his experience of the initial conception of the East Radcliffe Ventilator, first being devised for use in treatment of Polio. In episode 13 we can listen to Derek Hockaday’s interview with Joan Trowell, former Deputy Director of Clinical Studies for Oxford Medical School, which amongst other topics covers her experience of roles held at the General Medical Council.

The majority of the interviews were undertaken by Derek Hockaday, former Oxford hospitals consultant physician and Emeritus Fellow of Brasenose College. The cataloguing and preservation of the oral history project is supported by Oxford Medical Alumni. The library acknowledges the donations of material and financial support by Derek Hockaday and OMA respectively.

Listeners may also be interested in the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology Oral Histories, of which the archive masters are also preserved in the Weston Library.

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.