Why archive the web?

Here at the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive (BLWA), the archiving process starts with a nomination – either by our web curators or by you, the public. The nominated URLs the BLWA team then select for archiving are those specifically identified as being of lasting value and significance for preservation.

Not only are the sites chosen from a preservation standpoint – we are also continually seeking to build up the scope and content of our 7 collections within the BLWA: University of Oxford; University of Oxford colleges; University of Oxford museums, libraries and archives; social sciences; arts and humanities; international and science, medicine and technology. Exactly like the use of a physical collection, the sites belonging to the web collection will be used for research, fact checking, discovery and collaboration. There can be no denying that the web is the platform on which so much of contemporary society occurs. In the future then, and indeed now, web archives are providing an insight into our history.

Anti-Apartheid Movement Archives – http://www.aamarchives.org/

The AAMA site is part of our international collection in the BLWA. Within this collection we have captured the aamarchives.org 7 times since 24th November 2015. This online platform is vital for digital access to further research, cross-cultural relationships and efforts towards understanding the history of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement 1959 – 1994. This capture has preserved the navigation and functionality of the site and links still resolve; for example the user community can still browse the archive, learn about campaigns and download resources. The date and time is clearly displayed in the banner at the top.

BLWA’s first capture of the online AAMA

This website can also be used and explored in conjunction with our related physical holdings. Here at the Bodleian Special Collections we have an amazing depth and range of physical material in the Anti-Apartheid Movement archive and our Commonwealth and African studies collections. You can browse the catalogue for this here.

This archived capture is fully functional, like a live site.

This is a tangible example of how digital preservation enhances and complements physical material and ensures records can reach a wider audience. How exciting it is that a researcher can consult manuscript or archived material, alongside captures of websites from the past in order to gain more of an insight and have a wider scope of substance to survey!

Web content like the aamarchives.org/ is not as stable as you might presume. A repository of web based collections enables future discovery of internet sites that are perhaps taken for granted due to the nature of our technological society; everything is just a tap or a click away. In fact, much of the material we interact with today is only available online. The truth is that web content is ephemeral: there is a very real threat that it can rapidly change and disappear altogether. Therefore web archiving initiatives are vital to preserve these valuable resources for good. Through these captures, provenance, arrangement and content have been preserved; and arguably most importantly of all – access.

Both individual collections and the web archive as a whole can be searched for a specific site, or browsed at leisure.

Growth of open access and web based initiatives mean that there is an ever increasing network of digital libraries on a global scale. There is no doubt that the practice of web archiving is a significant contribution towards ensuring knowledge for all. Access to the Internet enabling access to an ever growing knowledge depository is central to the integrity of educational and professional research, web archiving and on a larger scale, digital preservation.

Browse our collections in Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive

Get involved and help preserve our history! Nominate a site to archive

Initiating conversation: let’s talk about web content (part 1)

To initiate conversation about preserving web content and to encourage people to think about why archiving the web is so important, I asked staff at the Bodleian Libraries to imagine the following: If you could choose just one website to have guaranteed access to in 10 years’ time what would it be – and why? Keep reading to discover staff answers and perspectives…

Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, Bodleian Libraries. Chosen site: bodleian.ox.ac.uk

‘Obviously as somebody who is leading this institution, seeing its history reflected in the institutional website is so significant. If you go back to the archived captures of bodleian.ox.ac.uk that are accessible now through the Internet Archive it’s incredible not only to see evolution of the HTML site itself and the look and feel of it but just to see how it reflects the changes in the organisation since the 1990’s when the first Bodleian website was set up…which was actually the first library in the UK to have a website.

We can see the changes to the way the Bodleian Libraries reflect their public persona through the web but also the website is a useful proxy for how the organisation itself has changed: the organisational structure, the administrative arrangements, the policies and strategies, how the web is a reflection of those changes over the past 20 years is really interesting. And in 10 years’ time it would be over 30 years and there will be another decade of evolution, growth, change…the web is a very convenient place to see that at a glance. We obviously archive a large number of institutional and administrative records in paper and digital form but it’s a huge amount to wade through, whereas the web provides a very convenient lens to view our organisational past through. I can’t think of another way, so conveniently, to chart our history, our progress, our challenges and even some of the mistakes that we’ve made as an organisation over that time.

Our organisation as a whole changed dramatically in the year 2000 when we stopped being just the historic Bodleian Library and we were integrated with the departmental faculty libraries. We then changed our name to University of Oxford Library services, then back to the Bodleian. Through the website you can actually see that extraordinary change. It’s such a convenient way of getting a grip on our history’.


Lukasz Kowalski, Bodleian Library Reader Services, Weston Library. Chosen site: stackexchange.com

‘I was thinking “what’s the website with the most information in it?”. My initial thought was Wikipedia.org. But I could easily live without it if I had to, as probably most knowledge contained in it is available in print. My next thought was stackexchange.com. It facilitates an exchange of knowledge and collective problem-solving on a large scale, otherwise unattainable via printed media. It’s supported by a large community of users, including experts in their fields. Together with its sister sites, it covers virtually any discipline and questions that can be asked and answered. Stackexchange is a web of knowledge, but different from Wikipedia. Rather than being organised knowledge it is more organised thinking.

My background is in Physics and I have used this site to further my understanding of concepts which did not have clear explanations in textbooks, or when I wanted to check that my thinking about a solution to a given problem was on the same page as others.

I think it goes back to what, I guess, the internet was about in the first place: the exchange of knowledge and ideas, and such is the character of this site. It’s great to rely on good teachers if one has access to them – but it is wonderful that people from across the world can gain a deeper understanding of concepts and exchange ideas by connecting more readily with those who have the expertise.’


 

Sophie Quantrell, Library Assistant, Philosophy and Theology Faculty Library. Chosen site: youtube.com

‘I was thinking about youtube.com as a resource mainly because it’s so versatile. It can be used to display images, sound…I’ve seen some people use it for musical scores – putting musical scores alongside the sound and that sort of thing. I think it is a site that can be used almost for any purpose – so you’ve got the social aspect of it with the comments and the interaction as well as the instructional aspect. I learn sign language when I am not busy with other things [gestures around her at the library] so to be able to see and learn it through videos it is great…it’s much more difficult to tell what the signs are if all you’ve got are drawings on a piece of paper!

It can link to videos on so many different topics, like instructional TED talks. There are so many good quality resources online that get overlooked with all the cat videos. It also crosses cultural boundaries…you can upload and view videos in whatever language you want. You could post a video from Australia and someone could be watching it in Kazakhstan!’


Iram Safdar, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist, Weston Library. Chosen site: wikipedia.org

Wikipedia has been the main source for my knowledge since I was a kid. It’s also provided me with countless hours of entertainment by following the breadcrumb trail of links and seeing where you end up! All sorts of hilarity ensues when you find a rogue edit by someone…I like that it is an open source resource.

Similarly, it shows you what society thinks about things and reveals how we view stuff…which I think in a broader sense is quite interesting.’


Keep an eye out for part 2 and more staff insights coming up on the Archives and Modern Manuscripts blog imminently…

 

The 1923 General Election

 

Junior Imperial League Gazette

Junior Imperial League Gazette, Dec 1923, p.7 [PUB 199/2]

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, surprised many when she announced her intention to call a UK general election to be held this Thursday, 8 June 2017. The ‘snap’ election came as a shock not least because, as she acknowledged in her announcement, since becoming Prime Minister she had made it clear that she did not anticipate any election before the next scheduled general election in 2020. A combination of Westminster ‘game playing’, which might weaken her government’s hand in Brexit preparations and negotiations, and the fact that talks would otherwise reach a critical stage in the run up to the next scheduled election, led Mrs May to conclude that it was in the national interest to hold an election after all and by so doing remove possible uncertainty or instability with regard to the country’s future. So the electorate is being asked to provide Mrs May and her Conservative government with a direct mandate to settle the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union, leaving it “free to chart its own way in the world” (regaining control of our money, laws, and borders with the opportunity to strike our own trade deals). Surely few can have missed the campaign mantra ‘strong and stable leadership’ versus a ‘coalition of chaos’ (Labour propped up by the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalist Parties).

So, as we look forward to the results of this week’s ‘snap’ general election it might be interesting to look back to a previous ‘snap’ election, specifically the general election called by Stanley Baldwin in 1923.

Continue reading

Buying books on witchcraft in 17th-century London

Letter from bookseller Edward Millington, November 1673

Letter from bookseller Edward Millington, November 1673 (click to enlarge)

The Bodleian Library has acquired an extremely rare autograph letter by the 17th-century English bookseller and auctioneer Edward Millington. The letter, dated 29 November 1673, is only the second known item of correspondence in Millington’s hand and represents a significant addition to evidence of book trade in this period, not least because Millington’s correspondent is both a researcher of witchcraft and a woman. The addressee is  “the Lady Gerhard at Mr Sanders a woollen draper in York Streete near Covent Garden” ;  most probably Lady Jane Gerard, née Digby, baroness of Bromley. At the time the letter was written Lady Gerard had already lost her first husband, Charles Gerard, 4th baron Gerard of Bromley (d.1667) and was yet to marry her second,  Sir Edward Hungerford (1632-1711). Lady Gerard’s discovery of a ‘healing spring’ at Willowbridge in Staffordshire would be recorded in 1676 by her chaplain Samuel Gilbert in a pamphlet entitled ‘Fons sanitatis’ (London, 1676). She died in 1703.

The present letter reveals Lady Gerard to have had a serious interest in writings on witchcraft; tantalisingly, it seems to have been part of a longer correspondence with Millington, the rest of which is now lost. In it he recalls having promised Lady Gerard “an exact account of all the English authors of witchcraft both for and against,”  and mentions a previous “parcell of books” sold to her. Millington himself was well placed to advise on such a topic; in 1669, he had published John Wagstaffe’s ‘The question of witchcraft debated’ out of the print shop he ran at the sign of the Pelican on Duck Lane, Little Britain. By the time of this letter he had moved to his later premises, at the sign of the Bible, but was yet to make his name as an auctioneer; a career that would see him described by Thomas Herne as “certainly the best Auctioneer in the World, being a man of Great Wit and Fluency of Speech… [though] very impudent and saucy” [DNB].

Three early modern books on witches and witchcraft

Books on witches and witchcraft, as recommended by Edward Millington

By 1673 Millington was evidently active in the second-hand book trade; the purpose of this letter to Lady Gerard is to provide a list of further books he was able to supply, with prices. These include “Dr Dees Relation of his actions with spirits,” probably ‘A true & faithful relation of what passed for many yeers between Dr. John Dee […] and some spirits’ (London, 1659); “Ady’s Candle in the Darkness,” i.e. Thomas Ady’s ‘A candle in the dark: or, A treatise concerning the nature of witches & witchcraft’, first published London 1655, and “Lavater Of Walking Ghosts,” which must be an English translation of Ludwig Lavater’s  ‘De spectris, lemuribus et magnis atque insolitis fragoribus’, such as the one published in 1596 as ‘Of ghostes and spirites, walking by night, and of straunge noyses, crackes, and sundrie forewarnings, which commonly happen before the death of men…’. Copies of all three of the books recommended by Millington are available to researchers at the Bodleian – soon they will be able to consult them alongside Millington’s letter of recommendation.

–Jo Maddocks and Mike Webb

‘Getting Started with Digital Preservation’ Workshop

On the 17th of May I attended the Digital Preservation Coalition’s (DPC) ‘Getting Started with Digital Preservation’ workshop in London.

The one-day event was a great opportunity to gain clear insights into starting in the digital preservation sector, and provided a useful platform for networking with other archivists. The event consisted of lectures from DPC members on various topics related to starting digital preservation. It also included group exercises that were aimed at putting these ideas into practice.

The day started with a brief overview of digital preservation. The DPC team started by making us focus on identifying the main aspects of traditional archival preservation for physical documents. For example, a document’s physical, robust and tangible nature. Its ability to be independently understandable without relying on technology. The existence of well-established approaches to its preservation. And the existence of a well-established understanding of value-assessment relating to these documents.

This was used as a springboard to introduce us to many issues that we would face transitioning to digital. Issues like the ephemeral and intangible nature of digital (1s & 0s can’t be held in your hands). The need for technology and software for documents to be understood (e.g. a PDF file requires software to open it). Issues of obsolescence (e.g. new hardware and software making older files redundant) and lack of any value-assessment experience in the field (how do we assess the value of a set of data?).

These areas helped us to understand that digital preservation presented its own set of unique challenges that have to be understood within their own context. The question of ‘Why Digitise?’ was then asked to the attendees at the workshop. The responses focused on: legal, research, cultural heritage, funding opportunities, efficiency, contingency and access reasons for digitising. This shows us that digital preservation cannot be seen as a simple solution to a single problem but a complex solution to many.

Bit-Level Preservation was covered in detail at the workshop, this section focused on the potential dangers that could affect data and how to prevent these from occurring. The three main areas were: media obsolescence: where media type is no longer used or the hardware no longer exists to support it, media failure / decay: when the media itself runs to the end of its life cycle or breaks, and natural / human-made disaster: fire, earthquakes etc. Mitigating these dangers is achieved by backing up the data more than 2-3 times (the actual number of copies needed is a subject of debate). Then storing these copies in different geographical locations, and performing periodical migration of media to new storage devices.

The workshop also looked at integrity checks and the role they play in bit-level preservation. Integrity checking is the process of creating a ‘checksum’ or ‘hash value’ (a unique number created when running an integrity checking program like Fixity, ACE and COPTR on a file). This number is unique to that data, like a fingerprint, and can be used to check if the data has changed or become corrupted in any way due to bit-rot or other data corruption.

Fixity: https://www.avpreserve.com/tools/fixity/
ACE: https://wiki.umiacs.umd.edu/adapt/index.php/Ace
COPTR: http://coptr.digipres.org/Category.Fixity

Later in the workshop characterisation tools were demonstrated. The tool showcased was DROID (Digital, Record Object Identification). DROID is an open-source tool that analyses file types / formats on a system, it then relays this information to PRONOM, a database of file formats. The presentations stressed that the databases the tools used were important, and needed gradual updating to be accurate. Other examples of characterisation tools mentioned: C3PO, JHOVE, TIKKA, FITS.

PRONOM: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/PRONOM/Default.aspx
DROID: https://sourceforge.net/projects/droid/

The presentation on departmental readiness provided useful insights into preparing for digital preservation projects. It focused on the way that maturity models could be used to benchmark your department’s readiness for digital preservation The two main models discussed were: Digital Preservation Capability Maturity Model and the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation. These models aimed to identify gaps in the institution’s readiness for digital preservation, whilst also focusing on aspects of best practice that they could aim to achieve.

DPCMM: http://www.securelyrooted.com/dpcmm
NDSA: http://www.digitalpreservation.gov/documents/NDSA_Levels_Archiving_2013.pdf

A risk assessment exercise also formed part of the workshop. Those attending were asked to consider how various risks would affect the digital archival process. The risks would then be ranked on their likelihood of occurring, and the potential damage that they might cause. We would then propose potential solutions to help mitigate these risks, and prevent further ‘explosive’ risks from occurring. This was followed by assessing whether the scores for both criteria had improved.

The last presentation was on digital asset registers. It focused on the importance of creating and managing a detailed spreadsheet to hold an institutions digital assets, with the aim of having one organised and accessible source of information on a digital collection. The presentation focused on how this register could be shared with all members of staff to promote a better understanding of a digital collection. It mentioned that this would remove the issue of having one staff member who was a sole specialist on a collection, and promote further transparency throughout the digital preservation process. Another idea mentioned was that the register could be used for promoting further funding into digital collections, by providing a visual representation of the digital preservation process.

I thoroughly enjoyed the DPC workshop and look forward to attending similar workshops.

 

War, Health and Humanitarianism

How can we define humanitarianism?

What motivates humanitarian actors like Oxfam and the Red Cross?

How have relief and development organizations competed and collaborated to mitigate suffering from conflicts?

Is political neutrality feasible or necessary?

These and other questions will be addressed in the symposium, ‘War, Health and Humanitarianism’ on 16 June in the Weston Library Lecture Theatre, which brings together historians studying conflicts from the medieval period to the present day. Speakers will include Dr. Rosemary Wall, Bodleian Library Sassoon Visiting Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Global History at the University of Hull, whose current research focuses on conflict in Cyprus, Vietnam and Nigeria in the 20th century and British and French humanitarian responses.

For further information and to register see:

http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/222665/War-Health-and-Humanitarianism_Programme.pdf

Unloading dried milk

Unloading dried milk for the starving people of Biafra at Fernando Po during the Nigerian Civil War, July 1968
MS. Oxfam COM/5/1/51
Credit: Duncan Kirkpatrick / Oxfam

Digital Preservation Workshop

It was a real privilege to attend the Digital Preservation Coalition’s workshop, ‘Getting Started with Digital Preservation’ in London on 17th May 2017. As a newcomer to this topic I was eager to learn more, and the workshop definitely didn’t disappoint, providing me with a fantastic insight into the tools recommended for digital preservation, the challenges it presents, and the solutions that can be used to overcome these.

The workshop began with an introduction to digital preservation, defined neatly by Sharon McMeekin (Head of Training and Skills) as the active management of digital content over a period of time to ensure continued access. We learnt about the sorts of features systems should incorporate to allow for continued access to digital content. These included:

• Resilience, standards, and open to testing
• Error checking, compatibility to multi-media, and back-up
• Authenticity checking

As the morning progressed it was interesting to learn more about some of the difficulties that digital preservation presents including:

• Media obsolesce
• Media failure or decay (otherwise known as ‘bit-rot’).
• Natural disaster
• Man-made error
• Malicious damage
• Viruses
• Network failure
• Disassociation

Methods of dealing with these challenges included: storing more than one copy in different geographic locations, refreshing storage media, and integrity checking, also known as ‘fixity checking’ which is the process of checking if a digital file has remained unchanged.

As part of this final solution we also learnt about ‘checksums’ which are like ‘digital fingerprints’ also used to check if the contents of a file have altered.

The DPC also recommended generating a risk register as a further preventative measure to protect digital material against potential hazards. We even had a go at creating our own digital register based on a fictional scenario. This involved recording the:

•  Type of risk
• Consequence of risk
• Likelihood  of occurrence
• Impact on institution
• Frequency
• Owner
• Response/solution
• New Likelihood of occurrence

As well as safeguarding digital material, we learnt that a risk register has the added benefit of introducing clearer planning within an institution, serving as an advocacy tool, highlighting clearer responsibilities, and benefitting the Digital Asset Register.  DPC recommended that institutions use DRAMBORA, a digital repository audit method based on risk assessment which encourages organisations to generate an awareness of their objectives and activities before identifying and managing the risks to their digital collections.

Finally, Digital Asset Registers were recommended as useful tools for digital preservation coordination since they gather all of the digital information into one place and log preservation risks to collections. They also provide intuitions with a finding aid in the absence of other discovery methods and support best practice and advocacy.

The characterisation tool DROID was also mentioned as a useful software application for identifying file formats. Developed by the National Archives, this tool records the number, size, and format of each file in addition to creating a checksum for each.

The workshop was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about digital preservation and meet with other professionals from the same field. I am now really looking forward to undertaking some of my own digital preservation and archiving projects at the Bodleian.

Additions to the Wardrop Collection

On May 17th descendants of the British diplomat Sir Oliver Wardrop visited the Bodleian to donate further items to the Wardrop collection on Georgia. The newly donated material contains correspondence by Sir Oliver written during his period as British High Commissioner for Transcaucasia, 1919-20, and letters written by his sister Marjory on her first visit to Georgia in 1894.

During their visit, family members were shown manuscripts already in the Library’s  Wardrop collection by Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze, who is currently writing a book about the collection.

Descendants of Sir Oliver Wardrop with Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze showing their additions to the Wardrop collection

John Cowdery Kendrew archive now online

John Kendrew

John Cowdery Kendrew

The year 2017 marks the centenary of the birth of Sir John Cowdery Kendrew, biochemist, crystallograper, and Nobel laureate. The Bodleian Library has recently published an online catalogue: “Correspondence and papers of Sir John Cowdery Kendrew“.

The Kendrew archive is quite substantial – 397 boxes. The papers cover all stages of Kendrew’s life from his early school years at the Dragon School in Oxford and Clifton College in Bristol to his undergraduate years at Trinity College, Cambridge; his wartime experience (mostly as Scientific Officer in Cairo and later in India and Ceylon); and all stages of his later professional career, including his five years as President of
St. John’s College, Oxford.

By far the largest part of the collection is devoted to his research at a variety of institutions. Some of the papers are highly technical, covering numerous aspects of biology, chemistry, and crystallography. Kendrew was one of the earliest users of the EDSAC I computer. His correspondence is also extensive.

–Lawrence Mielniczuk

Papers of Margaret Pickles now available

The catalogue of a small collection of the papers of a twentieth-century female doctor is now available online, released as part of the Wellcome-Trust funded 75 Years of Penicillin in People project.

Margaret Pickles, known as Peggy, came to the University of Oxford to study botany but switched to physiology, earning her bachelor’s degree at Somerville College in 1936. After winning a competitive examination she studied for the next three years at the University College Hospital Medical School in London. She qualified as a doctor in 1939 and worked at the Bearsted Maternity Hospital and the Royal East Sussex Hospital in Hastings, returning to Oxford in 1941 to work at the Radcliffe Infirmary as the Nuffield Graduate Assistant in Pathology. She completed her doctorate (D.M.) at Somerville in 1947, which was published as Haemolytic disease of the newborn in 1949 and continued to work as a clinical pathologist and immunologist.

In 1950, aged 36, she married Alastair Robb-Smith, a distinguished pathologist who had been appointed Nuffield Reader in Pathology and head of pathology at Oxford’s clinical school (now the Nuffield Department of Medicine) in 1937, at the age of 29.

Her interests extended beyond medicine. In 1960 she published The Birds of Blenheim Park with the Oxford Ornithological Society. She also continued her botanical studies, breeding daffodils at her married home, Thomas Chaucer’s House in Woodstock.

The collection comprises mainly her degree certificates and family photographs, and offers a glimpse into the life of a multi-talented female scientist working at a time when women were generally discouraged from professional work.