Tag Archives: Interns

Web Archiving Micro-internship – Part 2

On 14 and 15 March eight Oxford University students took part in a web archiving micro-internship at the Weston Library’s Centre for Digital Scholarship. Working with the UK Legal Deposit Web Archive, they contributed to the curation of a special collection of websites on the UK European Referendum. This is the second of two guest blog posts on the micro-internship.

The most central aspect of modern life is now the proliferation of digital technology. Since the 1990s, it has become a central mode of communication which is often taken for granted. At the start of this micro-internship, we were introduced to the concept of the digital ‘black hole’, a term used to describe the irrevocable loss of this information. Unlike physical correspondence and materials–the letters, writs, and manuscripts of earlier centuries–so much of what we write is fragile and evanescent. To stem the loss of this digital history, we were shown how the Bodleian Libraries and other legal deposit libraries use domain crawls to capture online content at pre-determined intervals using the W3ACT tool. This then preserves a screen grab of the website on the Internet Archive, namely the waybackmachine, before the website is updated.

Web archiving micro-interns working in the Centre for Digital Scholarship, Weston Libary, March 2016.

Web archiving micro-interns working in the Centre for Digital Scholarship, Weston Libary, March 2016.

The right to a copy of electronic and other non-print publications, such as e-journals and CD-ROMs by legal deposit libraries only came into existence on 6th April 2013. This meant that libraries were able to create an archive of all websites with domains based in the United Kingdom. The recent ‘right to be forgotten’ law adopted by the EU is a signal of the fact that the legal status of digital archives is nevertheless becoming increasingly complicated, particularly when compiling archives of events receiving international commentary, like the upcoming EU referendum. Each of us focused on a different aspect of the EU referendum, reflecting our individual interests, ranging from national newspapers and student newspapers to the blogs of Scottish MSPs, Welsh AMs, and MEPs, and the blogs of solicitors and legal firms’ websites offering advice to businesses and refugees in the event of a ‘Brexit’. One of the trickier views to archive was that of British expats living abroad. In this situation, unless the site can be proven to be based in the UK, we would have to write to the owner of the domain to request permission to archive the website. In a situation where permission was given but the person expressing those views subsequently wished to erase this history under the ‘right to be forgotten’ law adopted by the EU, should the UK have voted to leave the EU, this would leave the archived material in a tricky legal position. We learned during the internship that this would most likely result in the relevant archived material being deleted. However, this is exactly what the archive was set up to prevent and so the tension between the right to privacy and freedom of information on a public platform presents considerable problems to the aim of web archives to be fully comprehensive, aggravated further by the omission of websites with pay walls.

After finding this material and ensuring it was covered by the legal deposit law, it was necessary to classify the site accurately, identifying the main language, and providing titles and descriptions. For newspaper articles, this was relatively straightforward, but for Welsh and Irish-language publications produced by political parties, languages which I am studying at Jesus college, this was more complicated as the only languages available to select from were German or English–a testament to the nascent stage of the web archive’s development. In addition, classifying material was very much up to our own individual discretion and the descriptions to our own style. To complicate things further, the order in which searched-for material should be presented raises further issues, which we discussed at the end of the micro-internship. Namely whether results should be arranged by ‘most popular’, by date of publication, or any other criterion. The discussions and practical experience offered by this internship gave us an opportunity to help address the legal and administrative challenges facing web archivists.

Daniel Taylor

Web Archiving Micro-internship – Part 1

On 14 and 15 March eight Oxford University students took part in a web archiving micro-internship at the Weston Library’s Centre for Digital Scholarship. Working with the UK Legal Deposit Web Archive, they contributed to the curation of a special collection of websites on the UK European Referendum. This is the first of two guest blog posts on the micro-internship.

During a micro-internship at the Bodleian’s legal deposit web archives, focusing on the EU referendum collection, we have had an occasion to reflect on the meaning of such an archive, and particularly on its potential for creating meaning.

Web archiving micro-interns on the roof of the Weston Library, March 2016.

Web archiving micro-interns on the roof of the Weston Library, March 2016.

A web archive’s potential document base is clearly much wider than a paper collection’s. No material criteria, such as donations and physical availability, play a defining factor in the content archived. The main restriction placed on this particular archive is that of legal permission, which allows only UK domains to be easily archived. Even so, the scope remains incredibly wide.

Therefore, archiving the web implies a deliberate narrowing of choices on the archivist’s side. Much is left to their discretion.

A lot of what we know of history is defined by the material that is preserved. It is difficult to learn about the working class or women in the past from original sources, as material by and about such people is conspicuously absent from our collections. A contemporary web archivist has the chance to select material that can most broadly represent society. This will make it impossible for future historians to ignore the history of many groups, and will enable research into a variety of thoughts and experiences.

This was reflected and magnified in the approaches that the group of interns took, which evidences the importance of having a range of different people cooperate on the gathering of knowledge. One woman, for example, concentrated on the representation of the Brexit referendum in media specific to certain ethnic and religious groups, such as Judaism. Another made sure to include the views of Scottish, Gaelic and Irish media and organisations, in order to avoid an England-only approach. One of the interns chose to gather information about the way the referendum is seen in small communities, enriching the archive with small local publications. On the first day, I concentrated on the views and representation of immigrants, whose lives will be strongly affected by the referendum. On the second day, I preserved information about women’s roles and views.

Such a wide range of approaches contributes to the broadening and deepening of historical studies. It also positively contributes to contemporary social science. This can happen in two main ways. Firstly, it places virtual documents in a setting that makes their analysis easier. It thus enables social scientists to observe internet trends throughout the years, and compare them to each other. For this purpose, a wide range of archived material is essential, and again the archivist has a role in creating the foundational understanding of British society..

Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly (as the first function can be fulfilled by tools on the live web) they allow social scientists to track trends in academia. A web archive describes what subjects and focuses contemporary academia considers to be salient. It points out what we, as researchers, think is worth being saved from the internet black hole.

The defining potential of this is striking, and this internship allowed us to understand the social, political and historical role of archiving.

Zad El Bacha

Interns at the Oxfam Archive

Over the summer the Archives and Modern Manuscripts Section hosted five interns who worked on  various projects . The Oxfam team was lucky enough to have two of them: Elena and Gabriel.

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The Interns: Elena and Gabriel

Gabriel Lawson, reading History at Lincoln College, and Elena Müller, MPhil graduate in Modern Jewish Studies from Lady Margaret Hall, had both applied for internships organized and funded by the University of Oxford Careers Service.

They did sterling work for us over their six week stint and helped enormously with our ongoing ‘project file’ cataloguing work as well as sorting programme reports, and appraising and repackaging photographic material, which will all make up a part of our Phase 2 catalogues due to be released in the New Year.

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The ‘project file process’: large containers full of files to appraise; the new archival boxes; spreadsheet used for cataloguing; final online catalogue

Project files make up over half of the Oxfam archive. They arrive with us from the Oxfam Logistics Warehouse in large containers, each filled with 3-4 cases brimming with files relating to projects funded and carried out in all areas of the world.
With advice and guidance from the Oxfam Project team, Elena and Gabriel managed to appraise 1,911 files between them, deciding on which to keep and which to discard. Those they kept, they catalogued, filling 359 of our ‘archival blue boxes’. Their contribution takes us much closer to our end-of-year targets than we would otherwise have been!
Their work will be added to the online catalogue of project files at the end of Phase 2. The Phase 1 catalogue can be viewed here: http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/online/modern/oxfam/oxfam-proj.html

photos and boxesThe interns also helped with the appraisal of photographic prints from the 1990s, weeding out duplicate and poor-quality photographs, as well as generic shots which did not relate to Oxfam or its work.
Both Elena and Gabriel felt that their time with the archive had helped them to view research in a slightly different light, having gained an appreciation of the work done by archivists in selecting, describing and making archives available to researchers.

A rare insight into the world of archives – Internship at the Bodleian’s Archives and Modern Manuscripts section

Monday 16th March 2015 saw a new face appear behind the scenes at the Bodleian Archives – this one:

Donning my protective cap.  An essential for any self-respecting (and Health & Safety-abiding) archivist venturing down to the underground stacks of the Weston Library

Donning my protective cap. An essential for any self-respecting (and Health-and-Safety-abiding) archivist venturing down to the underground stacks of the Weston Library

I had begun my internship, based in the brand new Weston Library, eager to experience all that the world of archives had to offer, and the timing could not have been more perfect. The ‘Archives and Modern Manuscripts’ department had their hands full with various fascinating projects and the whole place was buzzing with excitement ahead of the official public opening of the library on the 21st of March.

Blackwell Hall and the Marks of Genius exhibition, visited by VIPS including Stephen Hawking and David Attenborough the day before they official opening, cause quite a stir among the archivists!

Blackwell Hall and the Marks of Genius exhibition, visited by VIPs including Stephen Hawking and David Attenborough the day before they official opening on 21st March 2015.

For the four weeks of my internship was entrusted with the responsibility of working on the Edgar Wind papers cataloguing project, alongside (or rather, under the supervision of) the Project Archivist Svenja Kunze.
The Edgar Wind papers  encompasses the published and unpublished works of Edgar Wind; a modest 345 boxes filled to the brim with previously unseen correspondence, drafts, research papers, photographs and illustrations, etc.
For those who don’t know who Edgar Wind is – and I certainly didn’t before my time here! – He is a world-renowned art historian who in 1955 became the first professor of Art History at the University of Oxford. His late wife, Margaret Wind, lovingly kept all of his papers, organising them for some thirty years after his death, and leaving them to the Bodleian Archives upon hers.

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The Edgar Wind papers in the boxes they came in, with labels by Margaret Wind…

So after a mini tour of the building – during which I saw the archival storage rooms, extending a good three floors below ground level; the regally furnished reading rooms; the all-important Headley Tea Room; and of course, Blackwell Hall – I knuckled down.

With most of the organisation and arrangement of Edgar Wind papers having already been done for us by Margaret Wind, our first step in processing the collection was preservation. Seemingly insignificant objects, like a staple, have to be removed from the papers, because they can have a detrimental effect on documents. The metal rusts, which stains and ultimately eats away at the paper. Even normal plastic wallets are dangerous, their solvents leaking onto the paper and wreaking destructive havoc.

The documents then get packaged in special archive quality folders and boxes which protect them from environmental damage and help preventing the deterioration of the paper. Photographs get interleaved with archival paper or encased in clear polyester pockets to protect them.

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…and repackaged in shiny new archival folders and boxes, for permanent storage.

With preservation complete, step two in collection processing is cataloguing. This is a meticulous process. The nature and content of each box and folder has to be documented in accordance to the standards of the Bodleian. This includes referencing the date of the documents, the people and subject matters involved, the type of documents (such as photographs, correspondence, typescripts, etc.), and anything else that may be relevant.
This makes it easier for researchers accessing the manuscripts to navigate the folders and gives a useful overview as to what they contain.

Older documents are occasionally covered in dust; they may be water-damaged; they may even be home to dry or active mould. At this point it stops being the archivists’ responsibility and is passed on to the dedicated Preservation and Conservation team, who kindly gave me a tour of their department.

In fact, everybody here has been more than willing to show me around the building and the numerous facilities it houses, and to introduce me to their tasks and responsibilities, which vary greatly from person to person.
The world of archivists is a truly friendly one, with most of the bonding occurring over tea and cake! Tea breaks – as I soon discovered – are the heart and soul of archiving, especially as, for preservation reasons, no food or drink (not even water!) are allowed into archives offices and other areas where original documents are handled.

But tours, chatting, and cake aside, there was much work to be done. Since that first week I have learned what it is that inspires a person to become an archivist, what gets them out of bed and into work bright and early every morning:  Learning. The Unknown.

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From Edgar Wind’s research notes: deciphering handwriting can be a challenge, especially if it comes in foreign languages.

Every project an archivist gets is different from the last. There’s a different subject matter, it could relate to any country or culture of any given time period, it might be personal, literary, political. So with every project an archivist has the opportunity not only to handle documents previously unseen by most, but also to become an expert in a topic they had never considered, or perhaps even heard of before.
For me, this was Raphael’s ‘Stanza della Segnatura’, the artists of eighteenth century England, and the transfer of the Warburg Library from Hamburg to London during World War II, whilst simultaneously getting a sneak peek into the personal life of the late Dr Edgar Wind.

The tols of the archival trade: pencils (not pens!), vinyl rubbers, archival folders, polyester sheets, and the all-important staple remover.

The tools of the archival trade: pencils (not pens!), vinyl rubbers, archival folders, polyester sheets, and the all-important staple remover.

So as my time here comes to an end, as I sit in the quietude of the Reading Room, tapping away at my keyboard and reflecting on all that I have learned and experienced during these few short weeks, I can already feel the sorrow and nostalgia rising within me. I have had an amazing time, met some amazing people, and I am honoured to be able to give you all this glimpse into the secret life of archives.

– Georgia Tutt, Somerville College