Tag Archives: Web Archives

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

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

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

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

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Researchers,practitioners and their use of the archived web. IIPC Web Archiving Conference 15th June 2017

From the 14th – 16th of June researchers and practitioners from a global community came together for a series of talks, presentations and workshops on the subject of Web Archiving at the IIPC Web Archiving Conference. This event coincided with Web Archiving Week 2017, a week long event running from 12th – 16th June hosted by the British Library and the School of Advance Study

I was lucky enough to attend the conference  on the 15th June with a fellow trainee digital archivist and listen to some thoughtful, engaging and challenging talks.

The day started with a plenary in which John Sheridan, Digital Director of the National Archives, spoke about the work of the National Archives and the challenges and approaches to Web Archiving they have taken. The National Archives is principally the archive of the government, it allows us to see what the state saw through the state’s eyes. Archiving government websites is a crucial part of this record keeping as we move further into the digital age where records are increasingly born-digital. A number of points were made which highlighted the motivations behind web archiving at the National Archives.

  • They care about the records that government are publishing and their primary function is to preserve the records
  • Accountability for government services online or information they publish
  • Capturing both the context and content

By preserving what the government publishes online it can be held accountable, accountability is one aspect that demonstrates the inherent value of archiving the web. You can find a great blog post on accountability and digital services by Richard Pope in this link.  http://blog.memespring.co.uk/2016/11/23/oscon-2016/

The published records and content on the internet provides valuable and crucial context for the records that are unpublished, it links the backstory and the published records. This allows for a greater understanding and analysis of the information and will be vital for researchers and historians now and into the future.

Quality assurance is a high priority at the National Archives. By having a narrow focus of crawling, it has allowed for but also prompted a lot of effort to be directed into the quality of the archived material so it has a high fidelity in playback. To keep these high standards it can take weeks in order to have a really good in-depth crawl. Having a small curated collection it is an incentive to work harder on capture.

The users and their needs were also discussed as this often shapes the way the data is collected, packaged and delivered.

  • Users want to substantiate a point. They use the archived sites for citation on Facebook or Twitter for example
  • The need to cite for a writer or researcher
  • Legal – What was the government stance or law at the time of my clients case
  • Researchers needs – This was highlighted as an area where improvements can be made
  • Government itself are using the archives for information purposes
  • Government websites requesting crawls before their website closes – An example of this is the NHS website transferring to a GOV.UK site

The last part of the talk focused on the future of web archiving and how this might take shape at the National Archives. Web archiving is complex and at times chaotic. Traditional archiving standards have been placed upon it in an attempt to order the records. It was a natural evolution for information managers and archivists to use the existing knowledge, skills and standards to bring this information under control. This has resulted in difficulties in searching across web archives, describing the content and structuring the information. The nature of the internet and the way in which the information is created means that uncertainty has to inevitably be embraced. Digital Archiving could take the turn into the 2.0, the second generation and move away from the traditional standards and embrace new standards and concepts. One proposed method is the ICA Records in Context conceptual model. It proposes a multidimensional description with each ‘ thing ‘ having a unique description as opposed to the traditional unit of description (one size fits all).  Instead of a single hierarchical fonds down approach, the Records in Context model uses a  description that can be formed as a network or graph. The context of the fonds is broader, linking between other collections and records to give different perspectives and views. The records can be enriched this way and provide a fuller picture of the record/archive. The web produces content that is in a constant state of flux and a system of description that can grow and morph over time, creating new links and context would be a fruitful addition.

Visual Diagram of How the Records in Context Conceptual Model works

“This example shows some information about P.G.F. Leveau a French public notary in the 19th century including:
• data from the Archives nationales de France (ANF) (in blue); and
• data from a local archival institution, the Archives départementales du Cher (in yellow).” INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL ON ARCHIVES: RECORDS IN CONTEXTS A CONCEPTUAL MODEL FOR ARCHIVAL DESCRIPTION.p.93

 

Traditional Fonds Level Description

 

I really enjoyed the conference as a whole and the talk by John Sheridan. I learnt a lot about the National Archives approach to web archiving, the challenges and where the future of web archiving might go. I’m looking forward to taking this new knowledge and applying it to the web archiving work I do here at the Bodleian.

Changes are currently being made to the National Archives Web Archiving site and it will relaunch on the 1st July this year.  Why don’t you go and check it out.

 

 

 

Web Archives as Scholarly Sources: Issues, Practices and Perspectives

RESAW conference in Aarhus, 8-10 June 2015

Web archiving has been part of Special Collections work at the Bodleian Library for quite a while now, both in cooperation with other UK Legal Deposit Libraries within the electronic Legal Deposit framework (since 2013) , and through the Bodleian Libraries’ own Web Archive.
But whereas the amount of archived web material – at the Bodleian and elsewhere – is constantly growing, the usage of these new resources has so far been quite low, with, it seems, scholars being largely unaware of the potential web archives have as sources for research or lacking knowledge and skills of how to work with such material, and web archiving institutions lacking resources to promote their web archive collection and support their use.

The Research Infrastructure for the Study of Archived Web Materials (RESAW) network aims to promote the establishing of a collaborative European research infrastructure for the study of archived web materials. This means collaborating internationally as well as interdisciplinary to meet the challenges – and the opportunities – archived web materials bring to develop new methods and approaches in research and teaching.

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One of the topics: How to archive Social Media content?  And how to use archived Social Media content as scholarly sources?

Tweets from the conference have been collected via Storify. Thanks to Jane Winters from the Institute for Historical Research, University of London, for having set this up.  

The 2015 RESAW conference, hosted by the University of Aarhus in Denmark, was the third in a series of conferences: the first conference in 2001 focused on how to preserve web content, the second in 2008 on web archives theory, and this year’s third conference on the actual use of web archives in research.
Participants included over 80 web archivists, curators, researchers, and IT experts  from various disciplines  from Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Israel, the Netherlands, Russia, the UK, the United Arabic Emirates, and the USA, representing public and private archives, state and university libraries, research institutions, IT service providers and web archiving consultants.

For an intense three days, keynote speeches, and short and long papers alternated panel discussions, with speakers and presenters reporting on their approaches to and practical experiences in archiving websites and in using archived web material for research.
Whereas the individual case studies came from very different backgrounds – focusing on YouTube or social media, exploring possible new tools and methodologies for web archiving and web archives analysis, dealing with the use of Big Data or small datasets in research disciplines from anthropology and linguistics to international relations and migration studies, looking at academic websites, popular culture, internet governance, citizen involvement and even troll communities – it soon became clear that the individual results would lead to common conclusions:

Archived web materials are ‘different’ from both traditional paper-based resources and from the live web. Therefore, existing research theories and traditional approaches to collecting and curating are often not useful when dealing with web materials; new methodologies need to be developed, new questions to be asked. On a practical basis, there is a big need for new tools to deal with the sheer amount of data available for research,  for example to filter and analyze web archive collections, and to visualize results.
Archiving web materials, curating collections, and using them as scholarly sources requires a great amount of resources  – staff/time, knowledge and expertise, technical infrastructure and tools. To use the existing resources as efficiently as possible, archivists, curators, researches of different disciplines, IT experts and service providers need to collaborate.  Pooling resources across institutions and creating (international) networks to share knowledge and experience seems to be the way forward.

Anna Perricci, Columbia University, on the importance of building web archiving collaborations

Anna Perricci, Columbia University, on the importance of building web archiving collaborations

Communication and openness are key! Archivists and curators should make web archiving processes transparent and explain to scholars what type of material and information they can realistically expect to find in web archives (and what is likely not to be included!).  Researchers should clearly express their needs and expectations, but at the same time, be willing to engage with a new type of resource, requiring new approaches, and at least basic IT skills. IT experts should develop easy to use and transparent tools, and share technical knowledge that helps to interpret archived web materials. Users should feed their experience back to curators and developers to help improve web archives selection, metadata/description and discovery tools.

Web archiving is still a young discipline – and research based on archived web material is an even younger one. There are no golden ‘how to’ rules, standards or ‘ultimate authorities’ yet, everyone is still learning. Individual projects encountering problems, or even ‘failing’ to achieve the desired outcome, can still provide valuable lessons to learn from for others. Successes, e.g. in developing and using methodologies and tools for web archiving and using web archives, can be the starting point for developing best practice guidelines in the medium to long term. Again, this requires communication and collaboration within and across institutions, professions, disciplines and countries.

Gareth Millward sharing his experience from the BUDDAH project

A case study of using Web archives as scholarly sources: Gareth Millward sharing his experience exploring the evolution of  disability organisation websites through the UK Domain Data Archive.

The conference’s big strength, apart from giving web archiving professionals and web archives users the opportunity to present their recent and ongoing projects and – in many cases – asking the other conference participants for input and advice, was certainly to bring together people concerned with web archives from a great variety of backgrounds, thus enabling exchange of ideas, debate and networking. There were many eye-opening moments in terms of discovering someone else, in a different institution in a different country, has been working on similar topics or encountered similar problems.

Knowing how and with which result web archived materials were used in other institutions will be very valuable if and when the Bodleian Libraries decide to promote their own web archive collections. At the same time, getting in touch with web archiving colleagues in the UK and internationally offers much potential for collaborations in future projects.
For example, the Tomsk State University in Russian is currently trying to establish a web archive similar to the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archives, whilst research projects run at the Institute for Historical Research of the University of London  as part of the Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities Project in cooperation with the British Library could be used as examples to promote the scholarly use of the UK (Legal Deposit) Web Archive in Oxford.

Special Collections in the Danish Netarkivet

Special Collections in the Danish Web Archive, which is run by the State and University Library in Aarhus and The Royal Libray in Copenhagen. Since 2005 the collection and preservation of the .dk internet is included in the Danish Legal Deposit Law.

At the end of the conference, everyone was buzzing with enthusiasm and new ideas, and agreed that the event was a great success  – not least to the flawless organisation and wonderful Danish hospitality, which included a reception celebrating the anniversary of the Danish Web Archiv netarkivet.dk, lots of Smørrebrød (delicious Danish open sandwiches) and a memorable conference dinner, all adding to the friendly and sociable character of the event.

A similar conference is now envisaged to be held in 2016 or 2017 in London, an opportunity not to be missed to catch up with the latest in Web Archiving and strengthen old and new – forgive the pun – links!