By Andrea Goethals, Harvard Library
This is an expanded version of a post to the Library of Congress’ Signal blog.
Harvard Library recently released a report that is the result of a five-month environmental scan of the landscape of web archiving, made possible by the generous support of the Arcadia Fund. The purpose of the study was to explore and document current web archiving programs to identify common practices, needs, and expectations in the collection and provision of web archives to users; the provision and maintenance of web archiving infrastructure and services; and the use of web archives by researchers. The findings will inform Harvard Library’s strategy for scaling up its web archiving activities, and are also being shared broadly to help inform research and development priorities in the global web archiving community.
The heart of the study was a series of interviews with web archiving practitioners from archives, museums and libraries worldwide; web archiving service providers; and researchers who use web archives. The interviewees were selected from the membership of several organizations, including the IIPC of course, but also the Web Archiving Roundtable at the Society of American Archivists (SAA), the Internet Archive’s Archive-It Partner Community, the Ivy Plus institutions, Working with Internet archives for REsearch (Reuters/WIRE Group), and the Research infrastructure for the Study of Archived Web materials (RESAW).
The interviews of web archiving practitioners covered a wide range of areas, everything from how the institution is maintaining their web archiving infrastructure (e.g. outsourcing, staffing, location in the organization), to how they are (or aren’t) integrating their web archives with their other collections. From this data, profiles were created for 23 institutions, and the data was aggregated and analyzed to look for common themes, challenges and opportunities.
Opportunities for Research & Development
In the end, the environmental scan revealed 22 opportunities for future research and development. These opportunities are listed below and described in more detail in the report. At a high level, these opportunities fall under four themes: (1) increase communication and collaboration, (2) focus on “smart” technical development, (3) focus on training and skills development, and (4) build local capacity.
22 Opportunities to Address Common Challenges
(the order has no significance)
- Dedicate full-time staff to work in web archiving so that institutions can stay abreast of latest developments, best practices and fully engage in the web archiving community.
- Conduct outreach, training and professional development for existing staff, particularly those working with more traditional collections, such as print, who are being asked to collect web archives.
- Increase communication and collaboration across types of collectors since they might collect in different areas or for different reasons.
- A funded collaboration program (bursary award, for example) to support researcher use of web archives by gathering feedback on requirements and impediments to the use of web archives.
- Leverage the membership overlap between RESAW and European IIPC membership to facilitate formal researcher/librarian/archivist collaboration projects.
- Develop a collection development tool (e.g. registry or directory) to expose holdings information to researchers and other collecting institutions even if the content is viewable only in on-site reading rooms.
- Conduct outreach and education to website developers to provide guidance on creating sites that can be more easily archived and described by web archiving practitioners.
- IIPC, or similar large international organization, attempts to educate and influence tech company content hosting sites (e.g. Google/YouTube) on the importance of supporting libraries and archives in their efforts to archive their content (even if the content cannot be made immediately available to researchers).
- Investigate Memento further, for example conduct user studies, to see if more web archiving institutions should adopt it as part of their discovery infrastructure.
- Fund a collection development, nomination tool that can enable rapid collection development decisions, possibly building on one or more of the current tools that are targeted for open source deployment.
- Gather requirements across institutions and among web researchers for next generation of tools that need to be developed.
- Develop specifications for a web archiving API that would allow web archiving tools and services to be used interchangeably.
- Train researchers with the skills they need to be able to analyze big data found in web archives.
- Provide tools to make researcher analysis of big data found in web archives easier, leveraging existing tools where possible.
- Establish a standard for describing the curatorial decisions behind collecting web archives so that there is consistent (and machine-actionable) information for researchers.
- Establish a feedback loop between researchers and the librarians/archivists.
- Explore how institutions can augment the Archive-It service and provide local support to researchers, possibly using a collaborative model.
- Increase interaction with users, and develop deep collaborations with computer scientists.
- Explore what, and how, a service might support running computing and software tools and infrastructure for institutions that lack their own onsite infrastructure to do so.
- Service providers develop more offerings around the available tools to lower the barrier to entry and make them accessible to those lacking programming skills and/or IT support.
- Work with service providers to help reduce any risks of reliance on them (e.g. support for APIs so that service providers could more easily be changed and content exported if needed).
Communication & Collaboration are Key!
One of the biggest takeaways is that the first theme, the need to radically increase communication and collaboration, among all individuals and organizations involved in some way in web archiving, was the most prevalent theme found by the scan. Thirteen of the 22 opportunities fell under this theme. Clearly much more communication and collaboration is needed between those collecting web content, but also between those who are collecting it and researchers who would like to use it.
This environmental scan has given us a great deal of insight into how other institutions are approaching web archiving, which will inform our own web archiving strategy at Harvard Library in the coming years. We hope that it has also highlighted key areas for research and development that need to be addressed if we are to build efficient and sustainable web archiving programs that result in complementary and rich collections that are truly useful to researchers.
A Note about the Tools
There is a section in the report (Appendix C) that lists all the current web archiving tools that were identified during the environmental scan. The IIPC Tools and Software web page was one of the resources used to construct this list, along with what was learned through interviews, conferences and independent research. The tools are organized according to the various activities needed throughout the lifecycle of acquiring, processing, preserving and providing web archive collections. Many of the tools discovered are fairly new, especially the ones associated with the analysis of web archives. The state of the tools will continue to change rapidly so this list will quickly become out of date unless a group like the IIPC decides to maintain it. I will be at the GA in April if any IIPC member would like to talk about maintaining this list or other parts of the report.