In 2017 Arquivo.pt launched Investiga XXI, a project that aims to promote the use of the Portuguese Web Archive as a research tool and resource. In this first guest blog post introducing the Portuguese initiative, RICARDO BASÍLIO presents a collaboration between Arquivo.pt and researchers from the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences of Universidade Nova de Lisboa (FCSH-UNL) which resulted in the creation of an online exhibition that illustrates a use case for the historical information preserved by Arquivo.pt. This exhibition highlights extracts of institutional online memories.
FCSH: 40 years of lifetime, 20 years online
FCSH was founded in 1977 and it is part of Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Since 1997, that FCSH websites have been used as communication interfaces with its community of teachers, researchers and students.
Arquivo.pt preserves web content published since 1996. Therefore, the time span of the web content preserved by Arquivo.pt covers 20 years of the institutional online memory of FCSH, that is half of the Faculty’s lifetime.
In the early years of the Web, the FCSH website mostly replicated printed information. However, it has gradually become a comprehensive portal to academic live at the Faculty including also news, lists of researchers, research programs or access points to services.
Research centers are important entities of the Faculty’s ecosystem. In 1997 there were 30 small research centers, but in the 2016 they were merged into 16 larger ones.
The research centers are autonomous, manage their own projects and organize specific events. This fact resulted in the creation of over 100 additional related websites serving various purposes, such as institutional communication, project descriptions and event promotions.
The online exhibition aimed to create an institutional memory through a chronological narrative built from past web pages preserved by Arquivo.pt.
Synthesizing 20 years of memories into a single page
The project began by inventorying a large number of current websites related to the Faculty activities. We subsequently narrowed our scope to include only the institutional websites leaving other ones for future work (e.g. projects and events). All the identified websites were targeted to be preserved by Arquivo.pt.
The data collection was performed manually through the Arquivo.pt search interfaces. We mainly searched for the hostname and analyzed the corresponding version history, noticing its main content changes and references to external websites of events and projects. The data was collected, selected and registered into a page per organizational unity (see Fig. 2).
Some research centers adopted multiple hostnames along time. On the other hand, the institutional identity may have also changed due to organizational merging, name changes or different institutional frameworks. For example, CHAM “Centro de Humanidades” (in 2017) had two previous names: “Centro d’Além Mar” in 2002 and then changed to “Centro d’Aquém e d’Além Mar” in 2013-2014, when merged with “Centro de História da Cultura – CHC”, “Centro de Estudos Históricos – CEH” and “Instituto Oriental – IO”. Although, the hostname of the website has never changed: cham.fcsh.unl.pt.
Sometimes it was not straightforward to conclude if we were facing the same organizational entity after a merge, even when the website remained with the same title, hostname and URL. It’s hard, however, to imagine that the entity changed if everything remained the same. Therefore, our conclusions were validated through interviews with current and previous staff of the Faculty and research centers. Hence, the importance of institutional support and direct interaction with the entities.
Designing a time travel to the past
The objective was to create a website with a clean look and that was easy to browse. We anchored its navigation on suggestive images extracted from preserved web pages, to reinforce that it is an exhibition about online memory, rather than about current information available on the live-Web.
Thus, the homepage of the online exhibition presents a collection of preserved web images from old websites of organizational units that belonged to FCSH.
The chosen publishing platform was the free version of WordPress.com, so that anyone can create a similar project, despite a potential lack of financial resources.
By clicking on each image, the user is taken to a page that describes the online memory of each entity of the Faculty. It presents the following elements: featured image, brief synopsis, list of addresses along time and selection of mesmerizing moments.
The description of each entity has a maximum length of 150 words and includes links to versions preserved on Arquivo.pt. This interaction between the online exhibition and the web archive aims to provide the user experience of browsing an institutional memory.
The exhibition is complemented with frequently asked questions and tutorials related to digital preservation.
Future work, because a website is never finished
The next step is to promote this exhibition through the institutional communication channels of the Faculty (e.g. institutional website, mailing lists).
The exhibition still has plenty of room to be complemented with additional entities that could be aggregated in collections organized by topic or scientific area.
Direct interaction with research centers is mandatory as well as organization of training courses on web preservation and research to raise awareness to the importance of web archiving.
This project was developed in just 3 months, between May and July 2017. This short time span forced us to focus and set priorities on the most important issues. We would still be lost now choosing plug-ins if we had had more time and, however, would the extra plug-ins had actually been needed to accomplish the objectives? The users don’t seem to miss them on the exhibition.
We aimed to demonstrate that anyone could develop a similar exhibition to preserve the online memory of an organization without requiring significant financial resources or technical skills.
We hope that this project will encourage librarians and archivists to create ways of preserving the online memory of their institutions.
If we did it, you can also do it.
- Investiga XXI project page
- Diego Duarte, The Study of punk culture through the Portuguese Web Archive
- Diogo Silva da Cunha, Today’s news to be forgotten tomorrow?
- Technical report (in Portuguese)
- Online exhibition
- Presentation – open class at the FCSH-UNL (video) (May, 2017)
- Working progress (video) (June, 2017)
- Presentation on the 10th anniversary of Arquivo.pt (video) (November, 2017)
Ricardo Basílio, has a Master in Documentation and Information Sciences, was a librarian at the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences of Universidade Nova de Lisboa, and at the Art Library of Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, on the digital collections about portuguese tiles, the “DigiTile” project. His areas of interest are digital preservation, digital libraries and technologies that support information. Created and manages a website in Portuguese about Digital Preservation (Digital Preservation Guide).