Web Archivists, Assemble!

By Alex Thurman, Columbia University Libraries, Member of the IIPC Steering Committee and the WAC Program Committee (2016-2018), Co-Chair of the Content Development Group

The IIPC General Assembly & Web Archiving Conference is the professional gathering I anticipate most eagerly each year. In an energizing atmosphere of international cooperation, web curators, librarians, archivists, tool developers, computer scientists, and academic researchers from member organizations and beyond meet to share experiences and best practices and plan projects to tackle the collective challenge of preserving web resources.

I’ve had the good fortune of attending each year since 2012, and for the past three years I’ve also had the rewarding experience of serving on the program committees planning these events. As we look forward to the exciting upcoming 2018 conference in Wellington, New Zealand, here is some background on the recent evolution of the GA/WAC and the work of the 2018 WAC Program Committee.

Recent background

2018 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the IIPC, and the twelfth consecutive year that members of the IIPC will come together in an annual General Assembly. The IIPC Steering Committee has striven to cycle (loosely, as dependent on members volunteering to host the event) the venue of the GA/WAC in alternate years between Europe, North America and Australasia. And from the start, the GA event programs have combined days reserved for IIPC members (focused on Consortium planning and working group activities) with one or more open days to welcome the perspectives and expertise of the wider web archiving community and of researchers.

To emphasize this aspect of outreach to researchers and promoting awareness of web archiving, the Steering Committee has in recent years opted to formalize the “open days” as a distinct event—the IIPC Web Archiving Conference. The 2016 event was the first to thus distinguish the General Assembly from the Web Archiving Conference, and thereafter, at the suggestion of that PC’s Chair (Kristinn Sigurðsson, National and University Library of Iceland), planning responsibility for the different event components became more distributed: the GA program would be determined by the Steering Committee Officers and Portfolio Leads and the Working Group Chairs; a mostly local Organizing Committee would see to the logistical planning of securing a venue and catering and possible sponsors; and the Web Archiving Conference program would be developed by a Program Committee. The 2017 Program Committee (chaired by Nicholas Taylor, Stanford University) was the first to include some non-IIPC members, and their CFP was the first to attract more relevant submissions than we had space to accept, a milestone in the maturation of the conference.

Work of the 2018 Program Committee

Co-chaired by Jan Hutař (Archives New Zealand) and Paul Koerbin (National Library of Australia), the 12-member 2018 Program Committee started work in November 2017. Our first task was drafting a call for papers, which involved first discussing whether the conference would have a stated theme and the types (presentations, panels, workshops, tutorials) of submission proposals we’d ask for and the nature of the submission (abstracts? full papers?). We needed a flexible theme that would acknowledge the IIPC’s milestone 15th anniversary and the value of our collective work preserving the web so far, while embracing creative new approaches to the evolving challenges we face. In his draft CFP, Paul Koerbin hit on “Web Archiving Histories and Futures and we ran with that. And as the Wellington event will be the first GA/WAC held in Australasia in 10 years, we especially encouraged submissions related to Asia/Pacific web archiving activities.

To encourage submissions from all types of web archiving practitioners and users, in the CFP we further listed some suggested topics, under the rubrics of “building web archives,” “maintaining web archive content and operations,” “using and researching web archives,” and “web archive histories and futures.” And we opted to ask applicants to submit abstracts only rather than full papers, both to lower the barriers to application in order to get more submissions, and to allow all Program Committee members to consider (and vote on) all submissions, rather than assigning reviewers to specific papers. Once the CFP was ready, PC members worked hard to distribute it to a wide selection of mailing lists, reaching beyond IIPC members and other cultural memory institutions to also get submissions from independent researchers.

This strategy worked (boosted no doubt by the intrinsic appeal of visiting Wellington!), as we received a record number of submissions for the WAC, submitted through EasyChair. The breadth and depth of interesting submissions allowed us to build a strong program–while unfortunately having to reject some relevant proposals. Each committee member read all the submitted abstracts and rated each one on a 3-point scale, yielding cumulative point averages for each submission from which the committee could decide which submissions would be accepted for the conference. In order to know how many submissions could be accepted we first had to consider how much conference schedule time we had available, which would depend in part on whether we would have multiple tracks.

We decided the program would have a mix of plenary talks and usually two tracks of presentations or workshops, and Olga Holownia (IIPC Program & Communication Officer) provided a range of detailed schedule templates for us to use to figure out how many individual presentations, panels, and workshops we’d have room for. We then began grouping accepted proposals into thematic sessions, loosely conceived as more-technical and less-technical tracks, in order to reduce (though not eliminate) the frustration of attendees wishing they could be in both tracks at once. Committee members then divided up the responsibility of serving as session chairs, to introduce the speakers and keep the sessions running on time.

Between the tasks of preparing the CFP and evaluating the submissions and shaping them into a program, the committee had the additional enjoyable responsibility of brainstorming possible keynote speaker candidates. Committee members suggested over two dozen possible keynoters, voted on them, and eventually submitted a few outstanding candidates to the Organizing Committee for their consideration. The Organizing Committee took these suggestions and added others based on their familiarity with the Australasian digital library and academic scene and delivered two exciting keynote speakers – Wendy Seltzer (World Wide Web Consortium) and Rachael Ka’ai-Mahuta (Te Ipukarea, the National Maori Language Institute, Auckland Institute of Technology) – and an additional plenary talk from Vint Cerf (Google). With these and many other talented contributors from within and beyond IIPC member institutions, the 2018 IIPC Web Archiving Conference looks to be a rich and stimulating event.

Register now!

Serving on the WAC Program Committee is a great opportunity to work directly with IIPC colleagues and other web archiving enthusiasts. And the work continues – you can volunteer now to serve on the Program Committee and start shaping the 2019 IIPC WAC.

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