By Gillian Lee, Coordinator, Web Archives at the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand
The National Library of New Zealand reflects on their rapid response collecting of Covid-19 related websites since February 2020.
Collecting in response to the pandemic
Web Archivists at the National Library of New Zealand are used to collecting websites relating to major events, but the Covid-19 pandemic has had such a global impact, it’s affected every member of society. It has been heart breaking to see the tragic loss of life and economic hardships that people are facing world-wide. The effects of this pandemic will be with us for a long time.
Collecting content relating to these events always produces mixed emotions as a web archivist. There’s the tension between collecting content before it disappears, and in that regard, we put on our hard hats and get on with it. At the same time however, these events are raw and personal to each one of us and the websites we’ve collected reflect that.
IIPC Collaborative Collection
When the IIPC put out a call to contribute to the Novel Coronavirus Outbreak Collaborative Collection, we got involved. Initially New Zealand sources were commenting on what was happening internationally, so URLs identified were mainly news stories, until our first reported case of Coronavirus occurred in February and then we started to see New Zealand websites created in response to Covid-19 here. We continued to contribute seed URLs to the IIPC collection, but our focus necessarily switched to the selective harvesting we undertake for the National Library’s collections.
The New Zealand government instituted a 4 level alert system on March 21 and we quickly moved to level 4 lockdown on March 24. The lockdown lasted a month, before gradually moving down to level 1 on June 8.
The rapidly changing alert levels were reflected in the constantly changing webpages online. It seemed that most websites we regularly harvest had content relating to Covid-19. Our selective web harvesting team focussed on identifying websites that had significant Covid-19 content or were created to cover Covid-19 events during our rapid response collecting phase. Even then it was difficult to capture all changes on a website as they responded to the different alert levels.
We were working from home during this time and connected to Web Curator Tool through our work computers. The harvesting was consistent, but our internet connections were not always stable, so we often got thrown out of the system! If we had technical issues with any particular website harvest, by the time we resolved it, the pages online had sometimes shifted to another alert level! We also used Web Recorder and Archive-It for some of our web harvests.
Due to the enormous amount of Covid-19 content being generated and because we are a very small team (along with the challenges of working from home), what we collected could really only be a very selective representation.
Unite against Covid-19 – Unite for the Recovery
One prominent website captured during this time was the government website ‘Unite Against Covid-19’ which was the go-to place for anyone wanting to know what the current rules were. This website was updated constantly, sometimes several times a day.
When we entered alert level one the website changed to “Unite for the Recovery.” We expect to be collecting this site for some time. While we have completed our rapid response phase we will be continuing to collect Covid-19 related material as part of our regular harvesting.
Apart from official government websites, we captured websites that reflected the economic impact on our society, such as event cancellations and business closures. We documented how some businesses responded to the pandemic, by changing production lines from clothing to making face masks and from alcohol production to making hand sanitiser. New products like respirators and PPE (personal protective equipment) gear were also being produced. Tourism is a major industry in New Zealand and with border lockdowns still in place, advertising is now targeting New Zealanders. There is talk about extending this to a “Trans-Tasman” bubble to include Australia and possibly some Pacific Islands in the near future.
As in many countries, community responses during lockdown provided both unique and shared experiences. New Zealanders were able to walk locally (with social distancing) so people put bears and other soft toys in the windows for kids (and adults) to count as they walked by. The daily televised 1pm Covid-19 updates from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield during lockdown was compulsive viewing and generated memorabilia such as T-shirts, bags and coasters. These were all reflected in the websites we collected. We also harvested personal blogs such as ‘lockdown diaries’.
Web archiving and beyond
During this rapid collecting phase, the web archivists focussed on collecting websites, and that’s reflected in this blog post. There was also a significant amount of content we wanted to collect from social media such as memes, digital posters and podcasts, New Zealand social commentary on Twitter and email from businesses and associations. This has required considerable effort from the Library’s Digital Collecting and Legal Deposit teams. You can find out more about this in an earlier National Library blog post by our Senior Digital Archivist Valerie Love. We are also working with our GLAM sector colleagues and donors to continue to build these collections.