By Ben Els, Digital Curator, The National Library of Luxembourg
The National Library of Luxembourg has been harvesting the Luxembourg web under the digital legal deposit since 2016. In addition to the large-scale domain crawls, the Luxembourg Web Archive also operates targeted crawls, aimed at specific subjects or events. During the past weeks and months, the global pandemic of the Coronavirus, has put society before unprecedented challenges. While large parts of our professional and social lives had to move even further online, the need to capture and document the implications of this crisis on the Internet, has seen enormous support in all domains of society. While it is safe to admit that web archiving is still a relatively unknown concept to most people in Luxembourg (probably also in other countries), it is also safe to say, that we have never seen a better case to illustrate the necessity of web archiving and ask for support in this overwhelming challenge.
Media and communities
At the National Library, we started our Coronavirus collection on March 16th, while there were 81 known cases in Luxembourg. While we have been harvesting websites in several event crawls for the past 3 years, it was clear from the start that the amount of information to be captured would surpass any other subject by a great deal. Therefore, we decided to ask for support from the Luxembourg news media, by asking them to send us lists of related news articles from their websites. This appeal to editors quickly evolved into a call for participation to the general public, asking all communities, associations, and civil interest groups to share their responses and online information about the crisis. Addressing the news media in the first place, gave us great support in spreading the word about the collection. Part of our approach to building an event collection, is to follow the news and take in information about new developments and publications of different organisations and persons of interest. As the flow and high-paced rhythm of new public information and support was vital to many communities, we also had to try and keep up with new websites, support groups and solidarity platforms being launched every day. However, many of these initiatives are not covered equally in the news or social media, a situation which is even more complicated through Luxembourg’s multilingual makeup. We learned about the challenges from the government and administrations, to convey important and urgent information in 4 or 5 languages at a time: Luxembourgish, French, German, English and Portuguese. The same goes for news and social media, and as a result, for the Luxembourg Web Archive. Therefore, we were grateful to receive contributions from organisations, which we would not have thought of including ourselves, and who were not talked about as much in the news.
Effort and resources
While the need and support for web archiving exploded during March and April, it was also clear, that the standard resources allocated to the yearly operations of the web archive would not suffice in responding to the challenge in front of us. The National Library was able to increase our efforts, by securing additional funding, which allowed us to launch an impromptu domain crawl and to expand the data budget on Archive-It crawls. We are all aware of the uphill battle in communicating the benefits of archiving the web. There is a feeling that, while people generally agree on the necessity of preserving websites, in most cases there is little sense of urgency or immediate requirement – since after all, most everyday changes are perceived as corrections of mistakes, or improvements on previous versions. In my opinion, the case of Coronavirus related websites, made the idea of web archiving as a service and obligation to society much clearer and easier to convey.
Private and public
The Web offers many spaces and facets for personal expression and communication. While social media have played a crucial part in helping people to deal with the crisis, web archives face some of their biggest challenges in harvesting and preserving social media. Alongside the technical difficulties and enormous related costs, there is the question of ethics in collecting content which is not 100% private, but also not 100% public. For instance, in Luxembourg, many support groups launched on Facebook, where people could ask their questions about the current situation and new developments in terms of what is
allowed, find help and comfort to their uncertainties. There are several active groups in every language, even some dedicated to districts of the city, with neighbours looking after each other. While it is important to try to capture all facets of an event (especially if this information is unique to the Internet) I am uncertain, whether it is ethical to capture the questions, comments and conversations of people in vulnerable situations. Even though there are sometimes thousands of members per group and pretty much everyone can join, they are not fully open to the public.
Collecting and sharing
Besides the large-scale crawls and Archive-It collection, we also contributed part of our seed list to the IIPC’s collaborative Novel Coronavirus collection, led by the Content Development Working Group. Of course, the National Library did not limit its response to archiving websites. With our call for participation, we also received a variety of physical and digital documents: mainly from municipalities and public administrations who submitted numerous documents, which were issued to the public in relation the reorganisation of public services and the temporary restrictions on social life.
We also received some unexpected contributions, in the form of poems, essays and short diary entries written during confinement, describing and reflecting upon the current situation from a very personal angle. Likewise, a researcher shared his private bibliometric analysis of scientific literature about the Coronavirus. Furthermore, the University of Luxembourg’s Centre for Contemporary and Digital History has launched the sharing platform covidmemory.lu, enabling ordinary people living or working in Luxembourg to share their photos, videos, stories and interviews related to COVID-19.
Web Archiving Week 2021
Since the 2021 edition of the IIPC Web Archiving Conference will be part of the Web Archiving Week, in partnership with the University of Luxembourg and the RESAW network, I am not going to spoil too much about the program by saying that we will continue exploring these shared efforts and responses during the week of June 14th – 18th 2021. We are looking forward to welcoming you all to Luxembourg!