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The Past, Present and Future of Web Preservation

by | Jan 31, 2022 | 0 comments

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By Joe Puccio  (Collection Development Officer, Library of Congress) 

Against the Grain V33#6

Over the past few years, I have become increasingly concerned that libraries and other collecting entities are not doing enough to preserve the web of today for future generations of researchers, historians and other scholars.  It was that concern that led to my piece, “Web Archiving: The Dream and the Reality,” which appeared in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of Against the Grain.  I closed that article by noting that no single institution can meet this need but that “an energized consortium of libraries that collect for the long-term can come together and get it done.”

My goal was to generate discussion around this topic, which would — I hoped — lead to action.  So, when Katina Strauch and Tom Gilson offered me the opportunity to guest edit an issue of Against the Grain about web archiving, I leapt at the chance.  Luckily, several experts agreed to participate and contribute the articles in this issue.  The topics line-up nicely into the categories of where we, primarily meaning the library community, have been with web archiving, where we are now and how we should move forward.  Arguably, the last subject is the most difficult.  Yet, all the contributors in this issue of Against the Grain concur that collaborative action is the path to follow.

The Internet Archive (IA) has historically done more than any other organization to capture and preserve portions of the web, in addition to providing the tools to allow others to do their part.  In “Building Web Collections: Cooperation Past and Future,” Brewster Kahle (Digital Librarian and Founder, IA) provides some IA history with a focus on its collaborative work.

The International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC) was formed in 2003 and now includes members from 35 countries.  Abigail Grotke (2021 chair of the IIPC and head of the Web Archiving Team at the Library of Congress) and Olga Holownia (Senior Program Officer for the IIPC) have co-authored, “Transnational Collaborative Web Archiving: The International Internet Preservation Consortium.”  It tells the organization’s story and highlights its work in tools development, cooperative collecting, training and other initiatives.

The article, “A Look Back at the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation’s Web Resources Collection Program,” describes an effort initiated in 2017 by the Confederation.  It is written by Samantha Abrams (Head of Collections, Center for Research Libraries and formerly the Confederation’s Web Resources Collection Librarian) and Jean Park (Postdoctoral Fellow at the Macaulay Honors College and formerly the Bibliographic Assistant for Confederation).

For the topic of where the community should be headed regarding web archiving, Carol Mandel (Dean Emerita, New York University Libraries and currently a Distinguished Presidential Fellow at the Council on Library and Information Resources) and Clifford Lynch (Executive Director at the Coalition for Networked Information) collaborated to write a pair of articles that complement each other, both arguing that “web archiving” is increasingly the wrong way to think about the challenge of harvesting from and documenting the wealth of today’s web content.

Mandel’s article is, “Collecting from the Web: Collection Development Policy in the Born-Digital Universe.”  It notes the opportunities and complexity of web content collecting and asks one to consider whether the concept of “archiving the web” instills a daunting connotation that discourages libraries of different types and sizes from building selective collections that serve their constituencies.  

“The Dangerous Complacency of ‘Web Archiving’ Rhetoric,” is Lynch’s contribution.  He focuses on the technical and philosophical challenges of capturing and preserving various kinds of digital content that are part of today’s web.  The range of content and services that are now accessible via the web go far beyond websites of the 1990s, and Lynch argues that we need a more complex and nuanced understanding of what “archiving” means in this evolving context.

These articles provide a foundation for us to jump-start a wide discussion about where we need to head.  That conversation should include cultural heritage partners of all types who have yet to make a significant impact in this area.  Libraries and allied professions have a long history of collaboration to solve difficult problems in the interest of preserving information and providing enduring access to it.  The time is upon us to come together again so that future generations will have access to the valuable born-digital content connected by the web of today.  

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