Guest Post on Web Archiving: Andrea Goethals

Variations of this post have also been published on the Harvard Library website, the Library of Congress’ Signal blog, and the IIPC’s blog.

In the last couple years, managing born-digital material, including content that originated on the Web, has been one of Harvard Library’s strategic priorities. Although the Library had been engaged in the collection, preservation and delivery of web content for several years, a strategy was needed to make this activity more scalable and sustainable at the university. The Library formed a Web Archive Working Group to gather information and make recommendations for a web archiving strategy for Harvard Library. One of the information-gathering activities the Working Group engaged in over the last year was an environmental scan of the current practices, issues and trends in web archiving nationally and internationally. Two members of the Working Group, Andrea Goethals and Abigail Bordeaux, worked closely with a consultant, Gail Truman of Truman Technologies, to conduct the five-month study and write the report. The study began in August 2015 and was made possible by the generous support of the Arcadia Fund. The final report is now available from Harvard’s open access repository, DASH.

The study included a series of interviews with web archiving practitioners from archives, museums and libraries worldwide; web archiving service providers; and researchers who use web archives. The interviewees were selected from the membership of several organizations, including the International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC), the Web Archiving Roundtable at the Society of American Archivists (SAA), the Internet Archive’s Archive-It Partner Community, the Ivy Plus institutions, Working with Internet archives for REsearch (Ruters/WIRE Group), and the Research infrastructure for the Study of Archived Web materials (RESAW).

The interviews of web archiving practitioners covered a wide range of areas, everything from how the institution is maintaining their web archiving infrastructure (e.g. outsourcing, staffing, location in the organization), to how they are (or aren’t) integrating their web archives with their other collections. From this data, profiles were created for 23 institutions, and the data was aggregated and analyzed to look for common themes, challenges and opportunities.

In the end, the environmental scan revealed 22 opportunities for future research and development. These opportunities are listed in Table 1 and described in more detail in the report. At a high level, these opportunities fall under four themes: (1) increase communication and collaboration, (2) focus on “smart” technical development, (3) focus on training and skills development, and (4) build local capacity.


22 Opportunities to Address Common Challenges

(the order has no significance)

1. Dedicate full-time staff to work in web archiving so that institutions can stay abreast of latest developments, best practices and fully engage in the web archiving community.
2. Conduct outreach, training and professional development for existing staff, particularly those working with more traditional collections, such as print, who are being asked to collect web archives.
3. Increase communication and collaboration across types of collectors since they might collect in different areas or for different reasons.
4. A funded collaboration program (bursary award, for example) to support researcher use of web archives by gathering feedback on requirements and impediments to the use of web archives.
5. Leverage the membership overlap between RESAW and European IIPC membership to facilitate formal researcher/librarian/archivist collaboration projects.
6. Institutional web archiving programs become transparent about holdings, indicating what material each has, terms of use, preservation commitment, plus curatorial decisions made for each capture.
7. Develop a collection development tool (e.g. registry or directory) to expose holdings information to researchers and other collecting institutions even if the content is viewable only in on-site reading rooms.
8. Conduct outreach and education to website developers to provide guidance on creating sites that can be more easily archived and described by web archiving practitioners.
9. IIPC, or similar large international organization, attempts to educate and influence tech company content hosting sites (e.g. Google/YouTube) on the importance of supporting libraries and archives in their efforts to archive their content (even if the content cannot be made immediately available to researchers).
10. Investigate Memento further, for example conduct user studies, to see if more web archiving institutions should adopt it as part of their discovery infrastructure.
11. Fund a collection development, nomination tool that can enable rapid collection development decisions, possibly building on one or more of the current tools that are targeted for open source deployment.
12. Gather requirements across institutions and among web researchers for next generation of tools that need to be developed.
13. Develop specifications for a web archiving API that would allow web archiving tools and services to be used interchangeably.
14. Train researchers with the skills they need to be able to analyze big data found in web archives.
15. Provide tools to make researcher analysis of big data found in web archives easier, leveraging existing tools where possible.
16. Establish a standard for describing the curatorial decisions behind collecting web archives so that there is consistent (and machine-actionable) information for researchers.
17. Establish a feedback loop between researchers and the librarians/archivists.
18. Explore how institutions can augment the Archive-It service and provide local support to researchers, possibly using a collaborative model.
19. Increase interaction with users, and develop deep collaborations with computer scientists.
20. Explore what, and how, a service might support running computing and software tools and infrastructure for institutions that lack their own onsite infrastructure to do so.
21. Service providers develop more offerings around the available tools to lower the barrier to entry and make them accessible to those lacking programming skills and/or IT support.
22. Work with service providers to help reduce any risks of reliance on them (e.g. support for APIs so that service providers could more easily be changed and content exported if needed).

Table 1: The 22 opportunities for further research and development that emerged from the environmental scan

One of the biggest takeaways is that the first theme, the need to radically increase communication and collaboration, among all individuals and organizations involved in some way in web archiving, was the most prevalent theme found by the scan. Thirteen of the 22 opportunities fell under this theme. Clearly much more communication and collaboration is needed between those collecting web content, but also between those who are collecting it and researchers who would like to use it.

This environmental scan has given us a great deal of insight into how other institutions are approaching web archiving, which will inform our own web archiving strategy at Harvard Library in the coming years. We hope that it has also highlighted key areas for research and development that need to be addressed if we are to build efficient and sustainable web archiving programs that result in complementary and rich collections that are truly useful to researchers.