What do you get when you hand a Master’s student a web archiving program?: Part Two

The following is a guest post by Grace Moran, Graduate Web Archiving Assistant – Library Administration, University of Illinois Library

In the previous installment of this series, I explored the complementary issues of metadata and access for web archives. In this second and final installment, the more human aspects of this year’s endeavor come to the fore: policy and personnel. I will also briefly describe how the current pandemic has informed web-archiving efforts at the University of Illinois.

If you did not read the previous blog post, let me revisit my background. I am the Graduate Web Archiving Assistant, working for Dr. Christopher Prom, the Associate Dean for Digital Strategies at the University of Illinois. This year, I have been charged with participating in day-to-day activities related to web archiving such as running crawls and doing quality assurance. I also engage in high-level organizational thinking about the future stewardship of the library’s burgeoning web archiving program. The program began in 2015, and since then the University of Illinois has captured 5 TB worth of data using our Archive-It subscription. Multiple units take part in the curatorial side of this endeavor: the University Archives, the American Library Association Archives, Faculty Papers, and the International & Area Studies Library. We are hoping to start running crawls for the Illinois History & Lincoln Collections in the near future.

As I noted, this post is focused on policy and personnel. These are two areas that currently present a challenge for my institution. We do not have centralized documentation, a web archiving-specific collection development policy, or a position other than my own dedicated to web archiving. The following is what I envision the program looking like in the future and will be highlighted in my final report to my supervisor at the end of the academic year.

What does policy mean for web archiving? I believe institutional web archiving policies and procedures should be composed of the following:

  • A collection development policy unique to the institution’s web archiving program (a general organization-wide collection development policy does not suffice given the unique nature of the content being collected)
  • A clear, centralized workflow outlining how crawls are to be run, troubleshooting documentation, and chain-of-command for web archiving
  • A statement on copyright and ethics in web archiving (Niu in “An Overview of Web Archiving,” cited below, touches on copyright)

Though it may be extremely obvious to some readers, it is worth saying: policy should be public. As someone who works for a public university, I am painfully aware of the importance of policy accessibility for our stakeholders.

What about personnel? Who should be running a web-archiving program? How many people should be involved? Of course, this is something that varies from institution to institution; however, my experience has made clear the need for a dedicated point person. This person could be:

  • A graduate web archiving position, like my own, working 20 hours a week to coordinate crawls across units, run Quality Assurance, and populate metadata fields.
  • A civil service or academic professional position with at least a 50% appointment to web archiving. If an institution is looking to grow their web archiving program, they should consider making this a 100% appointment for the first couple years and then having the point person slowly transition towards additional activities related to digital strategies of the library.

I should note here that a graduate web archiving assistant is a great way to support your web archiving program (yes, I am biased) but there are some drawbacks to placing this responsibility on the shoulders of a temporary employee. If you are just beginning your program, you may find that a part-time position does not fulfill the needs of your program. Additionally, there are advantages to long-term employees who have institutional knowledge and memory and therefore, understand the administrative history of digital programs within your organization. Time is lost when it is necessary to re-train someone for a position annually or bi-annually.

Side Note: I want to make clear that graduate employees are so important. They bring a fresh set of eyes to problems and the opportunity to learn from a graduate position can be absolutely priceless for someone like me. Please consider funding your graduate students, there are a great number out there pursuing an unfunded MLIS and paying off student debt for years to come.

Finally, I want to highlight a unique opportunity given to web archiving programs this past year. COVID-19 has devastated lives the world over; it has also provided inspiration for innovation and creativity. This has been true at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. From a novel saliva-based PCR test, to rigorous testing protocols, to creating a ventilator in 12 days, the institution has tackled this problem head-on. Bethany Anderson, the Natural & Applied Sciences Archivist, and I have collaborated over the past year to run crawls to document COVID-19 at the university and celebrate what we have accomplished in one of the darkest years we have seen. To check out pages we have documented, you can visit https://archive-it.org/collections/13880. This is a great example of how web archiving allows us to document important moments now and preserve the historical record (which is increasingly electronic) for the benefit of future researchers.

I hope that you have identified with some part of this blog series; my hope is that if we create a dialogue about our triumphs and struggles, we can all learn something.

Sources Mentioned

Niu, Jinfang, “An Overview of Web Archiving” (2012). School of Information Faculty Publications. 308.

“COVID-19 Response at the University of Illinois” (2021). The Board Trustees of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. https://archive-it.org/collections/13880

For further questions, I can be reached at gmoran6@illinois.edu