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When should Archives Complement the Acquisition of a Personal Papers Collection with Web Archiving?

+3 votes
9,896 views
At this point, authors, scientists, politicains and others who's papers are aquired by archives, share photos on flickr, write blogs, have personal websites, etc. That is, asside from their papers stored and organized in their physical or digital files, or their corraspondance in their email accounts, and other sets of private unpublished materials they also have a range of ephemerial likely at risk materials that are currently avalible on the public web. In what situations does it make sense for an archives to use something like Archive-It to aquire these sites? As a plus, it would be great to have actual examples of cases where archives have decided it made sense to complement the aquisition of a personal papers collection with web archiving.
asked Aug 13, 2014 by tjowens (2,350 points)
retagged Aug 13, 2014 by tjowens

3 Answers

+4 votes
I posted a bit of information last week on Twitter, but here's further information on the work we did at UT-San Antonio.

As a relaveily young organization that had previously collected manuscripts in a few subjet areas, using web harvesting became an vital option for gathering documentation in our collection analysis and new collection development policy.  It also jump-started the university archives for capturing the activities of administration, faculty, and particularly student organizations.  In one example, the university operated a Latino Health Research Center, but subsequently shut it down.  While we have no traiditional documentation on the Center outside of some scattered pubs, the univeristy forgot to unplug the web site.  So xix years after the center closed, we captured the site, which is the best documentation about it.

For manuscript collecting, we deliberately identified in desired topical areas if web harvestinw would be the primary form of documenntation, blended with traditional paper/digital files, or not at all.  We saw the web as an equal means of providing documentary evidence, such as in the areas of immigration and water resources, and some web  collectiions we developed after discussions with existing collection donors, such as bilingual education.  

More information at the URLs below.  

 https://archive-it.org/organizations/318

https://webarchive.jira.com/wiki/display/ARIH/Archive-It+Resources,+Presentations+and+Events (under 2001 SAA presentations)
answered Aug 19, 2014 by shelstad (220 points)
+3 votes

This is a very specific question. The UT-San Antonio example is instructive but note that the Latino Health Research Center site was captured in an effort to archive the university's records. There may be different protocol when the situation involves your own institution, another institution whose records you are receiving, or if you are collecting documents based on a topic/theme/subject area.

One example of an institution capturing the website that belongs to a (individual, not instutitional) donor is UNC Chapel Hill's capture of Taylor Branch's website through Archive-It (https://wayback.archive-it.org/org-679/*/http://taylorbranch.com/). The Archive-It crawls are a component of Branch's personal papers, and are integrated into the finding aid as a series (http://www2.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/b/Branch,Taylor.html).

I'm not affiliated with UNC Chapel Hill but that example was mentioned at the SAA 2014 conference; I'm sure someone could contact archivists there for further information about why and how it was decided to capture Branch's website as part of the collection.

answered Aug 25, 2014 by cjames (240 points)
edited Aug 25, 2014 by cjames
+2 votes
I think we should ask donors if they have any of this material, and if they would be willing to donate it as a routine part of acquisition. I think archives should consider adding this to their acquisition policies, and collection development plans.

In the case of Twitter, Facebook and Google there are already fairly usable snapshots of data available that donors could download and make avaialble to an archive. Hopefully we will see similar services over time.

The advantage to these snapshots is that they are static sites you can view just using your web browser. If an archinve has a rudimentary data storage system, and an inventory of some kind it should be fairly simple to retrieve these files and make them available to researchers.

Web crawling is another option as well, assuming the archive has a Wayback instance, or some other playback mechanism. If a third party like Archive-It is doing the archiving then they may have a playback service that can be used.

I think archivists are in a position to strongly encourage records creators to pick a Creative Commons license so this content can eventually be made available on the Web by the archive. This decision should be recorded in the deed of gift.

I agree, it would be super to have some compelling examples of archiving this sort of content. I wish I could provide them. I'm sure there are some out there.
answered Aug 14, 2014 by edsu (230 points)
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