Community Web Archiving in Athens

The Heritage Room works actively to collect the culture and history of Athens-Clarke and the surrounding counties and cities. With the advent and rise of online communication, much of that culture and history is produced on the internet. Remember when we all thought that everything on the internet would live on forever? As it turns out, that is the furthest thing from the truth — at least without the proper archival practice, which is where web archiving comes in!

The Heritage Room has been using Archive-It to archive community websites and preserve them since 2018. This project, however, relies on our community support. We want to preserve what is important to you — our community. This post serves as a hub to explain what web archiving is, why institutions web archive, and to describe how you can get involved.

What is web archiving?

Web archiving is the process of collecting portions of the World Wide Web to ensure the information is preserved in an archive for future researchers, historians, and the public.

Parham Habibzadeh

Web archiving is the process of preserving copies of websites and pages at a certain point in time. This process preserves the function of the website and the look of the website, and allows users to access a “copy” of the page even if the page or site is taken down.

Archived webpages are not just an image of the page: it preserves the functionality of the site itself. The look and feel and “clickability” of the site are all preserved. Since sites often change, web archiving will “crawl” the same site repeatedly over multiple months and years to continue to preserve updated information. All of these copies are available in a web archive.

A common example of web archives is the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Try clicking on the link and entering the URL of a website you know well. On the site timeline, click on the first year you see activity. What has changed? This information is all captured through web archiving. Note how the site operates just like a regular website! This is what we mean by preserving functionality of the site.

Why is this important?

Despite what we were told in the 90s, the internet is ephemeral! As websites are no longer feasible to maintain or no longer relevant to the moment, they are often taken down and that information is lost to time. This means that information like a local political campaign or website for a local event may be lost.

Web archiving further preserves materials that may have been designed to be viewed online. A screenshot of an image is not proof, and may not contain all of the possible information. By preserving the full “interactive” element of a website, a web archive ensures that no information is lost.

How to Get Involved

The Heritage Room, and broadly the Athens Regional Library System, has been using the online tool Archive-It to create an archive of regional websites. You can view our archive here (link opens in a new tab). As of the time of writing (July 2020), we are collecting under eight main categories:

  • Business and Industry
  • Contemporary Visual Art, Music, and Literature
  • Food Culture
  • History and Community
  • Politics, Government, and Activism
  • Athens Regional Library System (library websites)
  • Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room
  • Athens, Georgia Area COVID-19 Response

Our parameters for collecting are general in these areas. Websites must relate to the Athens-Clarke County area, or surrounding counties, and must relate to the topic of the collection. We periodically crawl the sites to make sure that they are up to date as well.

Most importantly, however, we can’t grow this collection without community input. This archive is built for the public to use and thrives on public input. We would love to hear from you, especially about suggestions for what to archive. We are asking for community feedback on our web form here: http://www.123formbuilder.com/form-5563923/document-athens-now-submission-form (link opens in new tab).

The Heritage Room also recognizes that you or your group may feel uncomfortable with submitting your website without speaking with a staff member or introducing us to your organization. We are truly here for the entire community and would love to be in touch about how we can build a community with you and your organization. Please get in touch via phone (706-613-3650 ext. 350) or email (heritageroomref@athenslibrary.org) if you would like to talk with us in more detail.

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