Institutions Notice This Internet Thing, Suddenly Want to Archive It All

And so the Celtic Studies stacks become even more deserted.

We’ll just leave this here for posterity. (Screencap via the Wayback Machine)

The Internet’s history is a precarious thing, as anyone still mourning for GeoCities can tell you. Preservational efforts have been enthusiastic, but haphazard: Google has a substantial chunk of Usenet preserved, and the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is the Amazon basin of K Holes, but just try finding that random page where you read that thing about Spiderman a decade ago.

Well, in the last couple of years, universities and other institutions have apparently realized there’s a whole big treasure trove of information clogging up those InterTubes, and maybe they might want to participate in archiving it.

That makes sense, considering that Tumblr alone could provide dissertation fodder for generations of anthropology grad students.

The Atlantic points us to an interesting study conducted by the National Digital Stewardship Alliance, which surveyed 77 “organizations in the United States that are actively involved in, or planning to start, programs to archive content from the web.” (For those keeping score at home, 22 were in “cultural heritage,” 17 government institutions, and 36 universities.)

Judging from the numbers, the enthusiasm for web archiving is accelerating: Of those respondents who gave a year for the inception of their web archiving programs, 32 percent had begun within the last two years. And here’s the kicker: That’s as many as started a program between 1989 and 2006. That sounds about right, considering we can think of a couple of professors who probably still don’t use email.

Of the 68 percent of respondents that had started web archiving in the last 3 years, 63 percent were universities. That’s a sharp shift:

Self-identified archival institutions, on the other hand, accounted for 6 of the 15 institutions that began web archiving prior to  2002 (a rate of 40%), yet only 3 of the 39 (7%) that began programs from 2002 to the  current day.

But the most surprising detail to leap out of the report was this: Respondents weren’t that sure of who was using their archives or how. Only 52 organizations answered a question about how researchers are using their archives, and most of them were “a variation on ‘unknown,’ ‘too soon to tell,’ or ‘good question.'” The report continued:

A number of responses did note a specific use or user community – such as local historians, genealogists, educators, and government officials – but the lack of knowledge about web archive usage and users is clearly a topic that merits further investigation.

In our experience, budget requests go a little smoother if you can identify a use case. Institutions Notice This Internet Thing, Suddenly Want to Archive It All