The final panel of the conference, Future of Web Archiving, began with Stephen Abrams, associate director of the University of California Curation Center (UC3) at the CDL (California Digital Library), asking the question, “Why web archiving?” In one sense, it is simply an extension of the long-standing mission of cultural heritage institutions “to collect, preserve, and provide access to both the scholarly record and our common cultural patrimony.” If the web is where the content is, we have to follow the content.
Then Martin Klein, postdoctoral research associate at Los Alamos National Laboratory, introduced the audience to Memento, a service that allows anyone to identify a date for which they’d like to see an archived copy of a website. Jimmy Lin, associate professor at the University of Maryland’s iSchool, sees cultural heritage archives as underused today. He is interested in building tools to support exploration and discovery in web archives, recognizing that this is only possible through cooperation between users (e.g., archivists, journalists, historians, and digital humanists) and “the techie geeks” who can help to design tools, such as Warcbase.
Closing the conference was Dragan Espenschied, Rhizome’s digital conservator, whose talk Big Data, Little Narration illustrated the ways in which we can choose how we write history in the digital age depending on the data we use. When web searches are linked, “digital culture is too large” for a single institution to accurately represent it, he said. Rhizome is an online archive of new media art that puts the artist and the user in the driver’s seat, with some unexpected consequences. Espenschied summarized his work as introducing order where there is none.
The theme for this year’s CURATEcamp was Digital Culture, with the goal of “exploring ideas and approaches to collecting and preserving digital culture both on and off the World Wide Web.” The day was masterfully facilitated by three co-chairs: Trevor Owens, digital archivist with the NDIIPP in the Office of Strategic Initiatives at the Library of Congress; Amanda Brennan, community and content associate at Tumblr; and folklorist Trevor J. Blank, assistant professor of communication at the State University of New York–Potsdam.
Participants led discussions about the web as a cultural platform and the responsibility of digital archivists to aid scholars in the study of mass culture through the “vernacular web” and “cultural heritage organizations responsible for collecting and preserving folklife and folklore,” among other topics of interest to those in the room.
This year’s presentations suggested that there has been increased activity not only around curating and archiving beyond documents (libraries) and physical objects (museums), but also around scientific data and web-based cultural heritage collections, often user-generated (e.g., art). The technology that once required specialists to manage it is evolving to offer novices the tools to take control. Featured prominently in almost every presentation this year was a laundry list of challenges faced, so there is still plenty of opportunity for interested parties to explore these themes at next year’s conference.
Arguably, the most important aspect of the Digital Preservation conferences is not the presentations—high level though they may be—but the networking that occurs in the hallways, around the coffee service, and in the line for the restroom. These connections are invaluable throughout the year, providing a community on which attendees can rely to help with conceptual thinking or practical how-to advice. Watch for the announcement of the free conference registration next spring; the conference “sells out” quickly. It’s worth a trip to D.C., even in the summer.