It is a great pleasure to be joining old colleagues and to work with new at ULCC to help deliver Web Archiving 101 for the first time. But why archive the web at all ? Isn’t it all just pornography and pictures of cats?
My first answer is the reason I first became involved with web archiving, first at the Institute of Historical Research and then as part of the UK Web Archive team at the British Library. As an historian of contemporary Britain, it became clear to me that much of the activity that a historian of the 1920s or the 1980s can study in printed literature has now migrated online, but that neither libraries and archives nor scholars had begun to catch up with what was a very rapid transition in the nineties and noughties. Both professional historians and anyone else with a need to know about the recent past will be unable to understand our times without reference to the archived web.
Web archiving is also now being recognised as a key part of the institutional memory of organisations, in all sectors, both public and private. And there is also a recognition that web archiving is not easily bolted onto the existing tasks of archivists and record managers without careful thought; and that it is many ways a distinctive part of the wider field of digital preservation.
Both these reasons would be less compelling if were not for the fact that the web changes and decays at a remarkable rate – and so the web is not its own archive, as many people imagine. Recent episodes such as the removal of historic speeches from the Conservative Party website illustrate the point that content is constantly being removed from the web intentionally. Other studies point to the speed in which content not only disappears but is also amended and updated, or migrates to new locations. (See a summary of some of these studies at Historians and Web Archives.)
Archivists, record managers, the leaders of their organisations, and scholars of every discipline need to engage with web archiving. I hope that Web Archiving 101 will help that engagement along.