University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries

Library Resources & Tools

Archiving campus history in the web age

The Library of the Month for October is the University Archives! All month long the Libraries celebrate with stories, photos, fun facts, and more. Join us on Twitter and Facebook to learn more about the Library of the Month.

Today archivist Vicki Tobias talks about an interesting challenge that the Archives face in carrying out their mission to preserve and make campus information accessible for future generations – the challenge of collecting, preserving, and providing access to content that is “born digital.”

by Vicki Tobias

More and more university colleges, departments, faculty and student organizations are using their web site(s) as a place to publish content of historic value including annual reports, meeting minutes, informative videos, photos, event information, etc.

Archive-It helps preserve important born-digital content like InsideUW.

Much of this information is no longer produced in analog (e.g. paper) format, which poses a challenge for archives whose mission is to collect important campus material. For example, UW-Madison no longer produces the newsletter for faculty and staff in print form called Wisconsin Week. In 2011, this evolved into a web-hosted (only) news site, Inside UW. The content on this site provides important documentary information about UW faculty and staff activities, milestones, etc. – important to keep, but how?

Enter Archive-It

Launched in 2006, Archive-It is a subscription service from the Internet Archive which allows institutions to build, manage and search their own web archive. These web sites are then publically accessible through the Internet Archive (aka The Wayback Machine).

The Libraries began using this tool a few years ago to collect web sites related to stem cell research on the UW–Madison campus. In fall 2011, the UW–Madison Archives added a second collection to the Libraries subscription to include UW–Madison and UW System, Colleges and Extension web sites.

Visit the University Archives collection through Archive-It.

We’ve set up Archive-It to crawl specific Web sites (like InsideUW) to capture content that fits within the Archives’ collecting scope. In general, we crawl most UW sites on a quarterly basis with the exception of campus news sites which are crawled weekly. On occasion, we set up a one-time crawl for special campus events such as #UWRightNow.

Archive-It is not free. The Libraries provide funding for this important service which allows us to collect and provide access to born-digital, web-published content of historic significance and value. We’re currently crawling about 85 unique sites. We’re also crawling UW Colleges, UW System and UW Extension sites, per our general collection development scope.

We are grateful for the Libraries’ support of this work. It’s critical that we begin to explore solutions for curating web-based and/or born digital content of historic value. This type of work is the future of our Archives profession.

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