Archiving the Web: What is the Role of Our Museum?

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a small meeting at the Library of Congress that focused on the curatorial challenges of archiving citizen journalism. The two-day meeting, titled Citizen Journalists and Community News: Archiving for Today and Tomorrow, was hosted by the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP). The primary goals of the meeting were: 1.) to identify the long-term value of new forms of journalism, and 2.) to identify the appropriate roles and responsibilities of libraries and archives with respect to preservation and access of the materials. I had the honor of being the sole representative from the museum community to participate in the convening. I found the meeting to be both insightful and relevant to our work at the AANM. I was asked to deliver a short presentation on our museum’s collections plan and policy, as well as our interest in web archiving and preserving digital content. If you’re interested in learning more about the meeting, then head over to Dan Gilmore’s article on Salon.com for further information.

To prepare for the meeting, I spent some quality time reflecting on our institution’s collecting initiatives. We are unique in that our institution is the only museum dedicated to documenting and preserving Arab American history. We recognize the large and growing demand for accurate and reliable information on our community. Speaking to this, we strive to become the primary source for providing this information to the public. To achieve this goal, we are reassessing our collecting priorities and focusing greater attention on primary source materials and historical records.

We are just now beginning to think about the various web-based, born-digital resources that are relevant to building community history and collective memory. These historical records exist in various forms: digital photographs and videos, social media, blogs, citizen journalism websites, organizational websites, e-newsletters, political campaign websites, etc. In the future, these digital resources will be vital to understanding the Arab American community. For example, this year an estimated twenty-seven Arab Americans ran for political office. Each had a website that was rich with information on the candidate (it’s startling how much campaigning actually takes place online). We know that these websites have a specific function and are built to last for a finite period of time. If we do not work to preserve the content, the information is potentially lost forever. As Gilmore states in his article, “We need better ways to save the media we’re all creating, for our kids and for the historians of tomorrow.”

As an institution, we need to identify how web archiving fits into our collections plan and policy. Furthermore, we need to foster new partnerships with other collecting institutions to achieve our goals. I suspect the LoC is one potential partner. Additionally, I think there are some advantages to working in collaboration with the Internet Archive (its Archive-It subscription service might be a good fit).

I’m optimistic about the role our institution can play in ensuring that our ethnic community’s digital footprint is documented and preserved. We have learned that we are responsible for collecting and documenting Arab American history; if we don’t do it, no one else will. Sadly, this information will not only be lost forever, but most likely excluded from the larger American historical narrative. Speaking to this, I look forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

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