Notes from IIPC General Assembly 2015

May 7th, 2015


by Jefferson Bailey

Last week, archivist, developers, researchers, computer scientists, and many more congregated at Stanford and at Internet Archive for the General Assembly (GA) of the International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC). IIPC is the main international web archiving professional consortium with 50 institutional members from 30 countries including regional and national libraries, academic and research institutions, and non-profit and other preservation organizations. As one of the founding members of the IIPC, a member of the Steering Committee, and host of one day of the conference, Internet Archive was well represented the the event. IA staff gave presentations, participated in numerous working group, met with collaborative project partners, and, yes, served It’s-Its ice cream sandwiches at the conference reception at IA HQ.

Though I had attended previous Steering Committee meetings and was on this year’s GA program committee, it was my first GA and I was excited to see the range of web archiving work going on across the globe, meet with friends, colleagues, and collaborators, and brainstorm new and exciting (and sometimes fun/crazy) projects for 2015 and 2016. To augment Tom Cramer’s excellent post-GA blog post, I thought I would summarize the five themes or impressions that I took away from a week’s worth of non-stop talking, listening, planning, and (hopefully) advancing web archiving.

Plurality of Preservation

Our program committee wanted to focus, thematically, on thinking of web archives both as large aggregations of data and remaining mindful of the the personal, individual narratives contained therein. With talks on personal archiving and digital culture from both researchers and practitioners, the social importance of web archiving as the preservation of individual voices was emphasized across the GA. Web archives are not just top-level domains and oodles-of-data, they also consist of personal diaries and family photos. The openness and democratic nature of the web as a publication platform provides an unparalleled opportunity to acquire and preserve the stories and histories of the underrepresented nations, disempowered peoples, and undocumented communities often excluded from the historical record. Our collecting strategies need to remain mindful of this plurality of representation possible in archiving the web.

Scaling Access

In recent presentations, I have talked about how, given program maturity and the size and longitudinal breadth of web archives in many institutions, we can begin to accelerate an “access turn” in web archives at organizations of all sizes. I was glad to see a confluent focus on access at the GA, from the multi-institutional BUDDAH project out of BL, BNF’s work supporting data mining, and the attendance of individual historians and researchers themselves, such as Ian Milligan and Niels Brügger. My presentation also argued for the need to test more models in this area, not just those oriented to data-hungry academics. Though the call for more focus on research uses of web archives is not new, this GA demonstrated that the community is much further along in developing, testing, and sharing successes/failures and is on course to make meaningful investment locally in scaling access.

Maximize Local Investments

Interoperability was an important theme at the GA, just as it was at the recent IMLS Focus meeting. Currently, many (aging) tools devoted to one stage of the web archiving lifecycle are “hard-baked” into a broader toolchain, allowing less flexibility in the adoption of new technologies and processes. The potential of APIs was a big focus of the meeting, and will certainly play a role in future development efforts, but the idea of interoperability is important even beyond the level of data exchange. Better interoperability is merely means to allowing individual institutions to focus on (and invest in) those specific things they do well while remaining able to take advantage of what others do better. There is still work to do in determining the best models of community, funding, and standards to support balancing local strengths and shared services, but the GA revealed a broad desire to work towards more modular, reciprocal tools and programs.

Capitalize on the Edges

Though unaffiliated developers, researchers, and some non-web commercial entities attended the GA’s open-to-the-public days, conversation at both the GA and the Steering Committee focused on programmatic and organizational ways to increase the involvement of affiliated communities, individuals, and institutions not explicitly involved in the day-to-day of web archiving. IIPC membership has been growing, but increased involvement of communities-of-interest that operate at the edges of the core IIPC member community — such as web science, open annotation, data management, affiliated professional groups, for instance — has the potential to make IIPC a more vibrant, connected organization. Such a move will impact all aspects of the organization, but the GA clearly exposed a momentum amongst membership for thinking about new ways to connect with groups and individuals outside the traditional IIPC member type.

Sustainability Needs Conceptual Agility

The velocity, dynamism, and extent of the web make it a medium that will not always be amenable with long-standing theoretical models. There has been ample focus on the methodological and technical challenges of using web archives, but the conceptual challenges and how they inform and/or undermine traditional concepts (and subsequent practices) will need continued explication by the broader community. Be it in the areas of appraisal, description, completeness, or discovery, the tension between entrenched policies/practices and those necessitated to archive the web was well documented in talks and conversations. Better understanding of how the web’s affordances and limitations fit (or don’t fit) into conceptual approaches will lead to more sustainable programs overall.

Some slidedecks are available on the conference webpage and we will update this page when videos of the talks are online. All in all it was a great week of sunny California weather, smart colleagues, and valuable web archiving shop talk. We look forward to next year’s IIPC GA in Reykjavík, Iceland, though we hope that the traditional Icelandic dishes of hákarl (fermented shark) or súrsaðir hrútspungar (pickled ram’s testicles) do not find their way onto the conference lunch menu.