Building a community of web archiving practice in Canada: A recap of the CARL 2022 Symposium 

February 9th, 2022

by Bridget Collings and Raven Germain, Web Archivists for Archive-It

The CARL 2022 Canadian Web Archiving Symposium was held January 26-27 virtually. Hosted by the Canadian Web Archiving Coalition (CWAC) and generously sponsored by the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), the free Symposium fostered extensive community discussion about web archiving in Canada, how best to meet the evolving needs of their communities, and how CWAC can support practitioners and coordinate collection development. 

The Symposium consisted of two sessions that took place over two days. The first session was a Keynote Address given by the Internet Archive’s founder Brewster Kahle, which addressed “the future of web archiving”. The second session was centered around engaging breakout group discussions that focused on how best to move forward in building a community of practice for web archiving efforts. 

Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL)

The Keynote Address on day one consisted of a facilitated question and answer discussion with Brewster Kahle, moderated by Dana McFarland, CWAC chair and Librarian & Coordinator for eResources & Scholarly Communication at Vancouver Island University.

McFarland asked Kahle to first reflect on the history of web archiving and changes since the Internet Archive’s founding in 1996. Recounting that the first web archiving endeavours were conceived as a purely technical enterprise, Kahle describes how over time just crawling the web began not to be sufficient anymore. In addition to broadening the archive’s scope to include digitized collections, there was a pivotal shift to thinking about web archive collections as a valuable community function with an increased emphasis on use. 

Kahle highlighted how this new focus brought emerging challenges related to awareness about web archives both as a tool for research and as a public resource. Some key frustrations related to facilitating use include building awareness, contextualizing web archiving collections using metadata, and providing ease of access to the sheer amount of content available. 

Next, Kahle and McFarland shone a light into how these web archiving systems operate within a Canadian context. Internet Archive Canada, which is now fifteen years old, just opened a new headquarters and data center in Vancouver last year to fulfill the need to build infrastructure in Canada that is for Canadians, by Canadians. Copyright and licensing remain important considerations. Kahle and McFarland also touched on the importance of encouraging collaborative collection and infrastructure development and work to include diverse organizations, perspectives, and groups in our web archiving efforts. In regards to evolving conversations around indigenous knowledges and the appropriate stewardship of such records, Kahle noted the necessity for providing different layers of access to archived content; building trusting, collaborative relationships; and incorporating reflexive practices. 

The keynote concluded with an emphasis on building an inclusive community of practice to support web archiving efforts. We need to coordinate our strategies, services, and actions as we try to scale nationally and internationally across institutions. Some markers of a successful community of practice include maintaining the dialogue, keeping user support and access at the forefront of our efforts, and bringing an orientation of inquiry to web archiving work. 

PNG image of the Keynote Address: Brewster Kahle (keynote speaker, Internet Archive) top left, Dana McFarland (moderator, Vancouver Island University) top right, and Julie Morin (host and translator, Canadian Association of Research Libraries) bottom.

Keynote Address. Brewster Kahle top left, Dana McFarland top right, and Julie Morin bottom.

Day two’s discussions centered around three questions: 

What are the top three challenges facing your institution right now when it comes to undertaking an effective web archiving program? 

The top three challenges participants of the symposium faced were: 

Limited resources and buy in: Most participants expressed not having enough time or staffing to effectively complete their web archiving goals. Additionally, advocating the value of web archiving and facilitating buy-in from leadership was another challenging area web archivists faced. 

Changing technologies and difficult platforms: Keeping up with the dynamic, ever-changing nature of the web, and facing technical challenges, tricky platforms to archive like social media, and content barriers were top challenges faced by web archivists. 

Web Archiving Ethics: The appropriate stewardship of records and collecting practices were top challenges faced by web archivists, with major concerns over ensuring we as a community are building trusting, collaborative relationships; and incorporating reflexive practices. 

From this discussion, the group agreed that a shared ethical standard would help address the third challenge and provide web archivists a guide to follow to ensure consistent, fair, and ethical practices. Working towards a collaborative “community of practice” like Brewster addressed in his keynote would help address this and potentially other common issues faced by web archivists. 

How can we effectively promote our collections? Are they easy to find? If not, how do we make them more discoverable?

A majority of the participants highlighted how valuable it would be to see collaborative efforts made to build portals where multiple institutions’ collections could be accessed together. They also discussed how concerted efforts need to be made to make web archive collections more accessible and valuable to researchers. Participants debated how this could be achieved, from building out awareness and engagement strategies, to hosting web archive workshops, to ensuring the collection’s metadata is as robust as possible. 

Another idea that was raised during this discussion was how to make web archive collections easier to interact with. Participants suggested that providing more contextual information within the Archive-It platform, such as tooltips or ‘learn more’ prompts, would help users learn how to better interact with and use the platform. This discussion was very insightful, and these suggestions are on the Internet Archive’s radar to implement. 

How do we increase community and researcher engagement with building web archive collections and also with their use?

While this is a big challenge to solve for, participants considered what it would look like if web archiving efforts in Canada were centralized. For example, a smaller team would actively collect on behalf of a web archiving consortia, while each member would actively plan collection development and perform outreach and engagement initiatives. Participants discussed how an approach like this would allow for the community to get more involved, and provide each member more time to think beyond collection activities and focus on how to serve the community differently and more inclusively. The overall consensus was that it is great to have web archive collections, but it doesn’t matter if there are no users. 

Overall, the symposium was a great opportunity to hear from institutions across Canada about their web archiving efforts and how a community of practice could best support them. Thank you to CARL and CWAC for hosting such a wonderful event! The discussions on the future of community-led web archiving were engaging and thought provoking. 

GIF image of a red maple leaf spinning around.