Describing web archives: Learning from Archive-It partners and friends

May 24th, 2018

by Karl-Rainer Blumenthal

Partners, collaborators, and peers gathered this week for Describing Web Archives, the latest in Archive-It’s Advanced Training series of webinars, and the second (with Access to Archive-It Collections) to invite web archivists to take the lead in demonstrating their approaches to access and discovery. In case you missed it live, want to revisit anything, or share with your colleagues, the recording, presentation materials, and space for continued discussion are all now online here in the Archive-It Community Forum.

Web archives come in many different shapes and sizes, so describing them towards enhancing patron access can be as much an intellectual as a technical challenge. To that end, Describing Web Archives introduced some of the key questions raised in the process, how example approaches in archival and bibliographic records address them, and where web archivists see their next best areas for improvement:

Kate Bowers (Collections Services Archivist for Metadata, Systems, and Standards at Harvard University Archives) opened our discussion by summarizing the wide-ranging research performed by the OCLC Research Library Partnership Web Archiving Metadata Working Group. “WAM” surveyed the current state(s) of descriptive practices for web archives, specified needs for guidance, and published its key recommendations for descriptive elements that apply to either/both archivists and librarians.

Jessica Venlet (Assistant University Archivist for Digital Records & Records Management at University of North Carolina Libraries) shared examples of web archive descriptions from university records finding aids, a frequent use case among Archive-It partners, and noted in particular the rationales for collection-, item-, and series-level descriptions depending upon how these assets fit into larger collecting scopes. For even more information about UNC’s cases and next steps, see Jessica’s own For the Record blog post, Behind the Scenes: Describing Archived Websites

Deborah Kempe (Chief, Collections Management & Access at the Frick Art Reference Library of the Frick Collection) introduced the mandate to archive and describe websites for union library catalog access among the member institutions of the New York Art Resources Consortium (NYARC). Metadata consultant Rebecca Guenther then dove deeper into the metadata profile for archived websites that NYARC therefore incorporated into its multi-institutional cataloging workflow, noting opportunities for revision and adaptation to many more library contexts.

This webinar is the beginning of a longer discussion about best descriptive practices for web archives as born digital resources that we hope to continue in the Forum, future online and live events like the annual Archive-It Partner Meeting, and here on the blog. Please share your insights, case studies, and questions to keep it going!