CRL Political Communications Web Archiving Study

Within the past decade the World Wide Web has emerged as a vital medium of political communication. It now serves as a global message board through which political activists, parties, popular fronts, and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) communicate with constituents and the world community. These communications are the digital-era counterparts of the pamphlets, posters, and other forms of “street literature” that have long provided historians and others indispensable data on political activities, trends, and ideologies. Despite their value such materials tend to be produced sporadically and to change and disappear rapidly.

The Center for Research Libraries, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is coordinating an investigation and planning effort on preserving political Web materials. The effort will develop effective methodologies and a viable conceptual and organizational framework for the systematic, sustainable preservation of these kinds of materials. Four universities are participating in the investigation: Cornell University, New York University, Stanford University, and the University of Texas at Austin; along with the San Francisco-based Internet Archive.

The Mellon-funded effort will produce not a collection or an archive per se, but rather a framework and general specifications for three components of ongoing, sustainable archiving:

  1. Long-term resource management – the economic and organizational model, or models, best suited to support the ongoing archiving, management, and preservation of political Web materials.
  2. Curatorship – the optimal curatorial regimes and practices for identifying, securing, and presenting the materials to be archived.
  3. Technology -- the general technical requirements, specifications, and tools best suited to the capture and archiving of political communications.

Investigators will address such matters as the appropriate locus of the various processes (such as selection, fail-safe archiving, rights management) critical to preserving political Web resources; how those processes should be subsidized and administered to ensure long-term availability and control by the research community; who the eligible participants in these activities would be, and their roles; the appropriate quality and extent of capture for political Web materials; optimal frequency and periodicity of capture for various kinds of political sites; and the appropriate balance of human and automated/robotic targeting of resources to be harvested.

The project is linked with a closely related investigation by the California Digital Library (CDL) that is also being supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The CDL project focus is the capture and persistent management of a type of resource comparable to Web political communications - notably web-based materials produced or disseminated by US state and federal governments.

Additional information about the project is available from James Simon, Director of International Resources at the Center for Research Libraries. Progress reports will be available as the project moves forward on the Center’s web site.