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What the heck is a web archive?

by Amy Winter on 2020-05-26T11:30:00-06:00 in Library, Information Science | Comments

a custom 404 error page with a cat hiding under papersHave you ever clicked an enticing Web link only to be disappointed by the dreaded 404 "Not Found" error? No matter what adorable, cat-centered customization the site owner has applied to their error page, you can't help but wonder -- what if that was the article that would plug the critical hole in your research project? What if that blog post contained the juiciest, best-kept celebrity secrets ever?

Fortunately for you, web archivists are in the business of preventing your link rot sadz. For example, have you ever visited the Wayback Machine? This is often the first encounter for many Internet users with the concept of a web archive. At the Wayback Machine, not only can you browse and search archived versions of more than 431 billion web pages; you can also enter a URL and create an instant, permanent version of a web page that you can reference later. Many organizations use the subscription service offered by the Wayback Machine's parent, Archive-It, to create their own collections of archived web pages.

In the professional development course I recently completed, "Introduction to Web Archiving" at the University of Wisconsin Madison, Archive-It was one of several tools we used to explore the nuts and bolts of preserving websites for posterity. At the same time, we pondered the larger questions all archivists must ask: What is worth saving, and why? And how do we prioritize the saving of the multitude of worthy materials?

In my next post I'll discuss more about what I learned, particularly how I think web archiving relates to, and can impact, the work almost all of us do in the library. Meanwhile, watch this short video from the UK Web Archive for an example of what a web archive can contain, and why we need it.


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