CEISMIC

Web Archives from the National Library

3/03/2015

One of CEISMIC’s original goals was to provide access to archives of websites that played a significant role in the earthquake recovery and rebuild.  In archival terms, websites are problematic, since the technologies they depend upon are changing so rapidly, and practices for archiving them well are relatively new. Although digital information on the web is often perceived as long-lived, in fact it can be very susceptible to loss. Websites frequently change, move or disappear. Much like the obsolescence of electronic file formats used in the 1990s, changes to more recent web technologies can also lead to web content that cannot be viewed and is effectively unusable. For these reasons, the task of creating and maintaining access to significant earthquake-related websites is a priority. Luckily, the National Library of New Zealand (NLNZ) has had a web archiving programme since 2008, and has a growing collection of web archives, many of which document the Canterbury earthquakes in considerable detail. Digital New Zealand has now enabled us to link to these from CEISMIC.

One good example is the website of the Addington Action group, who brought attention to important social issues, provided community support and organised repairs to more than 500 uninsured homes between 2011-2013 (Source: Stuff). The group was highly successful in taking positive and practical steps to rally the community and help those who have been most vulnerable and most affected by the earthquakes. Their website holds information and images on a range of activities including fundraising, volunteer coordination, completed house repairs and insulation, coordination on behalf of the Christchurch South Fruit and Vegetable Co-op, and many community events including protest rallies and community fairs.  It’s a fantastic history of community-led initiative, and one that the group’s members should be proud of. The group closed in late 2013, and its website has been unavailable since some time in 2014. However, the National Library made seven separate snapshots of the Addington Action site between August 2012 and April 2014. 

There are some limitations to the web archives that are important to note. The CEISMIC record provides a link to the National Digital Heritage Archive records, the unit of the National Library who provide the web archiving service. Each site may have a number of snapshots of its content over time, often dating from before the earthquakes, which is very useful for comparing the content on a site before and after.  For instance, the NZ Police web archive contains links to snapshots of their site going back to 2003. These snapshots are usually termed ‘web harvests’, and will include most of the original website’s content. However, they are not a complete copy of the site; depending on how a webpage was originally constructed, some sites may have missing content or broken links. For instance, archived copies of the news site Stuff are available here, but some features such as image galleries and comments may be missing.

Each record will also usually have the date of first harvest displayed, but the frequency of harvests may vary. The timeline of harvests can be useful for navigating the ever-changing content of websites. Finally, it’s important to remember that the usual copyright conditions apply to web archives and must be respected just as they would be for the ‘live’ website.

 Image of harvester

 Web harvesting is powerful, but it is relatively new and doesn’t yet grab everything on the original website. 

The National Library’s work makes it possible to explore a great variety of responses to the earthquakes. Many sites have sought to bring together diverse ideas and commentary on possible ways to rebuild or redesign Christchurch, and the National Library’s web archives include a number of good examples, such as 'Reimagine Christchurch', and ‘Gardensity’. Others sites provide an individual perspective on key events, such as the blog ‘Shaky Town Blues’ or James Dann’s blog ‘Rebuilding Christchurch’. And of course there are some more light-hearted sites, such as all that 'Show Us Your Long Drop' has to offer. Because the amount of content on the web grows yearly, this kind of archival work will become more important in future. We encourage you to make use of it, and would like to hear from you if there are websites that aren’t included here but should be. 

Photograph: "Agriculture in Volgograd Oblast 002" by www.volganet.ru. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.