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Highlights Archives

Archiving Electronic Records in the Digital Age

The Archive-It software tool's logo

As our population continues to embrace all forms of digital media, librarians and archivists have the dilemma of knowing what and how much to collect and preserve. In order to maintain the Society's mission and follow its guiding principles, which include "collecting and safeguarding evidence of our diverse heritage according to the highest standards of stewardship," Society staff are using Archive-It, a relatively new software system, to harvest digital information directly from the Internet. Created by the Internet Archive in San Francisco, which also developed the popular Wayback Machine, Archive-It is a web archiving service that allows institutions to create and preserve collections of digital media and create digital archives.

Preserving Ephemeral Electronic Records Into the Future

"It's simply electronic selection," said Helmut Knies, the acquisitions supervisor for the Society's Library-Archives Division. "Because of the Archive-It tool, we're able to preserve websites into the future, long after they've been modified or shut down by their creators." Knies further explained that this capability is important since many state and local governments are no longer documenting their work through print publications. Now most government information is distributed electronically.

Other Society staff members are testing the operational limits of the Archive-It tool, including Collection Development Archivist Jonathan Nelson, who is working with political campaigns; Public Records Accessioner Abbie Norderhaug, who is focusing on Wisconsin state records; Serials Librarian Ron Larson, who is working with electronic periodicals; and Wisconsin State Publications Librarian Nancy Knies, who is working with Wisconsin local publications.

Implications for Collecting History as it Unfolds

During the 2010 Wisconsin gubernatorial election, society staff used Archive-It to capture the official campaign websites and affiliated sites of Tom Barrett and Scott Walker, along with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube pages. Other examples of applications include capturing Senator Russ Feingold's website on the last day before leaving office. The site included his policy statements on a wide variety of issues and videos of Feingold speaking in the U.S. Senate. The website disappeared the next day. The Society has the only copy. Staff members also captured Governor Jim Doyle's website before he left office.

The Archive-It tool also allowed staff to react quickly to the protests in 2011 surrounding Governor Scott Walker's Budget Repair Bill. By identifying different websites, staff documented both sides of the controversy.

A Searchable Online Archive

Currently, Internet Archive data center hosts the digital files, which are accessible to the public with full-text search capabilities. "In the future, we'd also like to develop the capability to host the files here in our digital repository and also make them more accessible by linking them all to our electronic catalog," explained Knies. "But this will require additional funding."

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:: Posted May 21, 2012

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