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What Are Web Archives For?

posted Feb 16, 2013, 6:49 PM by Anat Ben-David

Visualization by 

A small exercise extracting claims about Web archives, made by Web archiving initiatives.

The following  quotes are taken from the "about us" pages of 24 Web archives, most of them national Web archives. 
The quotes are excerpts from sentences that explain the purpose of each archive. 
The tag cloud above visualizes the most frequent words from the quotes about the purposes of Web archives.

So what do Web archives say they are for?

1. Long-term preservation of (national) digital cultural heritage that, if not captured, will  soon be lost forever. 
2. Providing access to previous versions of a Website, recapitulating the single-site approach pursued by the Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine.
3. In countries with a legal deposit, Web archiving is a legal obligation.  

As can be seen, the current focus is on collection and preservation of digital cultural heritage for the future, not necessarily on research.  But we do not necessarily need to wait for the future to study Web archives, or to use them for research. Emerging methods and tools for studying Web archives are already at play. The WebART project is currently building tools for facilitating new types of Web archive research. 
 Web Archive             Objective
 Australia     .."collection of historic online publications"
 .."a legislative and moral responsibility to preserve material currently published on the World Wide Web".
 Austria .."The Austrian National Library is pursuing with the project Web Archiving the goal of collecting and archiving of the “Austrian internet”.
 Croatia     .."The Archive's mission is gathering and long-term preservation of Internet publications as part of the Croatian national heritage".
 Czech Republic     .."web resources which are collected with the aim of their long-term preservation".
 .."collection and preservation of the Danish part of the internet is included in the Danish Legal Deposit Law".
 Finland    .."to preserve all kinds of published cultural materials. All materials are archived and available for use by researchers and others who need them in their studies - now and in the future".
France .."to preserve this new form of communication, which is now present in all areas of knowledge and all parts of society. archiving the Web through legal deposit extends the historical mission of collecting French cultural heritage. Web legal deposit is a legal obligation"
 Japan         .."You can see archived websites in their original version. Our service will help you search efficiently and quickly for an important publication in the flood of information on the Internet".
 South Korea  .."the present generation may be considered as a forgotten dark age by future generations if we neglect to select and preserve digital resources at country level".
 The Netherlands .."Information on the web is often quite transitory and short-lived. The average life expectancy of a web page is believed to be no more than about 45 days.

On the other hand, we are increasingly recognising that the web is part of our cultural heritage. In its “Charter on the Preservation of the Digital Heritage”, UNESCO refers to the web as a form of digital heritage. All aspects of our modern culture are represented on the World Wide Web; publications, debate, art, work and social interaction all have their presence on the web. This makes the web an important source for future researchers, not only for studies of the development of the web but certainly for research on society today".

 Latvia     .." Starting in 2008, the archive contains Latvian web sites that were collected and included in the archives at random. In some cases, the archives also include foreign websites if their content devoted to Latvia. At present, the archives at approximately 3000 sites. Warning - The current version of the site may no longer be available". (Translated from Latvian). 
 New Zealand     .."The collection also provides a visual history of how websites change over time and most of the websites in the Archive are collected at regular intervals to ensure new content is captured"
 Spain     .."to preserve and facilitate future access to all content published online". (Translated from Spanish)
 Singapore     "..these websites were carefully selected to be part of the nation's documentary heritage".
 Catalonia .."to harvest, to process and to provide access to digital heritage".
 Sweden     .."These days, documents are increasingly being published only digitally. If we do not preserve the information, part of our heritage will be lost forever".
 Switzerland     .."around the world, an increasing amount of information is being produced in digital form. Memory institutions - i.e. archives, libraries, museums and related institutions - which have the task of gathering, archiving, and making accessible our cultural heritage, find themselves facing the challenge of how to preserve this digital knowledge for the future".
 Internet Archive
.."to provide free access to the research and academic communities".
 Internet Memory Foundation    

.."to preserve, valorize and use our digital heritage. But it means also to take up many challenges due to the feature and richness of the Web: dynamics, volatility, variety of formats and Internet users contributions, all attributes increasingly used".

 European Archive     .."If properly archived, the Web history can provide a tremendous base for time-based analysis of the content, the topology including emerging communities and topics, trends analysis etc. as well as an invaluable source of information for the future".
 Archive-IT .."participate and make decisions about what "at risk" website content will be saved".
 UK     .."Responding to the challenge of a potential "digital black hole" the UK Web Archive is there to safeguard as many of these websites as practical. Its purpose is to collect, preserve and give permanent access to key UK websites for future generations".
 Library of Congress   

.."working with other libraries and archives from around the world to collect and preserve the web because an increasing amount of information can only be found in digital form on websites. A lot of cultural and scholarly information is created only in a digital format and not in a physical one. If it is not archived, it may be lost in the future".