More than ever, the lives of communities are documented online. The web remains a vital resource for traditionally under-represented groups to write and share about their lives and experiences. Preserving this web-published material, in turn, allows libraries to build more expansive, inclusive, and community-oriented archival collections.
In 2017, the Internet Archive’s Archive-It service launched the program, “Community Webs: Empowering Public Libraries to Create Community History Web Archives.” The program provides training, professional development, cohort building, and technical services for public librarians to curate community archives of websites, social media, and online material documenting the experiences of their patrons, especially those often underrepresented in traditional physical archives. Since its launch, the program has grown to include 40 public libraries in 21 states that have built almost 300 collections documenting local civic life, especially of marginalized groups, creating an archive totaling over 50 terabytes and tens of millions of individual digital documents, images, audio-video, and more. The program received additional funding in 2019 to continue its work and focus on strategic planning, partnering with the Educopia Institute to ensure the growth and sustainability of the program and the cohort.
We are excited to announce that Community Webs has received $1,130,000 in funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for “Community Webs: A National Network of Public Library Web Archives Documenting Local History & Underrepresented Groups,” an nationwide expansion of the program to include a minimum of 2 public libraries in each of the 50 United States, plus additional local history organizations in U.S territories, for a total of 150-200 participating public libraries and heritage organizations. Participants will receive web archiving and access services, training and education, and funds to promote and pursue their community archiving. The Community Webs National Network will also make the resulting public library local history community web archives available to scholars through specialized access tools and datasets, partner with affiliated national discovery and digital collections platforms such as DPLA, and build partnerships and collaborations with state and regional groups advancing local history digital preservation efforts. We thank The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their generous support to grow this program nationwide and empower hundreds of public librarians to build archives that elevate the voices, lives, and events of their underrepresented communities and ensure this material is permanently available to patrons, students, scholars, and citizens.
Over the course of the Community Webs program, participating public libraries have created diverse collections on a wide range of topics, often in collaboration with members of their local communities. Examples include:
- Community Webs members have created collections related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s “Novel Coronavirus COVID-19” collection which focuses on “the African diasporan experiences of COVID-19 including racial disparities in health outcomes and access, the impact on Black-owned businesses, and cultural production.” Athens Regional Library System created a collection of “Athens, Georgia Area COVID-19 Response” which focuses on the social, economic and health impacts of COVID-19 on the local community, with specific attention on community efforts to support frontline workers. A recent American Libraries article featured the COVID archiving work of public libraries.
- Columbus Metropolitan Library’s archive of “Immigrant Experience”, a collection of websites on the activities, needs, and culture of immigrant communities in Central Ohio.
- Sonoma County Public Library’s “North Bay Fires, 2017” collection documenting when “devastating firestorms swept through Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino Counties” and part of their “Sonoma Responds: Community Memory Archive.”
- Birmingham Public Library’s “LGBTQ in Alabama” collection “documenting the history and experiences of the LGBTQ community in Alabama.”
We look forward to expanding the Community Webs program nationwide in order to enable hundreds of public libraries to continue to build web collections documenting their communities, especially in these historic times.
We expect to put out a Call for Applications in early December for public libraries to join Community Webs. Please pass along this opportunity to your local public library. For more information on the program, check out our website or email us with questions.