On June 21st, the Community Webs program team hosted its 2022 US Symposium at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. For this day-long meeting, we welcomed over 30 librarians and archivists from across the country for presentations, discussion, networking, and some much-needed catch up following two years of entirely virtual events.
Community Webs is a community history web and digital archiving program operated by the Internet Archive. The program seeks to advance the capacity for community-focused memory organizations to build web and digital archives documenting local histories, with a particular focus on communities that have been underrepresented in the historic record. Community Webs provides its members with web and digital archiving tools, as well as training, technical support and access to a network of organizations doing similar work. The Community Webs program, including this event, is generously funded with support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Mellon Foundation.
The day began with opening remarks and program updates from Internet Archive staff, including an overview of Community Webs and the significant growth the program has experienced since its launch in 2017. Staff provided a glimpse at what lies ahead both for Community Webs and the Internet Archive’s Archiving and Data Services team. This included plans to incorporate digitization, digital preservation and other forms of digital collecting into Community Webs, as well as projects and services either newly released or in development at IA.
The first keynote speaker of the day was Dr. Doretha Williams, Director of the Robert F. Smith Center for the Digitization and Curation of African American History at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Dr. Williams detailed her organization’s commitment to serving its communities via the Center’s Community Curation Program, Internships and Fellowships Program, Family History Center, and Great Migration Home Movie Project. Throughout her presentation, Dr. Williams stressed the importance of community input and partnerships to achieving the Center’s mission, echoing one of the central tenets of the Community Webs program.
Following this presentation, three speakers shared their experiences working on collaborative web archiving initiatives. Lori Donovan, Senior Program Manager for Community Programs at the Internet Archive, began with an overview of various collaborative web archiving initiatives the Internet Archive and its partners have participated in, including the Collaborative ART Archive (CARTA), a web archiving initiative aimed at capturing web-based art materials utilizing a collective approach. Roger Lawson, Executive Librarian at the National Gallery of Art, shared his institution’s perspective as a member of CARTA. Finally, Christie Moffatt, Digital Manuscripts Program Manager at the National Library of Medicine, described working with colleagues both across her organization and externally to capture health-related web content at a national scale. Each of these presentations emphasized the advantages in scale, resources, staffing and knowledge-sharing that can be achieved by pursuing web archiving via collaborative entities.
Our afternoon session kicked off with a second keynote presentation from Leslie Johnston, Director of Digital Preservation at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Johnston detailed the challenges NARA faces while contending with digital preservation across the enterprise. These challenges include the heterogeneity of digital outputs and technologies, the complexity of digital objects and environments, the scale of the archivable digital universe, and the difficulties in ensuring equitable access. As an antidote to these challenges, Johnston recommends archivists provide guidance to content creators, take a risk-based approach, prioritize basic levels of control, maintain scalable and flexible infrastructure, and engage in collaborations and partnerships. She also advocated for a people- rather than technology-centric approach to digital preservation, again mirroring the ethos of the Community Webs program.
For our final speaker session of the afternoon, we welcomed Community Webs members up to the lectern to share their web archiving and digital goals and achievements. Librarian, archivist, Phd student, and creative polymath kYmberly Keeton discussed her work as founder of Art | Library Deco, an online archive of African American art. Keeton described working closely with the artists featured in the archive, reiterating the theme of collaboration espoused by other speakers at the event. Tricia Dean, Tech Services Manager at Wilmington Public Library (Illinois), argued for the importance of capturing the histories of small and rural communities through initiatives like Community Webs. Liz Paulus, Adult Services Librarian at Cedar Mill & Bethany Community Libraries described her efforts to capture the online Cedar Mill News via web archiving, stressing how one successful project can play a significant role when advocating for future resources. Longtime Community Webs member Dylan Gaffney, Information Services Associate for Local History & Special Collections at Forbes Library, described his library’s participation in States of Incarceration, a traveling exhibition on mass incarceration, the Historic Northampton Enslaved People Project, and other initiatives. Gaffney credited Community Webs with paving the way for an equity-focused approach to digital projects such as these. Finally, Dana Hamlin, Archivist at Waltham Public Library showcased her organization’s web archiving efforts, highlighting the library’s COVID-19 collections and their attempts to capture the online local newspaper, the Waltham News Tribune.
Throughout the day, attendees had opportunities to discuss digital initiatives at their organizations, to catch up informally after a long hiatus, and to browse the exhibitions on display at the National Museum of the American Indian. We’re so grateful to all of our Community Webs members who were able to attend the event and especially to those who shared their knowledge. Our next Community Webs Symposium will be held in Chattanooga this September 13 to coincide with the Association for Rural and Small Libraries Conference. We are looking forward to seeing more program members there!