Internet Archive’s Community Webs program is excited to announce that metadata for more than 4,800 archived websites and web collections created by 23 Community Webs member organizations are now available in Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). This marks the first of many metadata ingests that will come over the next months and years, as additional web and digital archives are created and described by members of the program. To access Community Webs web content in DPLA, click here.
The Community Webs program was launched in 2017, and currently provides web and digital archiving training, infrastructure, services, and professional community cultivation for more than 150 public libraries and cultural heritage organizations across the country and around the world. The participating organizations have shared goals of documenting local history and community archiving, especially documenting communities and populaces traditionally excluded from the historical record. These goals dovetail nicely with DPLA’s recently launched Digital Equity Project, which aims to provide support to libraries and archives as they shift toward greater inclusion of diverse stories and voices.
Community Webs collections now available in DPLA include:
The #Syllabus collection, created by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City, which “aims to web archive Black-authored and Black-related educational resources to document Black studies, movements, and experiences in the twenty-first century.”
The D.C. Punk (Web) Archive, created by People’s Archive, DC Public Library, which documents the punk and hardcore music scenes in Washington, DC.
The Covid-19 in Hennepin County collection, created by Hennepin County Library, which documents the pandemic’s impact on Minneapolis, Minnesota and the surrounding areas, is one of a dozen web collections on local impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic which are now available in DPLA.
The Internet Archive has been a DPLA content provider since 2015, primarily contributing digital materials from our many print digitizing partnerships. However, this is the first time our partners’ web collections have appeared in the DPLA. We are excited for this opportunity to add community-focused born-digital and web collections from our program partners to the already unparalleled breadth of cultural heritage collections accessible via DPLA’s portal. We think these hyperlocal archived web resources will add additional depth and context to DPLA’s existing national collections. Meanwhile, the Community Webs collections’ inclusion in the portal will put these materials alongside other types of digital objects and in front of a broader audience of researchers, steps that are vital to dismantling the silos that often enclose web archives.
We are grateful to be partnering with DPLA to increase access to these vital community history collections and look forward to building more integrations and furthering this collaboration in the years to come. We would like to extend special thanks to the team at DPLA for all their work making this integration possible and to the 23 Community Webs member organizations who have both built and shared their local history web content for posterity.
This post is part of a series written by members of the Internet Archive’s Community Webs program. Community Webs advances the capacity for community-focused memory organizations to build web and digital archives documenting local histories and underrepresented voices. For more information, visit communitywebs.archive-it.org/
What is an archivist to do when items of public record, which have been systematically added to publicly accessible collections for over a century, suddenly turn from paper into bits and bytes that disappear from the web, or even get stuck behind paywalls? Like many in my profession, I’ve been grappling with this question for a while. Having no real training in digital archiving and facing this quandary as a lone arranger, it’s sometimes hard to keep that grappling from turning into low-key panicking that my inaction has been causing information to be lost forever.
Imagine my excitement, then, when I learned about the Community Webs program – access to and training for Archive-It, collaboration with the Internet Archive, and a network of others like me to bounce ideas off and get inspiration from? Yes please! With the blessing of my boss, I applied right away and my library joined the program in April 2021.
(This might be a good point for a quick introduction. I work as the archivist/local history librarian at the Waltham Public Library (WPL) in Waltham, Massachusetts. Waltham is a city about 10 miles west of Boston, and is home to an ethnically and economically diverse population of just over 62,000 people. The WPL is a fully-funded community hub, fostering a healthy democratic society by providing a wealth of current informational, educational, and recreational resources free of charge to all members of the community. The library is known throughout the area for its knowledgeable and friendly staff, welcoming and safe environment, accessibility, convenience, current technology, and helpful assistance.)
I eagerly dove into the program and used our first web-archive collection – Waltham Public Library – as a testing ground, a place to gain familiarity with both Archive-It and the whole process of web archiving. I’ve been trying to capture content that aligns with the material found in the library’s analog records – annual reports, policies, announcements, event flyers, records from our Friends group, etc. – by doing a weekly crawl of the library website, our Friends website, and the library’s Twitter feed. For the most part this collection has been thankfully pretty straightforward.
Our largest collection so far is COVID-19 in Waltham, which makes up a portion of the library’s very first born-digital archival collection. That collection began in April 2020, when the WPL (like most other places) was closed to help “flatten the curve.” A month or two prior, as the pandemic was building steam, I had become fascinated with the 1918 influenza. A poke through our archives for the topic had been disappointing, as there wasn’t too much beyond a couple of newspaper clippings, brief mentions in the library trustees’ minutes, and a few pages in the records of the local nurses’ association. I was hoping to put together a better picture of what it was like to live in Waltham during the flu, perhaps to give myself a glimpse of what I could expect in the coming weeks (heh… how naïve I was).
I put out a call via the library’s social media for those who lived, worked, and/or went to school in Waltham to share their stories, hoping to build the kind of collection I wanted and failed to find from 1918. There was an initial rush of Google Form submissions, a handful of photos, and one video, and then nothing. I was pleased we had received some materials, but still wanted to paint a broader picture of Waltham under Covid. Enter Community Webs! For the past several months I’ve been working to collect retroactively what I was hoping to capture at the time – news articles, videos, the city website, information from the schools, and so on. While it’s not as comprehensive as it might have been if I’d been able to gather it all as it happened, I’ve been able to save over 500 GB of data that will help those in the future to better imagine what it was like to live in Waltham during Covid.
Finally, related to the quandary in the first paragraph of this post, our most complicated collection is the Waltham News Tribune. The WPL has microfilm copies of the paper going back to its earliest iteration in the 1860s, and part of my job has been to collect each issue and send yearly batches to a vendor for microfilming. However, as of this past May, the publisher has moved the paper entirely online, with some content requiring a paid subscription to view. The WPL has a subscription so that we can continue to provide free access to our patrons, but what happens to our archive of back issues? Does it just stop abruptly in May 2022, even as time and local news continue to march on? As it is, our microfilm is heavily used, especially since the paper’s offices burned down in 1999, making ours the only existing archive.
Thanks to web archiving, we’re able to continue to fulfill our unofficial role as the repository for the city newspaper, at least in theory. In practice, I look at the daily crawls of the digital edition of the paper and can’t help but see that it is no longer the type of local news we’ve been archiving for over a century. The corporate publisher of the paper has consolidated ours with those from several other local cities and towns, and has sacrificed true local news coverage for more generic topics, many of which aren’t even related specifically to Massachusetts. This is a problem that sits well outside of my archives wheelhouse, but at least I feel I can do my due diligence by capturing what local news does trickle through.
I’ve had a slower go of web archiving than I’d like so far, thanks to several months of parental leave in 2021 and a very packed part-time work schedule. Nevertheless, I’ve been chipping away at our collections and planning for more, with an eye to add more diverse voices than those that make up much of our analog collections. I’m grateful for the encouragement and help I’ve received from Community Webs staff and peers, and want to give a special shout-out to the Archive-It folks who hold office hours to assist us with technical issues! This really is a fantastic program, and I’m so glad my library is part of it.
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!
Guest post by: Amanda Hill, Archivist of the Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County, a member of the Community Webs program and a contributor to the Internet Archive.
One of the things archivists get excited about is the importance of ‘original order’. This is the idea that the arrangement of records by their creator has significance to our understanding of the records themselves. Wherever possible, archivists will try to determine the original order of materials in their care.
An item received at the Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County in 2015 presented something of a puzzle in this respect. It was a scrapbook from the First World War, of newspaper clippings and other memorabilia which had been pasted into a printed book. The binding of the book had partially come apart and the early pages of the scrapbook had been jumbled into no particular order, with clippings dated 1917 mixed in with those from 1916.
Examination of the scrapbook revealed that its owner was Alice Deacon, born in Belleville, Ontario, on September 27th, 1899. She was the child of Daniel Deacon and his wife, Catherine Dugan. During the First World War, the Deacons were living at 107 Station Street, Belleville. They were Roman Catholics and Alice was probably a student at St. Michael’s Academy on Church Street.
Alice had three older brothers: James, Frederick and Francis (Frank). Frank joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force on March 23rd, 1916 in Belleville and it may have been this event which triggered Alice’s interest in the war. Frank’s service record is available from Library and Archives Canada.
The scrapbook mainly comprises cuttings from The Daily Intelligencer newspaper during the war, where Alice carefully recorded references to Belleville boys overseas, sometimes annotating the clippings with her own observations about whether a man had returned from the front, or which school he had attended.
Alongside the newspaper extracts are other more personal items, such as postcards, theatre programs, calling cards, invitations and ticket stubs. This page illustrates some of the variety:
Here we find an invitation, two pressed flowers “from ruins of a French village, May 1917” and a picture “off a box of chocolates Jim gave me for my birthday, 1916.”
Alice did not begin with blank pages: she used a copy of Richardson’s New Method for the Piano-Forte, originally published in 1859 by Nathan Richardson. In between Alice’s pastings, we can see parts of the text of the underlying book. Some of the pages still had visible page numbers, although most did not, but the majority had at least some legible words and phrases. This was the key to re-creating Alice’s original order.
We discovered that the Richardson book had been digitized by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was available online through the Internet Archive.
This digital copy proved essential in discovering the original order of the scrapbook. Using the Internet Archive’s searching facility, we were able to locate the identifiable words and match them to the page numbers of the original book. Once all the pages were identified, it was a simple matter to put them back into the order they would have been in when the book was intact.
Alice’s brother Frank came home safely from the war and was demobilized on May 23rd, 1919. Alice worked as a stenographer and bookkeeper in Belleville until 1929, when she married Leo Houlihan in St. Michael’s Church. She then left Belleville to live with Leo in Lindsay, Ontario. She died in 1955 and was buried in the Our Lady of Mercy Roman Catholic cemetery in Sarnia, Ontario.
Her scrapbook arrived back in Belleville by mail, sixty years after Alice’s death. Thanks are due to the anonymous donor for sharing this glimpse into a young woman’s wartime life, and also to our colleagues at the University of North Carolina and the Internet Archive for making it possible to reconstruct the scrapbook as it was when Alice first created it.
Guest Post by: Tricia Dean, Tech Services Manager at Wilmington Public Library District (IL)
This post is part of a series written by members of the Community Webs program. Community Webs advances the capacity for community-focused memory organizations to build web and digital archives documenting local histories and underrepresented voices. For more information, visit communitywebs.archive-it.org/
I was excited when I saw the call for participants in Community Webs. While Wilmington, Illinois is a small, rural town (5,664 people), the thought was that we still had something to contribute. Most Archive-It partners are universities, museums and large libraries, and being in their company was a little daunting to me initially. Other institutions have someone who opens the project, and then it develops into a larger team project. Wilmington Public Library District (WPLD) has a much smaller staff; the project has been wholly mine, which has been both thrilling and terrifying.
Wilmington is a small rural town, falling on the lower end of the economic scale. Because we are isolated,the library plays a vital part in the community. We offer the usual storytimes and adult programs, but also loan out hotspots and ChromeBooks. We have 45 hotspots and these are almost always checked out; some people are using them for vacations, but by usage it is apparent that others are using them as their primary means of connecting to the Internet. Internet access has been more and more important, but after the Covid-19 broke out, more governmental services went strictly online, making access even more critical – and to many who had not been regular patrons. WPLD is a hub for the community, offering computers, information, tax forms, and a place to come in and chat – even more important when we are trying to stay close and limit outside contact.
I am a Chicago native who went to Champaign-Urbana for grad school. I was a scanner for the Internet Archive for several years where I was privileged to handle some incunabula (pre-1500 items). I am the Technical Services Supervisor at Wilmington; primarily I catalog our materials, but I also tend toward Projects, from adding series labels to re-orienting all the calls in the juvenile non-fiction section. I am currently going through our attic to help determine what we have (it’s a Mystery!). I’m making lists, and hoping to have items to scan which would be available online, in multiple places. I applied for the Community Webs program (with my director’s blessing) because I felt that it’s important for small towns to be represented in the collection of history. Only 20% of the population still lives outside major metro areas, but it is every bit as important to capture that life as it is to retain the history of large cities.
Wilmington Library joined Community Webs in the summer of 2021. After some technical clarifications with the Archive-It staff WLPD was set up. In considering what made Wilmington unique, the first link was to our library and social media pages. Social media has grown in importance in the last twenty years, but it became a vital link during Covid when services were otherwise unavailable. Wilmington Library YouTube videos, how-tos, crafts and storytime, stand to remind us of how we responded and as a continuing reference for parents who can’t get to the library. But since social media, specifically, is known for ‘right now,’ it lacks the kind of reflection over time that we can create through the Community Webs project.
We may be small, but we have a number of historical articles and sites which needed to be brought together. We want to reflect events that have been impactful to our community, from the explosion of the Joliet Armory in the 1940s to the continuing issues with the Wilmington Dam, which has proved dangerous, but has complicated ownership issues. I still have a long way to go; the projects (attic/local history/web archive) are all intertwined. Wilmington has the usual Community Resources and City Government collections in Archive-It. Going forward, we want to continue to develop our Wilmington History collection. We are working on local history and will establish a collection of materials from our attic and public donations. Our local paper has vertical files which could be a goldmine of information – again, on my to-do list. We will be kicking off an Oral History Project, which will begin with a series of simple gatherings/coffee hours for our seniors, providing a place for them to gather, and a space to share their stories. I am hoping these will be in our Community Webs archive. Who better to speak to where we’ve been and where we are than some of our oldest residents?
Why is Community Webs important? Because it will help to remember when we cannot keep up with the information overload. Because there is so much happening that we miss a good deal of what is around us – or can’t bear to face it for long. Because so very very much of our lives are now online – and can be erased with a keystroke. Because we are seeing, painfully, that those who do not learn from the past will be/are condemned to re-live it. And, for Wilmington, I think it is important because so many of the voices and sites being captured are from museums, universities and large public libraries. It is important that we remember that we used to be far less urban than we are today. It is important to remember the smaller places, those who are too easily lost in the maelstrom of modern life, because to be forgotten is to be erased.
This post is part of a series written by members of Internet Archive’s Community Webs program. Community Webs advances the capacity for community-focused memory organizations to build web and digital archives documenting local histories and underrepresented voices. For more information, visit communitywebs.archive-it.org/
Can you describe your community and the services and role of your organization within the community?
Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) Alaska works on behalf of the Inupiat of the North Slope, Northwest and Bering Straits Regions; St. Lawrence Island Yupik; and the Central Yup’ik and Cup’ik of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region in Southwest Alaska. ICC Alaska is a national member of ICC International. Since inception in 1977, ICC has gained consultative status II with the United Nations, and is a Permanent Participant of the Arctic Council.
For example, ICC has provisional status with the International Maritime Organization (IMO), is an active member at the Arctic Council senior level and within the working groups and is a prominent voice at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Work and engagement occur in many ways at these different Fora. Within the UNFCCC, ICC has taken a leadership role in putting forward Indigenous Knowledge and establishing a platform for providing equitable space for multiple knowledge systems. Additionally, at the UNFCCC COP 26, ICC Chair, Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough, led an ICC delegation made up of Inuitrepresentatives from across the Arctic.
An immense amount of work occurs in direct partnership with Inuit communities to inform work at international fora. For example, ICC is facilitating the development of international protocols for Equitable and Ethical Engagement. These protocols will provide a pathway to success for all that want to work within Inuit homelands and whose work impacts the Arctic. The protocols will aid in a paradigm shift in how work, decisions, and policies are currently created and carried out. The paradigm shift will lead toward greater equity and recognition of Inuit sovereignty and Self-determination.
Why was your organization interested in participating in Community Webs?
The Community Webs program was attractive to ICC because it provided the training and the storage to effectively preserve ICC’s digitized & born-digital archival materials. We were pleased to see this offering as a solution for an ongoing desire to archive the prolific organization’s digital materials & products. This work dovetails nicely with ICC Alaska’s efforts to digitize 47 boxes, or around 80 linear feet of material that span 6 decades, including audio, film, photographic media, and paper documents.
ICC Jam – part 2 – Greenland
Cultural programming as part of the 1983 General Assembly. In this clip, view performances from Greenland’s Tuktak Theater and a Greenlandic choir
ICC advocates for Inuit and Inuit way of life, highlighted by ICC’s General Assembly meetings. The ICC receives its mandate from a General Assembly held every four years. The General Assembly is the heart of the organization, providing an opportunity for sharing information, discussing common concerns, debating issues, and strengthening the unity between all Inuit across our homelands. Through the Community Webs project, ICC Alaska has been able to preserve archival video of the ICC General Assemblies going back 30 years using Archive-It and the Internet Archive, as well as all newsletters, press releases, resolutions, social media campaigns, and reports published on its website. These are a significant record of ICC advocacy, but more importantly, Inuit political and cultural heritage.
Why do you think it is important for public libraries, community archives, and other local and community-based organizations to do this work?
Community-based organizations are uniquely positioned as both a part of and apart from the community. This vantage point allows for the self-reflection and observation needed for web archiving, as well as the relationships within the community to create the space and dialogue needed for community archiving projects. By building more capacity within community-based organizations for web archiving and digital preservation efforts, we can expand the recorded historical narrative and humanities-based inquiries in a multitude of directions, to truly reflect the diversity of our world & time.
Where do you hope to see your web archiving program going?
The core goal of this work is to make ICC documents and its historical narrative more accessible and discoverable within ICC, to ICC’s member organizations, international bodies, and researchers, our aspirations are much bigger. Our hope is that this web archive goes beyond the core goal to inspire, delight, hearten, inform, and add depth to the conversations Inuit are having about cultural identity, relationship to the land, hunting, advocacy, self-determination, and self-governance.
We are curious about the intangible outcomes: What new work does the archive inspire? How does the archive add depth & historical weight to existing projects, discussions, and advocacy? What stories and knowledge gets re-remembered, or re-investigated after viewing archival materials? What advocacy, ethics, and philosophical works come from Inuit leaders informed by the legacy that the archive shared? Are youth leaders interested in adding to the archive?
Is there anything you would like your organization to contribute back to the broader community of web archiving and/or local history in the form of documentation, workflows, policy drafts or other resources?
We have several aspirations. Firstly, it is the telling of Inuit stories. The archive is another manifestation of that mission – to record and share Inuit voices across time. To increase access to those voices, information, knowledge, and history. The ICC Archival holdings are a historically unique & culturally significant telling of Inuit cultural heritage, history (including political history), educational pedagogy, philosophy, self-determination, values, ethics, environmental stewardship, and Indigenous Knowledge. It is important to create a way for Inuit to discover and interact with this work. Community Webs has offered a new tool in our toolkit.
Secondly, the goal is to move forward conversations about categorization and information management for indigenous communities. What does that look like in best practice? Can we, together with other Inuit archives, improve on existing practices to create a more equitable and ethical engagement with Inuit-produced information, the management of that information, and the discovery and access of that information.
What are you most excited to learn through your participation in Community Webs?
It was exciting to discover that many Inuit and Alaska Native resources that have already been preserved using the Internet Archive. These resources are often affected by insufficient financial support. Being able to have a preserved and accessible copy of these resources is an important step towards creating the bigger picture of the historical record of Inuit advocacy. As part of the Community Webs meetings, it was exciting to hear from other tribal librarians and community archivists across the country & world. Additionally, it was exciting to hear from speakers whose work informs our community archival work at ICC Alaska – such as Chaitra Powell who created (among other amazing things) the “Archive in a Backpack” project.
What impact do you think web archiving could have within your community?
Hopefully this work inspires other organizations to also preserve their digital assets, creating a richer narrative of Inuit political and cultural heritage.
What do you foresee as some of the challenges you may face?
We are eager to preserve our social media channels that have replaced the DRUM newsletter as a vehicle for keeping our community up-to-date on ICC’s work. Ongoing challenges with Facebook and Instagram archiving are preventing us from doing that. Hopefully these issues are resolved in the favor of the communities who created the content and bring their community and connections to these software platforms.
To celebrate National Library Week 2022, we are taking readers behind the scenes to Meet the Librarians who work at the Internet Archive and in associated programs.
In the spring of 2021, Catherine Falls was hired by the Internet Archive to launch the Community Webs program in Canada. She was excited about the prospect of helping public libraries, museums, local historical societies and archives digitally preserve important material.
“Most web archiving happens at really large institutions, so much of the experience of local communities is missing from the historic record. It’s giving us a biased view of contemporary society,” Falls said. “The more of these local organizations that we can get to do this archiving, the more the historic record will be brought into balance.”
Since her efforts began, the Internet Archive has partnered with 43 institutions and organizations in Canada to build community-based collections. Falls said it’s been rewarding to follow the growth and variety of web-archiving projects . For example, the Milton Public Library in Ontario is working with the Halton Black History Awareness Society and other organizations to document items that may not otherwise be captured on the web. Meanwhile, the ArQuives: Canada’s LGBTQ2+ Archives is working with its community members to build web archive collections that capture the community’s web presence.
Falls earned bachelor’s degrees in commerce and art history from the University of British Columbia. She also has a master’s degree in library science and a master’s degree in art history from the University of Toronto. Before coming to the Internet Archive, she worked as an archivist in Canada at several institutions including York University and the Archives of Ontario.
“I was drawn to libraries as a kind of place that facilitates research–which for me is the most exciting phase of any project,” Falls said. “I’m interested in the free circulation of ideas and the library as a place where public knowledge is accessible. I like how the intellectual possibilities of a library intersect with the library as a community space.”
Falls says her background gives her a solid understanding of the basic functions of the library and the common language used within the profession. With that theoretical grounding, she said she can approach her work from a critical perspective to make improvements.
“It’s important to keep in mind that libraries are not infallible institutions. We need to be constantly questioning our practice and finding ways to be better,” Falls said. “It’s easy to say libraries are these beautiful, idyllic institutions. But I think it’s healthy to take a critical eye toward the work we do so that we can try to live up to our ideals in terms of whose stories we tell, who has access to our services, and what is preserved for the long term.”
Falls said she enjoys the mission-driven focus of the Internet Archive. Operating in the library, technology and archival world, it has a dynamic, nimble culture that provides fertile ground in which to explore new ideas, she said.