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Saving the Web : report of the colloquium on web archiving

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28/10/2019 - National Archives of Belgium

On 18 October 2019, the colloquium 'Saving the Web: the Promise of a Belgian Web Archive' took place in KBR. The colloquium was organised by the researchers of the PROMISE research project that aims to develop a federal strategy for the preservation of the Belgian web. Web archiving is clearly a 'hot topic' because the event attracted 107 participants from Belgium and abroad. The public was very varied and consisted of people active in the archival or library sector, supranational, federal, regional and local government services, research institutions and universities, genealogy, ...

The need to obtain structural funding for the development and maintenance of a web archive at the federal level within KBR and the State Archives was underlined by the directors of both institutions. This was also confirmed by the keynote speaker, Prof. Niels Brügger: we must at all costs avoid another 25 years of Belgian web history being lost. Without a national web archive it is not possible to perform (trans)national historical analyses based on the web. The best circumstances to achieve this are: having one archive of the national web based on the most complete web archiving strategy possible and offering good access possibilities. The latter includes allowing data extraction by or for researchers so that they can work with the data themselves on their own computers.

After this inspiring keynote, the researchers gave an overview of the research results of the PROMISE project. Among other things, the best practices within web archiving were presented, as well as the results of the legal analyses, the strategy and various scenarios developed by the State Archives and KBR, the technical specifications of the web archiving process and the results of the survey on user needs within web archives.

In the afternoon, the focus was on access, both for the general public and for research. The panel discussion revealed that copyright legislation severely restricts access to the web archive. According to the letter of the law, in most cases the web archive can only be made available in the reading room without the explicit permission of the right holders, which of course constitutes a serious obstacle. The need to highlight not only the costs but also the many advantages of web archiving was also underlined. For example, the State Archives and the KBR could develop many additional services on the basis of the data in the web archive, which constitute a real added value for society and research.

In the session on access to the web archive for research purposes, Jesse de Vos of Beeld en Geluid presented the Dutch initiative Nationaal Register Webarchieven. This project that can serve as a good example for Belgium. In her presentation, Prof. Valérie Schafer reflected on the when, what and why of 30 years of the World Wide Web and stressed why web archives are so important to researchers. Patricia Blanco explained how during her internship at KBR she started working with the archive collections of KBR for her master thesis 'Saving the Belgian web: web archiving practices, research opportunities and limitations'.

During the Q&A sessions, the public showed interest in archiving the .eu domain. The web archive in Portugal, Arquivo.pt, has set up a pilot project to archive this top level domain and the EU Publications Office archives all .europa.eu domain names. The concrete agenda for the further development of the Belgian web archive was also discussed. It largely depends on the new government as additional funds are needed to maintain the web archive. Other points that were raised were the need to focus on users, to inform and involve them sufficiently, the advantages of using the WARC file format and the arguments that can be used to convince the political level of the need for web archiving and therefore also the need for structural funding.

The colloquium resulted in cross-fertilisation between the various professionals who are more or less involved in web archiving or the study of archived websites. The PROMISE project team is entering the final months of the project full of new inspiration.

If you would like more information, you can find the slides of the presentations here:

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