On October 21, I went to a workshop at the Frick Library called “Save Your Scholarship: Web Archiving and Tools for Preserving Research Resources”’ The audience was composed of art historians, artists and librarians. The presenters were both archivists. Their lecture was presented by the Digital Art History Lab, which is part of the Frick Art Reference Library. The Digital Art History Lab, created in 2014 has a mission to “provide researchers with the digital tools and data necessary to explore new methodologies.” And to promote the conservation of things digital. www.nyarc.org/content.digital-art-history-comes-frick. The Frick Museum is also in a consortium with the Brooklyn Museum Library, and the MOMA Library: the NYARC. This has a complimentary mission to “facilitate collaboration that results in enhanced resources to research communities.” www.nyarc.org/content/about.
The workshop I attended was part of outreach efforts by both the DAHL and the NYARC. The initial message presented, was that today we are in a time of crisis, not unlike the climate crisis (their metaphor). How to store and retrieve born-digital materials? The presenters talked about why it was important to save born-digital materials and talked about how link rot and content shift can undermine scholarship and how quickly links disappear. After having been told how little was actually being archived, we were shown pie charts of which organizations were archiving. Universities and colleges were doing the most, at 52%, archives handle another 15%, state government 13%, the federal government a mere and scary 5%. Museums handle 1%. We then were given information about what NYARC is archiving. All three museums are archiving their own collections, their websites, and related websites. They move outside their walls to archive the websites of auction houses, catalogues raissonnes, artists’ websites, NYC gallery websites, restitution scholarship and art resources.
Because so little is being archived, the HAHL and NYAARC are providing many trainings and resources to organizations and individuals to promote archiving at all levels. The presenters did this by giving us a set of links to websites for online archives. We discussed the Internet Archive, the International Internet Preservation Consortium. We then had a series of exercises: looking up URLs to see if they still existed, and then archived some links. We were also shown how to cite links that had been found in web archives. The presenters encouraged the audience to reach out to DAHL or NYARC if , in the future they have difficulties archiving their websites.
Some thoughts about this workshop. The overarching feel at the workshop was one of anxiety, so much to preserve, so few resources, and we are in crisis. That anxiety is certainly mirrored in Cloonan’s article “W(h)ither Away”. “ The responsibility for the preservation of cultural heritage is more complex and pressing today than at any other time in history”. And repeated in Rosenzweig’s article “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in the Digital Era” where he notes “even traditional historians should worry about what the digital era might mean for the historical record. US government records for example are being lost on a daily basis” Therefore great anxiety, hence NYARC and DAHL reaching out to the community and individuals to encourage everyone to preserve. At the end of the day, however the bulk of archiving and preserving will be done by institutions, as has always been done in the past.
So we are anxious about the pressing need to preserve, which will mostly be done on an institutional level and or a commercial level (the Internet Archive has a commercial aspect) and at the same time there is a growing consciousness of how biased or non neutral these institutions are in their practices of preserving “ Archives, ever since the mnemons of ancient Greece, have been about power, about maintaining power, about the power of the present to control what is, and will be known about the past, about the power of remembering over forgetting.”
Bias is unavoidable, and not surprisingly in this “crisis” time institutions are focusing first on preserving what they value. Each institution making up NYARC starts by preserving its own materials. This is not to be faulted, but just noted. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that whoever is doing the archiving is self-conscious “objectivity” has been increasingly understood in terms of “situated knowledge” or “partial perspective” (Cook) In our rush to preserve at least we can hope the preservers know they are biased.