Columbia University Libraries
will soon begin an archive of human rights content published on the Web. The Libraries has received a three-year, $716,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop and implement a program that will establish best practices for collecting, managing, preserving and providing access to at-risk digital content on human rights.
Image credit: Eileen Barroso / Columbia University
Web-based human rights information is in danger of disappearing into the ether. Sites posting reports and news, particularly those listing human rights abuses, are often administered by organizations or individuals lacking the resources to maintain them, and are commonly hacked or taken down by opposition groups.
Much of the information on these sites is of scholarly significance, according to Robert Wolven, associate university librarian for bibliographic services and collection development at Columbia. “We’ve been concerned for some time that there’s a lot of information on the Web that is not really being collected in any real sense by libraries,” said Wolven, who is the principal investigator for the project.
An archive of Web-based human rights material, which includes large publications as well as press releases and blog reports from around the world, will provide a resource to scholars, as well as serve as a model for how to best collect and preserve such information from the Internet.
Although other university libraries are beginning to archive Web material, the goal of Columbia’s program—to permanently integrate Web content collection and preservation into the Libraries—is unique. “A lot of the work other universities have been doing along these lines is project based,” Wolven said, “and we’re trying to turn this into an ongoing program.”
The Libraries is currently engaging faculty to help set priorities and determine the best way to collect information that is constantly being modified and deleted. Preservation will assume multiple forms, from taking and archiving periodic snapshots of websites to making certain material from multiple sites available through a single interface—for instance, a compilation of reports on human rights in Afghanistan from a variety of organizations.
The latter phase of the grant will focus on the best way to present the archived content, allowing researchers to search through the material in a more structured way than a general Web search.
“I have to keep reminding everyone, including myself, that it isn’t just a human rights project and it isn’t just a Web archiving project,” said Wolven. “It’s about turning libraries into collectors of this material and building our research collections for the future.”