[LINK] FW: Internet leading to cultural 'black hole': Library

Paul Koerbin pkoerbin at nla.gov.au
Mon Apr 20 13:32:58 AEST 2009

 Asher's article unfortunately does little more than largely rehashing with an Australian context an article that appeared in the Guardian on 25 January. I had a long conversation with Asher and sent him some detailed comments as follow up and clarification as I wanted to convey the complexities involved in collecting web sites for preservation purposes. Sadly none of this made it into the article. I've got the Canberra Times coming over this afternoon (obviously on a lead from Asher's SMH article), so I'll see if I can do any better with the message this time.

The 'black hole' terminology was not mine (it comes from the Guardian article). But in general I would agree and suggest it is inevitable. As with any research or culture past, those in the future will have to fill in the gaps about the Internet at any particular time by interpreting what those bits that have, by intent or chance, been preserved.


Paul Koerbin | Manager Web Archiving | National Library of Australia | Canberra ACT 2600
Tel: 02 6262 1411 | Email: pkoerbin at nla.gov.au | skype: paulkoerbin

-----Original Message-----
From: link-bounces at mailman1.anu.edu.au [mailto:link-bounces at mailman1.anu.edu.au] On Behalf Of Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Sent: Monday, 20 April 2009 10:31 AM
To: link
Subject: [LINK] Internet leading to cultural 'black hole': Library

Haven't we always had "black holes" in our recorded history?
eg before printing and before reading/writing became widespread.

Plus ça change, plus ça meme chose.

Internet leading to cultural 'black hole': Library Asher Moses April 20, 2009 - 7:48AM WA Today http://www.watoday.com.au/sport/internet-leading-to-cultural-black-hole-library-20090420-abv1.html

Australia is in danger of losing its cultural heritage and much of its recent history if ephemeral material on the web isn't archived for future generations, the National Library of Australia has warned.

Library manager of web archiving, Paul Koerbin, said that with everything from government documents to personal photos and video clips now being published exclusively online, the transient, dynamic nature of the web meant that much of this information would be lost over time.

"There is a serious issue regarding the loss of our digital cultural heritage," he said.

"We are losing history ... the fact is there will be 'black holes' that future researchers will have to deal with."

His comments come after Lynne Brindley, the head of the British Library, warned that as websites come and go, the memory of the nation disappears too, leaving historians and citizens of the future with a "black hole in the knowledge base of the 21st century".

To help rectify the problem, major cultural institutions like the NLA are archiving some of the important material on the web, but this is only done on an ad-hoc basis and tight resources mean they are not even close to capturing all the most critical websites.

In San Francisco, the non-profit Internet Archive
(http://www.archive.org) automatically scrapes parts of the web and its Wayback Machine allows people to surf back in time to see what their favourites sites looked like as far back as 1996. It already contains three petabytes of data, which equates to more than three million gigabytes.

The NLA has been archiving Australian online publications at its Pandora website (http://pandora.nla.gov.au) for a decade but, as of March, it has captured just 21,614 "archived titles".

This includes the plethora of websites associated with the Sydney Olympics, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's "Kevin07" election site and the site of the 2007 APEC summit, held in Sydney.

Government websites are of particular interest to the NLA as these often disappear or change completely after elections.

Other smaller-scale Australian web archiving projects include Sydney's Powerhouse Museum, which last year asked the public to submit their personal emails - from the heart-wrenching to the hilarious - in an effort to preserve present-day communications for future generations.

It received just 10,000 emails, enough to create only a snapshot of contemporary life.

Mr Koerbin said the web had changed considerably from the time the NLA began archiving and was now "highly dynamic, enormous in size and ever growing". The trend towards social networking - as opposed to simply publishing material on a web page - made the task of archiving extremely complex and daunting, as did copyright law and privacy regulations.

"While it has always been an issue to determine what we should try and preserve this is much more complicated now and in fact we can probably do relatively less," he said.



Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Canberra Australia
brd at iimetro.com.au

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