At the British Library

[The following was almost liveblogged, but the computer ran out of juice just before it was ready to publish. I am at the University of Sussex, at the Association of Internet Researchers annual conference, and it seems like access to the Internet remains bad every year. Hopefully, next year in Chicago will be better. Over the next few days, I’ll try to get up a backlog of posts. Also, if you are waiting on grades from me, or other responses, I’ll be catching up this weekend when I get back to the states.]

I am now just coming off a short lunch break at the meeting on web archiving in the board room of the British Library. I am not much one for the whole “liveblogging” thing, as I’ve noted before. I like to give things a chance to stick. Unfortunately, since I had to walk off an airplane to this meeting (I could really use a shower!), so I’m afraid I might forget some of this. There is a great group of researchers here, and some interesting ideas being passed around. I would have thought my blog-centric views on archiving would have failed to find an audience among the library-centric folks here. There is, in fact a difference in the way librarians and more blogcentric people think about archiving, but there is more interest in sharing ideas than I might have expected. The major difficulties, if any, seem to revolve around vocabularies (e.g., what constitutes “metadata”). Many of the ideas I presented in my talk had already come out in some form. The biggest thing people seemed interested in was furl.

Lots of people presented their ideas, I probably should go into more detail here, but I’m not going to. Steve Schneider talked a bit about his experience with coordinating thematic archives, and systems that facilitate this process. Paul Koerbin talked about the Pandora project. Lots of good comments from folks. Pierre Levy once again presented on his ideas towards a universal semantic category system.

After lunch, we are discussing some of the “use cases” on which he national archive will work. Quickly, we get into some pretty wild requests. This is an interesting approach: demonstrating the cases and getting feedback rather than talking about specifications. Frankly, though, the front end is less important to me than revealing the internals.

The main hangup seems to be how to select what should be archived. It’s a little like “what three records would you take with you if you were going to be stranded on an island?” What on the Web really matters enough that the national libraries should be going out and saving it. Steve Schneider, later at the conference, noted that the question was really between prospective needs of scholars, and retrospective needs. The retrospective needs are really important, but extremely hard to predict. My opinion is that the best thing to do is be very receptive to what scholars want archived now and hope that this also counts toward the future.

A comment by Torill Mortensen got us talking about archiving not just the web, but the total experience of the web. At a very basic level, this means holding on to the software that is being used, either by storing machines or emulating them. But she was particular interested in the question of how to document the kind of information and social ecology that exists around the web. Many of us today have been using broadband exclusively for so long we can’t even imagine dial up speeds (or the old 110/300 switchable bps modems). We need to be able to understand what the web was, not just what it contained.

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  1. Posted 9/21/2004 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    i think alot of the tech issues will start to model how the human brain works as the most effecient system of retrieval: its eirry, but the more one learns about neuroscience and the more one learns about computers, one sees that errors or flaws in networks, or programs leads to a type of electronic senility, or electronic aphasia.

    the mind remembers in odd ways, so is there a collective mind. In war and peace, a narrative of the napoleonic wars is written from the perspective of “characters” that are etched by tolstoy to shed light on the “Truth.

    is blogging a type of similar narrative. is archiving and the processes of retrieval also just as similar?

  2. Posted 9/21/2004 at 12:59 am | Permalink
  3. Posted 9/23/2004 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    if one studies tolstoy as a preblogger, one realizes that one needs to take alot notes to follow the narrative of his books, like keeping a log. one must also realize that he did alot of interviewing of veterens of the napaleonic war that where still alive in the 1850’s so hence, he relied on human memory as well as records to create a narrative approach to history that is anti hegelian and touches on shopenhauers famous book, the world as representation and will.

    there is something mystical in war and peice and touches on the ideas of social networking and the archiving of events and personal introspection.

    there is also the issue of mathmatical metaphor that eirily touches upon how these computers work. much of the logistical work was done by Napoleonic generals such as Laplace, Fourier,and Monge. These where the great math minds of ALL TIME as organizers of great victories. Their mathematical formulas are just now becoming applied to computer science.

    Lagrange, was there contempory, but not pro napoleon, but this renaissance of mathematical influence had tremendous influence in tolstoys search to calalog allness towards an artistic archiving.

  4. Posted 9/23/2004 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    i mean war and peace

2 Trackbacks

  1. By The Best Blog » Where can I find that? on 9/22/2004 at 1:10 am

    […] I find that? Filed under: General — bcwolff @ 9:10 pm I was just reading Dr. Halavais’ review of his meeting so far in London and I started thinking a lot about what […]

  2. […] an’t find} that discussed a few of the same topics that Alex Halavais does in his article At the British Library . He discusses who should decide what should be catalogued and how best to c […]

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