Peter Webster at IFLA 2017

Peter Webster was delighted to be invited to introduce and chair a session at this year’s World Library and Information Congress in Wroclaw (Poland).

The session was jointly convened by the National Libraries and IT sections of IFLA, on the subject of access to Web archives. Peter introduced the speakers, from Canada, France and UK, as follows:

Good morning and welcome to this session of four papers, all looking at the issue of providing access to archived Web materials. I’m particularly pleased to be able to introduce our speakers today as the question of access is fundamentally part of the continual interaction between the priorities of libraries and archives who provide these materials and the users who use them; facilitating this relationship is a particular specialism of Webster Research and Consulting.

The business of systematic archiving of the Web is now two decades old. The early years were dominated by the need to develop tools and ways of working that enabled content to be captured; only in more recent years has attention turned to the needs of users and the different ways in which they may be met. And those ways have become more diverse in the last five years.

The primary means of access from the beginning was the viewing of a single archived object, usually a single web page, in a browser; this is the paradigm that most users are now familiar with, following the example of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

However, several different approaches are now emerging as a complement to this. These include the analysis of collections of web materials that represent a particular ‘web sphere’: that is, groups of independent websites that are related in some way. Others are investigating methods of representing a Web archive graphically in a public user interface, whether with charts of the incidence of particular words or by maps of links between sites. Other organisations are looking to serve users who have no need to view individual websites at all, but who require datasets that describe certain characteristics of a Web archive, such as link structures, that they may use on their own computers.

Web archiving is undertaken by a wide variety of institutions: from national libraries, to national archive organisation, regional libraries, universities and subject-specialist organisations, as well as by individuals. Each of these organisations is engaged in understanding the needs of their particular users and then meeting those needs. Our four papers today represent different types of organisations in three different countries, and I now introduce the first speaker.

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