Posts Tagged ‘World Wide Web’

The burning of the Library of Alexandria has been one of the biggest catastrophes in archival history, being that it was the largest depository of documents and materials preserving the ancient world. In today’s media based society many worry that a simple glitch in technology or the outdating of a hardware/software system could have similar consequences. Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archives, argues that the very medium of media could actually be its saving grace.

In 1996 Kahle initiated what is now a 10 petabyte operation in the pursuit of “Universal access to all knowledge.”  Based primarily out of California, the Internet Archives relies on a host of web crawlers to continually scan the World Wide Web and collect websites, television shows, articles, and other more obscure sources of information that may one day inform its viewers.  A large part of the Internet Archives are collecting and scanning the millions of physical books to make them largely accessible to the public, the basis of their Open Library. The TV news section allows you to search their archive of television reports by keywords and date range.

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Kahle argues that by allowing the information collected in the archives to be freely accessible, they are in return extending the life expectancy of the material. He posits that it creates an active process of keeping information in use, cared for, and constantly updated. That interest in the materials will allocate interest in its preservation and reformatting. With daily visits by its users averaging at about 500,000, he has the interest to test his theory.

The mission of The Internet Archive is to prevent the destruction of knowledge through incidents such as fire destruction that hit the Library of Alexandria, as well as our own Library of Congress. It is argued that because the Internet Archive shares and duplicates its collection with other institutions, in other counties and political climates, the materials are less likely to be completely destroyed. This holds true for the suspicious that believe the fires were acts of political rebellion as well as those who simply think accidents happen. By creating multi-hosts of the archives they generate and preserve, the authority over their collection, distribution, and destruction becomes more democratized.

I am finding that the Internet Archive is very useful for finding more ‘mundane’ sources that might not be considered worthy of archiving by other institutions. The Wayback Machine is a unique program that lets you see webpages that are no longer existent, or more dated versions. They also have a large collection of videos and audio files that are licensed under creative commons or free access. There is also the Internet Memory Foundation which shares similar ideals and practices.

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Some of the difficulties lie in the fundamental nature of the archive itself, however. It is sometimes hard to sort through the large collection to find a specific material. One of the largest debates about archiving social media, for instance, is what is worth saving. While the Internet Archive take a more liberal stance on the issue, it creates bulk.

There is also the issue of copyright laws prohibiting the collection of certain materials. The Internet Archive allows any user to contact them if they believe their materials have been unlawfully obtained and posted to their site. This limits the material the Archives can distribute. It also, however, takes some of the work out of finding the material yourself and searching for copyright clearance. Knowing that it was posted on the site, gives more confidence that the material may be used again given the sites allegiance to free press.

To learn more, here is a great documentary about the Internet Archives:


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Having trouble finding archives that have the materials you need? ArchiveGrid is a great tool to use if you do not know where to begin your search! It is a free resource that allows the user access to information about different collections and finding aids that any of the participating archives have.

ArchiveGrid Homepage

ArchiveGrid became a free website in 2012, allowing researchers to use its database without subscribing to it, like it had done in the past.  The database contains over two million searchable archival collections. According to the about page on the ArchiveGrid website, it“provides access to detailed archival collection descriptions, making information available about historical documents, personal papers, family histories, and other archival materials. It also provides contact information for the institution where the collections are kept.”The website is designed to recognize your current location so that it can best serve your search needs. When you receive your search results, they are ranked by both closest in proximity and the hits that best fits the phrase you searched.

ArchiveGrid is supported by the Online Computer Library Center (also known as OCLC). OCLC is an organization that connects different libraries from all over the world. OCLC also manages the infamous WorldCat, the database that Bobst Library uses to make their catalogues searchable. Like OCLC, ArchiveGrid gives archives and libraries the opportunity to share their collections with the World Wide Web, allowing them to reach out to more people than they could in the past.

For my digital archive and website, I am focusing on St. Vincent’s Medical Center, once located on Greenwich Village on W. 11th Street until its close in 2010. Since this institution is no longer open, I have been searching high and low for all sorts of documents that would be relevant for my research. ArchiveGrid was one of the major tools that I have used and has directed me to different archives that I can utilize.

The ArchiveGrid search bar is at the top right where you can enter any phrase or topic that you would like to search. When I typed in “St. Vincent’s Hospital NYC,” I received 631 results.

Search Results

The website divided its findings into a result list and a result summary. When you click on the “Result Overview” tab, it breaks down the results based on: people, groups, places, archives, archive locations and topics.

Results Overview Page

This is very useful when trying to narrow down the 631 matches that ArchiveGrid provided for me. You can conduct your search from here by choosing a specific topic. The results generated on the “Results Overview” helped me identify different topics about St. Vincent’s that I would like to focus on in my online exhibit. For example I can select the group “Catholic Church,” or the topic “Medicine and Health,” since St. Vincent’s was a Catholic medical center. I can also select narrow my search by the location of the archives.  When I click on New York, I am left with 69 results, much smaller from my first search. The different collections range from oral histories from 9/11 victims who were treated at St. Vincent’s, to the papers of doctors or an AIDS activist videotape collection. Under each collection is a description, if available and the name of the archive that the collection is located. The researcher can than click below that the link for either contact information for the archive or the finding aid for that collection. For example, the 9/11 oral histories are located at Columbia University and I am then directed to their contact us page on their website.

Contact and Collection Information

From here I can browse through their collection and determine if I need to make a visit to their library. I now know that I have the ability to include information on St. Vincent’s significant role after the events of 9/11 into my exhibit as well as any information regarding the AIDS clinic that was established at St. Vincent’s.

ArchiveGrid is a great resource to use if you are looking for archives to go to without having to visit them right away and making any unnecessary trips. It also helps you to be a more efficient researcher as you can go into any archive that you find on ArchiveGrid and know exactly which collection and even which folder you are looking for. For more information on ArchiveGrid and OCLC check out their websites!

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