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How the Free Library of Philadelphia Uses Web Archiving


Libraries often play a central role in historic preservation, particularly as it pertains to websites and other digital culture assets. For some libraries, though, web archiving is not optional—it is a mandate.

The Free Library of Philadelphia is one such organization. An Archive-It™ partner for more than five years, the Free Library of Philadelphia is the city’s public library system and plays an important official role in the operation of city government. We asked reference librarian Laurie Alper, who manages the Free Library of Philadelphia’s web archiving program, to tell us more about her job and how the library uses Archive-It to fulfill its mission.

What types of content are you archiving?

We archive Philadelphia governmental websites and those of Philadelphia cultural institutions, such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Franklin Institute.

What needs led the library to a web archiving solution?

The Philadelphia Code charges the Free Library with maintaining a collection of all reports or publications produced by any office, board, or commission of the City of Philadelphia and any public authority or nonprofit corporation supported wholly or partially by the City Treasury. Although the same section of the Code obligates these entities to send at least one copy of such reports or publications to us, they very often fail to do so. Also, these reports or publications are, more and more, “born digital.”

We focus primarily upon the material we are archiving as part of our Philadelphia Government Websites collection. Our Philadelphia Cultural Institutions collection was initiated primarily as a means of utilizing more of our Archive-It data and document budget.

How well has web archiving solved those problems?

Very well!  Web archiving allows us to capture these reports, along with the ephemeral information that lives only for a period of time on the governmental websites, and to maintain a virtual collection that can easily be accessed by anyone with an Internet connection. On more than one occasion, one of my colleagues has learned of an important report and has asked me if we have archived it. Each time, after asking him for the report’s URL, I have assured him that we have it and, after checking the Wayback Machine, have been able to confirm that we have, in fact, added it to our virtual collection.

What other technologies or methods are you using in tandem with web archiving to further address those needs?

We will also sometimes save an important document to one of the Free Library’s web servers and will ask our Cataloging Department to create a record in our cataloging system. This allows our patrons to search our catalog and to click on a link in the cataloging record in order to view the report.

Can you explain your existing collection strategies? How do you see web archiving helping to change or expand those strategies?

This department, as it is a government depository collection, functions somewhat differently from most library departments. We rely on the various governmental entities to send us their material. If the news media reports on a particular publication, we can contact the City department to request that they send the report to us. Effective, efficient web archiving ensures that we can obtain the report regardless of whether we learn of its existence. The way in which our strategies have changed or expanded is that I now try to make certain that we are capturing all of the Philadelphia governmental website and have set the crawl parameters so as to archive all that we should be collecting.

How did your involvement in the web archiving project take shape?

I previously worked in the IT department here at the Free Library as a Technology Training Librarian. When the library transferred me to the Government Publications Department in March 2009, I became the “go-to person” for anything technological in this department. My department head involved me in the discussions about Archive-It shortly after my transfer and, when the Free Library became an Archive-It partner in May 2010, assigned me to manage our collections.

Okay, now for the really important questions. What is your favorite book?

I have to pick one?  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

What is your favorite film?

The Wizard of Oz.

Click here to view the Free Library of Philadelphia’s public archive or view its two collections:

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