This is a series on web archiving at the UBC Library. For all posts about web archiving, please see https://digitize.library.ubc.ca/tag/web-archiving/
From the new report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to the new NAFTA (USMCA) Agreement to Vancouver’s housing crisis, government information is all around us. Historically, government information was sent to academic libraries via depository agreements, but with the phasing out of print publishing in favor of born digital publications, the majority of these deposit agreements have ceased.
Born digital information can be taken down as quickly as it is published and government information is no exception. Websites are removed for a variety of reasons including the site being seen as outdated, perceived national security issues, changes in administrations or organizational and departmental website guidelines. Canada’s federal Guidelines on Implementing the Standard on Web Accessibility includes a section on website links perceived to be redundant, outdated or trivial (ROT). What may be trivial according to government guidelines could be of value to researchers, historians or the general public, which is where the importance of web archiving comes in.
Since 2013, archiving government websites has been at the forefront of UBC Library’s archiving initiatives. One of the Library’s first web archiving projects involved archiving federal government websites. In 2013, the federal government announced that the government’s web presence would be consolidated from over 1500 websites down to essentially one – canada.ca. Librarians were warned that the merger would result in the removal of valuable information including reports and data, which wouldn’t be transferred to the new site. Due to the enormous scale of the project, UBC Library collaborated with other academic libraries across Canada to quickly archive nine federal departments including Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Canadian Heritage, the National Research Council, Elections Canada and the Canadian Human Right Council. These sites are now preserved and viewable on the Library’s Archive-IT collection page.
Canadian Government Information – Digital Preservation Network (CGI-DPN)
The federal government website project was initiated by the Canadian Government Information – Digital Preservation Network (CGI-DPN), a national collaborative web archiving group established in 2012, of which UBC is a partner.
Modelling itself on the U.S. Digital Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), CGI-DPN uses LOCKSS to distribute copies of replicated Canadian government information in secure dispersed locations including British Columbia.
The CGI-DPN web archive includes copies of the Depository Services Program E-collection, at-risk government websites of all jurisdictions (federal, provincial, municipal) as well as thematic collections. UBC is a LOCKSS node for the CGI-DPN and participates in curating various collections for the project. The collections are all available via https://archive-it.org/organizations/700
Municipal government collection
Along with archiving federal websites, we have also partnered with Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria to capture local municipal content. UBC Library archived 132 municipal websites which are hosted on the University of Victoria’s British Columbia Local Governments Archive-it collection.
One of the benefits of archiving sites and curating a collection is that the content is all located in one area. Some cities, like the City of Vancouver, archive their own web domain but a researcher would have to visit each site as opposed to viewing all the collections in one account and in some cases these municipalities view archiving purely as preservation and keep their collections “dark” and not open to the public.
The challenges of web archiving government content include copyright issues as well the necessity of working in an agile environment. Copyright for government websites varies from province to province as each province and territory interprets crown copyright differently. Some governments allow their domains to be archived while others do not; the Province of British Columbia is one that does not allow their site to be archived.
Websites can come down very quickly and sometimes we only have hours or days to capture this content. Working collaboratively with other institutions across British Columbia and Canada has allowed us to preserve material that would have otherwise disappeared forever.
Current government collections we are actively engaged in archiving include the BC local government elections, impacts of the legalization of marijuana, and Vancouver’s recently announced rapid transit projects.
We always welcome suggestions, so if you have any ideas for government collections please fill out our web archiving proposal form! https://digitize.library.ubc.ca/work/
By Susan Paterson, Government Publications Librarian