On 18 October 2019, the colloquium ‘Saving the Web: the Promise of a Belgian Web Archive’ took place at KBR. The colloquium was organised by the researchers of the PROMISE research project that aims to develop a federal strategy for the preservation of the Belgian web. Web archiving is clearly a ‘hot topic’ because the event attracted 107 participants from Belgium and abroad.
The need for a web archive
The directors of KBR and the State Archives stressed the need for structural funding for the development and maintenance of a web archive at the federal level within both institutions. This was also confirmed by the keynote speaker, Prof. Niels Brügger: we must at all costs avoid losing another 25 years of Belgian web history. Without a national web archive it is not possible to perform (trans)national historical analyses based on the web. The best conditions for this:
- one archive of the national web, based on a web archiving strategy that is as complete as possible
- good access possibilities, including data extraction by or for researchers so that they can work with the data themselves on their own computer
After the inspiring keynote, the researchers gave an overview of the research results of the PROMISE project. Among other things, the best practices within web archiving were presented, as well as the results of the legal analyses, the strategy and various scenarios developed by the State Archives and KBR, the technical specifications of the web archiving process and the results of the survey on user needs within web archives.
Access to the web archive
In the afternoon, the focus was on access, both for the general public and for research. Representatives of heritage institutions, the publishing world and the press took part in the panel discussion on access for the general public. The discussion revealed that copyright legislation severely restricts access to the web archive. According to the letter of the law, in most cases the web archive can only be made available in the reading room without the explicit permission of the right holders, which of course constitutes a serious obstacle.
The need to highlight not only the costs but also the many advantages of web archiving was also underlined. For example, the State Archives and KBR could develop many additional services on the basis of the data in the web archive, which constitute a real added value for society and research.
Research in web archives
In the session on access to the web archive for research, Jesse de Vos of Sound and Vision presented the Dutch initiative ‘National Register Web Archives’. This is a great project that can serve as an example for Belgium. In her presentation, Prof. Valérie Schafer reflected on the when, what and why of 30 years of world wide web and stressed why web archives are so important to researchers. Patricia Blanco explained how during her internship at KBR she started working with the web archive collections of KBR for her master thesis ‘Saving the Belgian web: web archiving practices, research opportunities and limitations’.
Download the slides of all the presentations below.
Questions from the audience
During the Q&A sessions, the audience showed interest in archiving the .eu domain. The web archive in Portugal, Arquivo.pt, has set up a pilot project to archive this top level domain and the EU Publications Office archives all .europa.eu domain names.
The concrete agenda for the further development of the Belgian web archive was also discussed. This largely depends on the new government as additional funds are needed to develop the web archive.
Other points that were raised were the need to focus on users and to inform and involve them sufficiently, the advantages of using the WARC file format and the arguments that can be decisive to convince the political level of the need for web archiving and therefore also the need for structural funding.
The colloquium resulted in cross-fertilisation between the various professionals who are more or less involved in web archiving or the study of archived websites. The PROMISE project team is in any case entering the final months of the project full of new inspiration.
List of presentations
- National web archives: the land of promise for researchers – Prof. Dr Niels Brügger (Aarhus University) – Download
- Introduction to the PROMISE project, best practices and the Belgian strategy – Sophie Vandepontseele (KBR); Friedel Geeraert (KBR/State Archives); Dr Peter Mechant (UGhent); Alejandra Michel (CRIDS – UNamur); Sébastien Soyez (State Archives); Dr Rolande Depoortere (State Archives) – Download
- Technical aspects of the PROMISE project – Gerald Haesendonck (UGhent) – Download
- Using web archives for researchers – Sally Chambers (GhentCDH and DARIAH); Eveline Vlassenroot (imec-mict-UGent); Patricia Blanco (MSc in Digital Humanities KU Leuven) – Download
- Coordination of web archiving in The Netherlands – Jesse de Vos (Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Netwerk Digitaal Erfgoed) – Download
- Using Web archives for researchers : experience, challenges, issues – Prof. Dr Valérie Schafer (University of Luxembourg, C2DH) – Download