By Carlos Lelkes-Rarugal, Assistant Web Archivist, The British Library
For some, a General Assembly isn’t a well-understood thing, I for one wasn’t entirely sure what it is exactly other than a meeting of sorts. As is often the case, a General Assembly allows the representative members of an organisation to meet in what is usually a once-yearly forum to talk about activities, express opinions, make recommendations, and discuss any other relevant news. More importantly, it allows members to reconnect.
I attended my first General Assembly in mid-June. The International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC) has held its annual meetings for over a decade, the organisation has been around for over 17 years and comprises of members from across the world. The British Library is a founding member of the IIPC, and the British Library is part of the UK Web Archive, which itself is a collaboration between the six UK Legal Deposit Libraries. I have worked at the UK Web Archive for over 3 years now, and this was the first time I attended an IIPC General Assembly.
How it came about
Every year, the IIPC hosts events, both virtual and in-person, bringing together IIPC members and non-members. But once a year, the General Assembly (GA) takes place (this is only for IIPC members), closely followed by the Web Archiving Conference (WAC) which is open to all. The GA and WAC are hosted by IIPC members and the places alternate between different parts of the world.
IIPC General Assembly and Web Archiving Conferences 2007-2021 Map
If you haven’t attended a WAC, I highly recommend it, as the hosting venues differ year to year (New Zealand 2018, Croatia 2019 and Luxemburg 2021) and the variety of talks and workshops available are a rich source of information, both for web archiving practitioners and researchers.
The British Library’s web archiving team do try to send representatives, such as our technical lead (Andrew Jackson), our Lead Curator of Web Archives (Nicola Bingham), and our Engagement & Liaison Officer (Jason Webber).
In 2019, I was fortunate enough to attend the WAC but I missed out on the GA as I had only signed up for the WAC; the GA is open to all members and not just their representatives. And, it seemed like 2020 would have been missed too; it was to be held in Montreal in June, but had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Planning for both the GA and the WAC falls on to the hosting institution and the IIPC Programmes & Communications Officer, Olga Holownia, who is based at the British Library and is part of the UK Web Archive team. Unfortunately, many months of planning were made redundant as Covid-19 hit. Initially, and very early on, both events were rescheduled, however as things worsened and uncertainty around international travel loomed, the decision was taken to suspend and eventually cancel the GA and WAC. Olga was then able to rapidly reschedule a virtual alternative, albeit somewhat trimmed. Re-jigging the GA was still no easy feat, even with Olga’s experience planning previous GAs and WACs.
One of the many positives about an online GA is the accessibility, other than the set fees members pay towards the IIPC, there was no additional cost to attend the zoom call. It also means more members can take part, whereas before, the travel costs to members might have been prohibitive and so not all members would have sent representatives. This time around, given the time differences of each member’s respective countries, two online calls were organised to accommodate for as many attendees as possible. Fortunately for me, this now meant that I could attend one of the calls.
WAC at the British Library in 2017, photo by Olga Holownia
What is the purpose of the GA
Many members, see it as a very good opportunity for networking. The agenda for the online GA was substantially shortened as the call itself was two hours in length.
This was the agenda:
- PCO Report
- IIPC Budget
- New Consortium Agreement
- Discretionary Programme Funding (DFP)
- Tools Development Portfolio Update
- Updates from Working Groups
The IIPC currently consists of 58 members, and membership is growing The members share a desire to better understand the preservation of websites by developing standards and tools; through collaboration on tool development and sustainability, transnational collections, information exchange, research initiatives, workshops, training, and so on.
With so much occurring throughout the year, not just within the IIPC but within each member’s organisation, it can be quite difficult to keep atop of the main developments. The GA gives you an opportunity to:
- Highlight the work being done by the IIPC and its members
- Learn about current and planned outreach
- Find out about the progress on Portfolios, Working Groups and the IIPC members involved in leading and running different initiatives
- Development on IIPC governance such as the updated Consortium Agreement
- New opportunities for project funding and progress on past and currently funded projects
- Strategy goals including tools development, preservation, training, research, and more.
2020 really should have been a more celebrated year in web archiving because many institutions have reached significant milestones; the National Library of Spain was celebrating 10 years, the UK Web Archive is 15 years old this year and the web archiving programme at the Library of Congress is now 20 years old. And though it’s a shame we aren’t all able to gather and celebrate these achievements, we can still appreciate those milestones. Here are some of my highlights from the 2020 online GA:
- Launched in February, the Content Development Group (CDG) Covid-19 collection has gained a lot of attention, not only have over 30 members contributed thousands of seeds, they have also been sharing information about their Covid-collecting activities. Understanding what type of content they collect, the tools used, and collaborations with institutions and researchers will give the web archiving community and researchers a good idea of different practices and approaches when building rapid response collections.
- IIPC can offer funding support through their Discretionary Funding Programme
- The Training Working Group founded in 2017, worked with the Digital Preservation Coalition to create training modules, which are now available on the IIPC website. Other modules will also be developed in the future.
- Research Engagement Guidelines available on the IIPC website
- Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) and the National Library of New Zealand (NLNZ) are working together to bring to the web archiving community a tool for scalable web archive visualisation: LinkGate. This is an IIPC funded project.
- Another project that has wrapped up is the Jupyter Notebooks for web archives; led by the British Library’s Andrew Jackson, working with Tim Sherratt
- Python Wayback project is being actively developed, to help migrate institutions off older playback tools such as Open Wayback. The UK Web Archive adopted this last year and it greatly improved the playback of our archived websites.
- The National Library of Australia Web Archive is developing a variable crawler that can re-crawl of individual webpages of a certain domain, without having to crawl entire domain. This adaptive re-scheduler, called Chronicrawl looks very promising.
It’s difficult to compare a virtual GA against a face-to-face alternative, as this was the first of its kind that I’ve attended and the first GA that I’ve ever attended. IIPC members are active and collaborate through many different channels; so, having the chance to meet other members in person can’t be replicated and superseded by an entirely virtual assembly as members rarely ever get a chance to see each other in person. However, the virtual meeting did allow for broader and increased participation and a lot of very interesting information was exchanged. I’m not sure what middle ground could be achieved, but the 2020 online GA was conceived in such a short a period and was pulled off so successfully, and it seems like the format could be emulated and perhaps developed further. I can’t imagine it fully replacing face-to-face meetups, but it’s great to know that it can be done online. Given the current situation and because of the direct and indirect pressures caused by the outbreak, I do feel fortunate that alternative methods of communication are being found and maintained and even sustained. Many thanks again to Olga for making it all happen, I look forward to the next event.