A smart-alecky way to answer the question in the title above would be: “why everything, of course.” But we don’t traffic in snark here, at least not intentionally.
User expectations influence so much of what stewardship organizations do. We collect and preserve all content primarily to support use, but the issue is especially important in a digital context.
Digital stewardship at scale can involve significant resources over a long period of time, and justifying that allocation centers around access. As the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Preservation and Access noted as a primary finding, “when making the case for preservation, make the case for use. Without well articulated demand for preserved information, there will be no future supply.”
The matter jumped to the forefront of my attention a few weeks ago during Archiving the Web: How to Support Research of Future Heritage?, a meeting at the National Library of the Netherlands. All the presentations dealt with the issue of connecting with researchers, but one by Bernhard Rieder struck me as intriguingly proactive. Rieder is a researcher in the Media Studies department of the University of Amsterdam and is interested in using big collections of web archives to study social patterns and trends. He talked about the methodological challenges of using such collections and concluded with a “wish list” of what he wanted from institutions that collect web archives. While I do not necessarily agree with these wishes, I did appreciate hearing his perspective. Here is a summary of the list:
- Moral, political and legal support for researchers and others building large collections of web data.
- Fast search based access to a continuous 1% sample of institutional holdings with translated URLs and click data, as well as comprehensive statistics for the collection.
- An easy, non-bureaucratic way to submit researcher data collections to institutions, without having to use standardized formats.
Other researchers surely have their own wishes, and it does seem to me that libraries and archives could benefit from hearing them. There is an novel approach to do this underway at the University of Melbourne, where the IT Research Services Department actively engages with researchers, including face-to-face meetings to learn about what they want. The university found that researchers appreciate the chance to meet, and as a result the department is taking an active approach to social engagement with a Bazaar of choices and approaches. Many of the approaches focus on helping researchers learn about tools and how to best apply them in working with data collections.
We also have explored the issue on this blog, with a series of posts by guest posts by Kalev H. Leetaru on A Vision of the Role and Future of Web Archives. The International Internet Preservation Consortium also recently held a meeting on the subject of Scholarly Access to Web Archives: Progress, Requirements, and Challenges.
It would be great to learn about other efforts to plumb researcher interest–please let us know about them.