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Saving Science Blogs

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Mosaic of Minerva by Elihu Vedder . Library of Congress Jefferson Building. Photograph by Carol Highsmith, 2007

Last year I wrote about collecting and preserving websites and how 21st century librarians are integrating the collection and preservation of digital items such as eBooks, datasets, and websites into their traditional analog collections. For example, the Library of Congress has been involved in preserving websites since the year 2000. We traditionally collect websites based upon a theme or a moment in time – Iraq War 2003, U.S. Elections, and Papal Transition 2005.

I also wrote, in Scientific Treasures, about the Science at Risk (July 2012) conference sponsored by the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) .  This conference provoked me to think about the different objects that are created by 21st century scientists (and scholars) and what libraries and institutions will (should) be collecting and preserving for current/future generations.

These aforementioned blog posts motivated me to question my responsibility as a science librarian at the Library of Congress. Am I doing all I can to collect and preserve scientific knowledge for Congress, our current users, and future generations? Is there something at risk of not being collected and can I do something about it?

Captain Robert F. Scott writing in his diary (1910-1911). Photograph by Herbert G. Ponting

I don’t need to convince you that the communication of science has expanded outside the realm of print and we are increasingly ingesting science information from the web, such as websites, blogs, social media, etc.

In response to these questions I came up with a proposal to collect and preserve science blogs. I am happy to report that the Library’s web archiving team approved it, and nominations have already begun!

The main goal of the Science Blogs Collection will be to capture a representative sample of science research, writing, teaching and communication, as well as scientific discourse in the United States. The project will target science blogs that produce original thought and observations in all major scientific disciplines (earth sciences, physical sciences, and life sciences) for all audience levels, and in all categories (press, non-profit, personal, academic, government, etc). The exception will be health and medicine related blogs, which are being captured by the National Library of Medicine.

There is a set of criteria for nominating a blog. First and foremost it must be original thought, self sufficient. It cannot be a blog full of links to other blogs.

Ainsworth Rand Spofford (1825-1908) standing,amid stacks of books and library shelves.

The following questions must be addressed:

  1. What is the usefulness of this information? (Example: does it help explain current U.S. science policy?)
  2. Will this blog supplement a preexisting collection? (Example: journals on a particular scientific topic)
  3. Does this blog have research value? This is a hard one to answer, but I look at the main topic of the blog and the author.  For example, a blog written by a scientist researching the melting ice caps includes data, photographs or other observations. I would consider to have  research value.
  4. Is the blog at risk? For example a blog from a funded science project that lasted a year could be at risk of being lost as new project blogs replace it, or when a publisher upgrades its software/website, it might not migrate the older content (e.g., blogs) to its new site.

Last, but certainly not least, Can the blog be easily captured? That is, how is the blog structured and created? Does it contain an abundance of embedded multimedia; do you need to sign in to access the content, etc?

The Library of Congress’ mission “is to support the Congress in its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.”

In its essence, the Library of Congress is a National Library. It’s the people’s library.  So if you were a science librarian who wants to preserve a selection of science blogs that would benefit Congress and the American people, what would you collect and preserve for posterity? What are your selection criteria? What makes a good blog? What topics are important to collect?

Now it’s your turn- tell me what type of science blogs should be preserved. To get your juices flowing I recommend reading Scientific American blog editor Bora Zivkovic’s Science Blogs- definition and a history.

Comments (12)

  1. So exciting Jennifer! Happy to start things off with a suggestion, I think blogs like “Bug Girl” is a great example of the kind of thing that it would be great to have in a science blogs collection. The author has a PhD in entomology and the blog is about “Entomology. Gardening. Ranting. Nerdery” and I think it is a great example of a blog that clearly presents original thought and content and would be a great resource to those in the future who are interested in what science blogs were about.

  2. Hi: Nothing earth shattering…I just spotted a little typo: “So if you a science…” and thought you might like to know.

    • @elena. Thank you for letting us know. As you noticed we forgot to include the word ‘were’. Cheers

  3. Highly recommend written by Columbia University virology professor Dr. Vincent Racaniello. His passion is helping both students and the public understand the world of microbes through the lens of the peer-reviewed research.

  4. It may be self-evident, but I have to ask if I can make the assumption that only english-language blogs will be saved?

    • @chris. For the first run of this project, we will collect English language blogs. The reason being that many of the IIPC members are also collecting blogs (all subjects) originating from their respective countries, and thus in those languages. IMHO this is just phase one of the LC Science blog project and we will learn what works, what is needed, etc.

  5. I’ll second Trevor’s enthusiastic hurrah! Very nice to see the criteria spelled out and the reminder that this sort of collecting does, indeed, reinforce the Library’s core mission. I did look at Bug Girl’s witty blog and, alas, it looks like she is, um, winding up her web.

  6. Great topic. The Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST) is a non-profit working toward educating the public on the impacts of science and technology on society.You may be interested in taking a look at our organization We are in the process of revamping our website and incorporating more web-based attributes into or programing. We appreciate your work!

  7. I seriously hope other types of blogs would be considered for inclusion into this kind of archive. For a guy like me, who was brought up and taught from a blog about the industry he now loves (and hopefully helps to move forward) – the web – I consider every word spoken by those pioneers in writing to be worthy of our knowledge of our internet. Additionally, any blog shows the human condition. It’s interesting this initiative, which is exciting for progress’ sake, doesn’t take those into account either. Effectively we live in a world with the capability to capture and archive (in a publicly accessible way – what is public stays public and what is private stays private) every bit and byte the world has spoken to each other over the course of the web. I’d like to see our government take that more seriously.

    • @webkenny. Thank you for taking the time to comment on this topic. The science blog collection is just one of many blog/ web archiving projects being implemented around the world. On the large scale is the The Internet Archive (wayback machine) which has been capturing websites (inc. blogs) since 1996. You might also be interested in looking at the collections from Archive-It . Our law librarians have a legalblawgs collection.. I should also note that many web archiving projects will include blogs, even though they are not specific blog collections. For example see Hurricane Katrina and Rita Web Archive

  8. Saving science writing is so important and this is a great idea… but it raises an interesting question. For books and peer-reviewed pubs on paper, the gatekeepers are the publishers, editors, teams of reviewers. For science writing online, who are the gatekeepers to decide what is worth saving? The science librarian at the Library of Congress? A wiki of other science writers? Should we formalize the process? For me, the question is not just “What science blogs are valuable enough to archive?” but also “What process should we put in place to make these decisions?”

    • @Nancy Thank you for taking time to comment. You raise important questions that must be discussed and which there might not be just one solution/ answer. I, a science librarian, am one of many who are preserving science blogs (and other type of material). Are you familiar with the Science Online Conference ? There has been discussion of archiving of blogs and other type of online digital media at this conference. Some push for self archiving and some rely on the archiving by publishers/institutions/ libraries. I am sure paid companies will come into play as well. If you haven’t already you might want to take a look at the Final Report of the Science@Risk meeting
      In short, the LC Science Blog collection is a selected representation of science blogs that follow a selection policy that is used by the Library of Congress to build its collections. In addition to collecting books, I am collecting blogs.

      I wish I knew the solutions, but by making these issues a priority and talking about them- we can help the online science community create a game plan. It’s an exciting time and I look forward to the discussions and solutions.

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