This week’s interview is with Abbie Grotke. She is the web archiving team lead here at the Library of Congress. I have worked with Abbie on a variety of archive collections, including the Legal Blawgs and U.S. Congressional web archives.
Describe your background.
I’m an all-over-the-East Coast gal. Born in Upstate/central New York, near the Finger Lakes, I’ve spent a lot of time in Buffalo with my father’s family but spent my formative years in Florida. I left as soon as I could (I missed seasons!), heading back north to go to school in North Carolina and then Massachusetts. I landed in the D.C. area in 1991 when I got an internship at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art (then NMAA, now Smithsonian American Art Museum).
What is your academic/professional history?
My undergrad degree was in Art History, so while interning in a few offices at NMAA, I applied to work at the museum full-time and had a number of interesting jobs there: from cataloging sculpture for the Inventory of American Sculpture, to helping produce art books and a CD-ROM in the Publications and New Media Office. That taught me some skills that helped me qualify for a job I saw advertised in 1997 looking for people who could help “build the information superhighway through the Library of Congress!”
As a digital conversion specialist position with American Memory, I worked to help digitize the Printed Ephemera collection and led the Hannah Arendt Papers digitization project. I was hired on permanently after the American Memory “not to exceed the year 2000” positions expired. After working a year or so on a collaborative digital reference project that became LC’s Ask-A-Librarian service, I was assigned to work with the web archiving pilot project team – called MINERVA at the time — in 2002, and I’ve been web archiving ever since!
How would you describe your job to other people?
“I archive the internet” usually gets attention at parties. The longer answer is that I am the Web Archiving Team Lead for the Library’s web archiving program. Web archiving is the process by which we use special tools to make copies of web content for preservation and access by future researchers. We preserve a variety of content published to the web — not just websites, but also individual documents, video, audio, images, social media, etc. The Library of Congress web archives are organized in thematic and event-based collections, and contain websites documenting a variety of U.S. and international organizations representing a broad range of subjects and topic areas, such as the Law Library’s ongoing Legal Blawgs Web Archive, United States Congressional Web Archive, and Federal Courts Web Archive.
While I do not personally select the content the Library archives (recommending officers from the Law Library and Library Services do), I serve in a program management role, overseeing the activities of our most excellent team of four staff in Library Services. We make sure the content the recommending officers have identified for the collections is archived (as best as we can with the tools we have), stored for long-term preservation, and is made available for research use. In this role, I also get to work with a number of web archiving colleagues around the United States and the globe through groups like the International Internet Preservation Consortium, and the End of Term Web Archive collaborative project. Every day is a bit different with web archiving, which makes it exciting.
Why did you want to work at the Library of Congress?
When I first saw the Library job posting, I was so excited that my Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) skills could be put to use somewhere, anywhere – I knew I had to apply. When I learned more about the exciting digital library work that was happening here (these were the very early days of digital conversion projects), I was hooked! It continues to be such a great place to work — I still love being involved in figuring things out and solving problems we didn’t know we’d even have a few years or even days before. We certainly still don’t have all of the answers! I’ve also met some lifelong friends here and so many people have incredible knowledge and interesting hobbies.
What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library?
Not so much about the Law Library, but here’s an interesting fact about the kind of content the Law Library has selected for archiving:
The long-time collecting of legal blawgs and Congressional websites have also been excellent case studies and practical examples for us web archivists in how to document the transition of web content from one domain to another over time. For example, the Massachusetts Law Updates blog has changed URLs three times since we began crawling it in 2007 for the Law Library. Domain name changes like this have led us to reconsider ways in which we track and manage the archiving process, and effectively provide access for researchers to link these sites together. This example of a Committee site from the Congressional Web Archive shows the change in how the House of Representatives registered their URLs — they went from house.gov/[committee or member name] to [committee or member name].house.gov. While many of the old URLs continued to redirect, we wanted to ensure our records were updated to link these two URLs together in perpetuity.
What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
Some of my coworkers that have known me a while know this, but perhaps not my Law Library colleagues – my alter ego is Miss Abigail, an advice columnist with a massive classic advice book collection. I wrote a book called Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage which led to a 2010 Off-Broadway play written by Ken Davenport and Sarah Saltzberg. It even played in Prague for a while! Now regional theaters around the country sometimes put it on — most recently Paige Davis starred as Miss Abigail in a production in Pittsburgh, which I got to see last year, much to my delight.