Announcing the LC Commissioned Composers Web Archive

It is with great excitement that I announce the availability of a new web archive collection from the Library of Congress – the LC Commissioned Composers Web Archive! This digital collection contains archived websites of composers commissioned with Music Division funds. Of course, not all composers we’ve commissioned since 1925 have websites, including living composers, so this collection is a sampling, albeit rich with research potential. On the homepage of the collection, I’ve included a collection scope and a list of Expert Resources. These resources are links to the Music Division’s Concert Office, the Performing Arts Reading Room, LC blog posts about commissioned composers, and a related web archive collection from Ivy Plus.

A screen shot of the Featured Content bar on the collection homepage

I have many goals with curating this ongoing digital collection. First and foremost, I want the entire music community to know the integral role the Library of Congress has played and continues to play in commissioning and advocating for living composers – jazz and classical. The LC Commissioned Composers Web Archive as a whole can serve as that digitally visible evidence to users near and far. I also want this collection to serve as a tool for learning and discovery. On one level, users who scroll through the collection items may learn the name of a composer they never knew before. This was definitely the case for me while compiling over 450 commissioned composers’ names! Another level is data analysis of the collection as a whole, be it the country domains, the file formats in the websites themselves, languages, and more.

In the collection-level description, I wrote, “This web archive is not only a resource in itself, but also an information pathway to the Music Division’s unique collection materials,” referring to the online catalog and finding aid links in item summaries. I encourage users to click on item records and read the summaries because they may learn something new about a composer familiar to them, be it a piece of repertoire to explore or the fact that we may hold the composer’s papers. While users may learn that a particular composer was commissioned in a certain year with a specific fund, they can also discover that the original score, sketches, and drafts are accessible for study in the Performing Arts Reading Room. In this way, exploration of an archival digital object could also lead to exploration of an archival analog object.

Once inside our version of the Wayback Machine, users can explore a website very much how it appeared at the moment of capture. Archived websites contain links to social media, embedded music and video, PDF files of writings and press kits, and even blogs written by the composers themselves. Of course, the capability of web crawlers has evolved over time, and older incidental captures from prior to this collection’s 2018 start date may have fewer subpages to explore than more recent ones. Streaming content is difficult to capture, but YouTube videos, embedded MP3 files, photos, and text appear. You can learn more about the technology and scope of LC’s web archiving program here.

Click on an item thumbnail image or “View Captures” to enter the Wayback Machine’s calendar interface. Slide the radial dial to visualize crawls over time. Click on a date highlighted by a blue circle to see what a website looked like on a specific capture date.

A screen shot from the collection: John Adams’s biography page as captured on December 13, 2005. View the website’s item record here.

The 103 archived websites currently available online are part of the Web Archiving Team’s rollout of 4,258 archived websites. The number of websites in the LC Commissioned Composers Web Archive will increase to over 220 by the spring because the Library’s policy is to embargo archived websites for one year from the first crawl. And, the more composers the Music Division commissions, the more websites and social media feeds that can be potentially added! In an interview with Trevor Owens last June about how I selected the collection content (“appraisal” in archives terminology), I emphasized the “aggregate value” of web archives in terms of time. The longer we crawl a website, the more versions of it we preserve, and the more information there will be to comb through within a single record.

A screen shot taken on December 5, 2019 of John Adams’s biography page from his website on the live web.

 

 

For users a decade from now, that could mean a drastic change in a composer’s new projects page, which recordings or videos are featured, a greatly expanded biographical statement, or compositions being added or removed from a works list. Thought of in these ways, web archiving is how we can track the evolution of musical composition as we know it over time through the lives of the people who participate in the craft. The documentation of cultural heritage in the digital age is unique, and so the information profession adapts to preserve it in kind.

Enjoy this new digital collection. If you have questions about how to use it or about the collection as a whole, reach out through Ask a Librarian!

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