If you believe the Web (and who doesn’t believe everything they read on the Web?), it boastfully celebrated its 25th birthday last year. Twenty-five years is long enough for the first “children of the Web” to be fully-grown adults, just now coming of age to recognize that the Web that grew up around them has irrevocably changed.
In this particular instance, change is good. It’s only by becoming aware of what we’re losing (or have already lost) that we’ll be spurred to action to preserve it. We’ve been aware of the value of the historic Web for a number of years here at the Library of Congress, and we’ve worked hard to understand how to capture the Web through the Library’s Web Archiving program and the work we’ve done with partners.
But let’s go back to those “children of the Web.” Nostalgia is a powerful driver for preservation, but most preservation efforts are driven by full-grown adults. If they’re able to bring a child’s perspective to their work, it’s only through the prism of their own memory, and in any event, the nostalgic items they may wish to capture may not be around anymore by the time they get to them. What’s needed is not just a nostalgic memory of the Web, but efforts to curate and capture the Web with a perspective that includes the interests of the young. And who better to represent the interests of the young than children and teenagers themselves! Luckily the Library of Congress has such a program: the K-12 web archiving program.
The K-12 Web Archiving program has been operating since 2008, engaging dozens of schools and hundreds of students from schools, large and small, from across the U.S. in understanding what the Web means to them, and why it’s important to capture it. In partnership with the Internet Archive, the program enables schools to set up their own web capture tools and choose sets of web resources to collect – resources that represent the full range of youthful experience, including popular culture, commerce, news, entertainment and more.
Cheryl Lederle, an Educational Resource Specialist at the Library of Congress, notes that the program builds student awareness of the internet as a primary source as well as how quickly it can change. The program might best be understood through the reflections of participating teachers:
- “The students gained an understanding of how history is understood through the primary sources that are preserved and therefore the importance of the selection process for what we are digitally preserving. But, I think the biggest gain was their personal investment in preserving their own history for future generations. The students were excited and fully engaged by being a part of the K-12 archiving program and that their choices were being preserved for their own children someday to view.” – MaryJane Cochrane, Paul VI Catholic High School
- “The project introduced my students to historical thinking; awareness of digital data as a primary source and documentation of current events and popular culture; and helped foster an appreciation and awareness of libraries and historical archives.” – Patricia Carlton, Mount Dora High School
And participating students:
- “Before this project, I was under the impression that whatever was posted on the Internet was permanent. But now, I realize that information posted on the Internet is always changing and evolving.”
- “I find it very interesting that you can look back on old websites and see how technology has progressed. I want to look back on the sites we posted in the future to see how things have changed.”
- “I was surprised by the fact that people from the next generation will also share the information that I have collected.”
- “They’re really going to listen to us and let us choose sites to save? We’re eight!”
Collections from 2008-2014 are available for study on the K-12 Web Archiving site, and the current school year will be added soon. Students examining these collections might:
- Compare one school’s collections from different years;
- Compare collections preserved by students of different grade levels in the same year;
- Compare collections by students of the same grade level, but from different locations;
- Create a list of Web sites they think should be preserved, write a brief description of the value of each, and organize them into two or three collections.
What did your students discover about the value of preserving Web sites?