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Ask the Recommending Officer: The Civil War Sesquicentennial Web Archive

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The following is a guest post by Abbie Grotke,  Web Archiving Team Lead at the Library of Congress.

As I’ve written about before, LC takes a selective approach when archiving the web. Selection of sites is not something we automate; Recommending Officers (or, “ROs” in LC lingo), do this work.

Recommending materials for addition to the Library’s collections is the responsibility of RO’s in the area, subject, and format divisions of Library Services and the Law Library. Not only do they recommend analog materials for the Library’s collections, these subject experts, curators, and reference librarians are increasingly tasked with selecting born-digital content for the Library’s collections. Some suggest ideas for themes and events to document, and many select the specific sites that end up in our web archives.

http:/, archived June 1, 2011
http:/, archived June 1, 2011

To give you some additional insight into how and why we build our web archives, I thought I’d kick off a series of occasional “ask the RO” posts. First up: our colleague Will Elsbury talks about our ongoing Civil War Sesquicentennial Web Archive.

Who are you, and what’s your job at the Library of Congress?

Will Elsbury, Reference Librarian, Main Reading Room, and Pre-Twentieth Century Military History Specialist for the Humanities and Social Sciences Division.

Tell us about the Civil War Sesquicentennial Web Archive.

The Civil War is a hotly debated subject. I think the Civil War Sesquicentennial comes at a very interesting time politically and economically speaking. The war’s issues resonate with many things going on today; the issue of states’ rights versus federal rights; civil rights and racial relations; and war casualties and costly military expenditures are as intensely debated now as they were in the 1860’s. Governments and organizations have had to decide if and how they will commemorate this anniversary, especially with tight budgets affecting these decisions.

http:/, archived July 7, 2011
http:/, archived July 7, 2011

Though there are quite a number of Civil War reenactments taking place, many other groups have chosen to conduct solemn and muted events, rather than the more celebratory events seen during the Civil War Centennial. I think this choice shows a connection with other commemorations such as the upcoming tenth anniversary of September 11 and an immediate appreciation of military sacrifice in light of losses suffered in the current ongoing conflicts. The project will continue for four years to encompass the entire period of the Sesquicentennial.

Why did you want to build this archive?

I want the archive’s primary focus to be the commemoration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, and not the Civil War in general. There are thousands of Civil War web sites, so I want this specialized archive to show the particular aspects of digital memorialization and commemoration regarding the war. Many organizations, government bodies at all levels, and individuals have created an online Sesquicentennial presence, often times instead of or in addition to print materials. Gathering and preserving the print materials is fairly straightforward, but archiving online content that very often has a limited lifespan is a growing concern. I wanted to create the archive to preserve these online materials that otherwise might never be seen again and might not be accessible for future research.

What sorts of websites are you preserving?

The archive has sites from all levels of American government, organizations of many kinds, businesses and individuals. There are also some foreign-based sites from such countries as Canada and the United Kingdom. The archive has strong components of government sites and various blogs.

How do you see researchers using an archive like this?

http:/, archived May 5, 2011
http:/, archived May 5, 2011

Memorialization and commemoration of famous and infamous events have long been parts of historical and societal study. Hopefully, this archive will act as a tool for researchers wanting to study the Sesquicentennial in comparison to the Centennial and other commemorative events in form, content and in the context it took place amongst other events going on in American society at the time. The ability of researchers to use this material is unlimited; they can apply what they find here to many fields of social study.

How has the response been from potential participants?

I have been pleasantly surprised at the overwhelmingly positive response. As of now about 180 sites have been nominated for inclusion and around 90% of site owners have agreed to take part. I’m always looking for additional sites.


  1. At least some bloggers can still write. Thanks for this piece

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