Earth Day 2020 Has Gone Digital

This is a guest post by Jennifer “JJ” Harbster, Head of the Science Reference Section in the Library’s Science, Technology and Business Division. She had her first taste of web archiving with the Internet Archive’s collaborative project documenting Hurricane Katrina and went on to lead the Science Blogs Web Archive.

On April 22, 2020 we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which was first initiated on April 22, 1970 by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. To commemorate this event, I am leading a web archiving project to take snapshots on how communities across the United States will be celebrating the occasion. The purpose is to create a collection that documents actions and activities organized by U.S. environmental groups; scientific societies and associations; college campuses; city, state, and federal government; and notable environmental activists and artists. What are the messages for Earth Day 2020? Are there any notable patterns or themes across the U.S.?

Many months ago when I first proposed this project to the Library’s Web Archiving Team, there was no way to predict that the world would be on lockdown and staying home due to Covid-19. Earth Day 2020 scheduled events and programs were cancelled throughout the country and I thought the Earth Day 2020 Web Archive would soon be cancelled, too. What I discovered is that Earth Day celebrations are pivoting to Earth Day at home with online actions and activities. Although folks will not be physically marching in the streets, attending sponsored events, picking up trash, or planting trees for Earth Day 2020, they will be participating in the very first Digital Earth Day. For example, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin is hosting a Virtual Earth Day Conference and the University of Georgia’s (UGA) Office of Sustainability is hosting an Earth Day Challenge, asking the UGA community to submit artistic expressions related to the appreciation and connection to the “earth, people, or other living creatures during this time of uncertainty, and how this can inspire an even better future.”

Figure 1. Four of the 2020 events that will be included in the LC Earth Day 2020 Web Archive.

The LC Earth Day 2020 web content is being nominated by science, business, and social science librarians and two staff from the American Folklife Center. The collection will be timed (we began weekly crawls of websites on April 1 and will end in June). We are collecting articles about Earth Day at 50, as well as examples of actions and activities of various communities and organizations across the country.

So far we have collected webpages from environmental/conservation organizations, government agencies, cities, and college campuses from across the country. Even if an event has been totally cancelled, we are still collecting the website to record the planned list of programs, speakers, and activities. We are also capturing pre- and post-Covid-19 articles about Earth Day 2020. And the nominations are still coming in…

Figure 2. [The Earth with the Milky Way and moon], www.loc.gov/resource/cai.2a11699/.

Archiving Digital Earth Day has posed some complex challenges. Much of the digital activities are not being hosted on the organizations’ main websites. For example, speaker series and other events are being posted on YouTube, Facebook, and other social media. So our team will be adding a lot of seed URLs as starting points for the web crawler (we are planting digital seeds, which seems perfect for a digital Earth Day). Another challenge is that new digital activities continue to be under development, so there is a need to be constantly surveying the landscape of Earth Day events for sites to add.

After all is said and done, the preservation and documentation of this moment in history will be available for future generations to study, reflect on, and connect with. Feel free to share in the comments a link to what your community is doing to digitally commemorate this golden anniversary of Earth Day.

One Comment

  1. lentigogirl
    April 22, 2020 at 4:38 pm

    Thank you for preserving Earth Day 50. Love our mother!

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