How an iconic passing seasonal event is preserved by archiving its website
25 September 2014
Tempus transit gelidum
Verque redit floridum
Forma rebus datur
As the mediaeval Latin song succinctly proclaims: the frigid time passes, the world is renewed, spring returns and things again take shape. Well, Canberra residents know spring has sprung when the Floriade festival—that floral celebration of spring—commences in mid-September (even if the cold may not have completely passed us by and home gardeners still look warily for that disastrous late frost). What started in Australia’s Bicentenary year of 1988 as a one off celebration for Canberra’s 75th birthday immediately became an annual event and one of the capital city's biggest tourist and visitor attractions.
In 2000, with the appearance of its own website, Floriade also entered the virtual world in another landmark year: consider the Sydney Olympics and the new millennium. Since its inception Floriade has rejuvenated each year with a new theme which is documented on the website. In 2000 the Floriade theme was ‘Games in the Garden’ to highlight the playfulness of spring with Canberra's Commonwealth Park transformed into a ‘colourful whimsy of recreational games and activities’ and also to give a nod to the Sydney Olympic Games that coincided with Floriade that year. How do I know? Well, the archived website tells me so.
The archived Floriade websites let us revisit the changing themes of the celebration. In 2001, another Australian milestone year, the theme was 'The Century in Bloom' celebrating 100 years since Federation, with a website awash with alluring azure and a quaint ever turning 'shockwave' hourglass showing the passing of time.
In 2007 Floriade celebrated ‘Aussie icons, myths & legends’ and promoted an Aussie Icons Trail through Canberra. While this trail included many of the renowned national institutions in Canberra, including the National Archives, National Film and Sound Archive and Questacon—and a pub!—there seems to have been an oversight in the omission of the National Library of Australia. Still no grudges, we are pleased to preserve Floriade in its virtual website form.
In 2008 Floriade turned 21 and celebrated with a theme of films that shaped our nation. As is perhaps appropriate for a media based theme, for the first time the website included the Floriade television commercials. This was also the first year when the gardens were opened at night for the Floriade NightFest with garden lighting, outdoor film screenings, food, wine and entertainment. This innovation was also the subject of a television commercial now viewable on the archived website.
While Floriade is a major drawcard enticing visitors to the national capital, not everyone is able to make the journey to Canberra. In Australia, we don’t have the luxury of the compact nations where it may not be too onerous to expect the population to visit their national capital and its collecting institutions. However the vastness of the Australian continent that leaves the capital so remote to many is overcome to an increasing degree by the Internet. In this respect it is also important that national institutions actively reach out to all Australians and the National Library collects websites like the Floriade website so that current and future generations can experience such events and other historical documents, at least in a virtual way, wherever they reside.
Much passion, creativity, work and effort goes in to this annual spring floral celebration which is by its very nature ephemeral. However, even ephemeral events and activities if documented can be preserved through the preservation of those records. The Floriade website is an excellent example of this type of record and the potential for preservation and long term access for research and pleasure. The PANDORA Archive collection allows Australians everywhere to enjoy at their leisure more than a decade of the changes and reinvention of this iconic spring celebration.
Finally, on a more technical note, much as the real life Floriade requires a lot of attention and manual work to bring to realisation, so too the web archiving process benefits from attention to quality of the harvested copy which can also involve technical labours. Our archived copies of the Floriade site, including the earliest ones, are in pretty good (not necessarily perfect) shape in respect to the completeness of the captures and their functionality. Such attention to detail means we are able to enjoy the visual elements of these old websites in the PANDORA Archive.
To highlight this, if you look at the copies held by that great and unparalleled resource, the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, you will see what an archived copy without the images would look like. Collecting on a large scale, where sites are swept up without discrimination (as with the Wayback Machine) is an important contribution to collecting web heritage, including our own, but it can also disappoint. For this reason we at the National Library retain a selective web archiving approach to the extent that resources allow—and the Floriade collection demonstrates the value of this approach—although the scale of the online publishing demands that we must increasingly also attend to larger scale collecting initiatives. But that must remain the subject of another another blog post.