Taking the web archive off the virtual shelf

Taking the web archive off the virtual shelf
Presenting archived websites in a library exhibition
11 October 2012

This is a guest post from Maxine Fisher, Digital Content Coordinator (and PANDORA Archive curator) at the State Library of Queensland.

Born digital collections present us with numerous issues and new challenges, but one recent undertaking at State Library of Queensland - a PANDORA Archive partner agency - was the inclusion of archived websites in a Library exhibition. Let me provide you with the background.  Throughout 2011, staff in the Queensland Memory Branch undertook several focused collection development projects to acquire and capture content relating to Queensland's 2010/2011 summer of natural disasters.  Much of the content collected in the wake of our devastating floods was born digital: images, digital stories, videos, and websites - which were archived in PANDORA.  This year the State Library of Queensland launched Floodlines: a living memory - a unique exhibition which paid tribute to the resilience and community spirit of Queenslanders in the face of those disastrous weather events and which showcased some of the digital content collected.

Floodlines Exhibition entrance

Entrance to the State Library of Queensland's Floodlines Exhibition

While Floodlines: a living memory did include some material exhibits, it was for the most part, a high-tech and digitally-immersive exhibition.  Visitors used iPhones or roaming iPads to experience an augmented reality 3D simulation of how Brisbane’s flood waters rose.  There were several projections in the exhibition space, including a wall of digital stories and captivating digital image mosaic.  A number of touch screens were also present - and it was on one of these screens that a number of archived websites were displayed. Not every website captured about the disasters was included on the touch screen, but rather a selection of visually engaging and informative websites that were best suited to the exhibition environment.  These were bookmarked with tabs so that users could browse and readily switch between the different sites featured.  The touch screens allowed visitors to independently explore and experience the websites, and to engage with the content.  A prominent label beside the screen provided information about the PANDORA Archive and where to access the full Flood collection online.  This information was also included in the exhibition website and brochure.

Floodlines Exhibition space

The State Library of Queensland's Floodlines Exhibition space

As we have seen recently with natural disasters and other significant events around the globe, so much of the narrative surrounding these events takes place online.  Our 2010/11 summer of disasters was no exception.  There was groundbreaking use of social media for crisis communication; the web was used to help mobilise a huge and widespread volunteer ‘mud army’; and numerous disaster relief efforts from all over Australia were launched online.  Showcasing archived websites in the Floodlines exhibition was therefore an essential inclusion; given how pervasive and commonplace the web has become in our everyday lives, and the crucial role it played in our disasters and aftermath. Displaying archived websites in this exhibition was one way to provide a meaningful point of interest to draw attention to Australia’s web archiving efforts.  It takes the archive off the virtual shelf and presents it directly to the public.  Moreover it introduces to many the variety of resources we actually collect – that there is so much more to 21st century libraries.  It highlights that we are actively involved in contemporary collecting - taking care to preserve what we can of the web experience of our lifetime and our digital culture – and our attempts to capture a portion of that which seems ever so pervasive, yet is so ephemeral and fragile.

Floodlines Exhibition screens

Touch screens in the State Library of Queensland's Floodlines Exhibition

As more library and other memory institutions build born digital collections, the idea of exhibiting digital content will be an area of challenges and great opportunities for those involved.