University of Rochester

Mellon Grant to Aid in Archiving Web Sites Useful to Scholars

January 9, 2008

Librarians at the University of Rochester will soon be designing a system for preserving information from the World Wide Web with a $69,500 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Staff at Rush Rhees Library will develop a plan for preserving and storing online data and create a prototype computer system, to be called the Ephemeral Web Archive (EWA), to perform the task. The group also will develop a community of other universities and institutions that will take part in the wide scale implementation of the preservation system.

Rochester will be building on the work done by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization that has been active in preserving the Web for more than 10 years. The EWA will preserve selected Internet sites by using the storage and technological infrastructure of The Internet Archive.

The University was one of four institutions––the others are Stanford and Columbia universities and the University of Maryland––that received Mellon grants for Web archiving.

The Internet is rapidly becoming the preferred medium for posting and sharing data and Stanley Wilder, Associate Dean of River Campus Libraries, said the EWA will ensure that the information most important to scholars isn't lost. Currently, webmasters can remove content from the World Wide Web with no warning and no plans to repost it.

"So much really high-quality information on the World Wide Web can disappear in a heartbeat and there's no way of ever finding it again," Wilder said. "This grant will help us preserve the content on the Web and make access to it really easy."

Wilder said the system will be designed to archive Web sites, whose creators are unaware of how important it is to preserve the site's information when they change it or take it down. Some may not know how to preserve it, Wilder said, but others may not see the point. For instance, campaign Web sites are invaluable sources of information, but are often killed as soon as Election Day passes.

Wilder said his staff will work with University faculty to identify information online that has the most scholarly value. They will preserve that information using the new prototype computer system. He added that the University's participation in planning and designing the EWA will likely segue into a prominent role when actual preservation begins.

The University has received grants for other projects from the Mellon Foundation. In October, the library staff was awarded a $749,000 grant from the foundation to use toward building and deploying the eXtensible Catalog (XC), a set of open-source software applications libraries can use to share their collections.