Study Title: Observing Web Archival Practice
Researcher: Jessica Ogden
Ethics number: ERGO/FSHMS/23189
Please read this information carefully before deciding to take part in this research. If you are happy to participate you will be asked to sign a consent form.
What is the research about?
This study is being undertaken as part of a PhD research project on web archival practice. Much of the focus of the web archiving community has been on the continued development of technologies and practices for web collection development, with increased attention in recent years on facilitating the scholarly use of web archives. This research will take a step back to consider the place of web archives in light of postmodernism, ‘the archival turn’ and emergent questions over the ever-expansive role of memory practices and the archive in everyday life. The mechanisms and circumstances surrounding the production of web archives are fundamental to understanding them as ‘new forms of social data’. This research proposes to re-situate web archives as places of knowledge and cultural production in their own right, by implicating both the web archivist and technologies in the shaping of the ‘politics of ephemerality’ that lead to the creation, maintenance and use of web archives. In short: How does web archival practice (the who, what and how) shape what is known about the Web?
This study aims to address the following objectives:
- To identify key underlying assumptions about what the Web is, what of the contemporary Web is (or isn’t) being archived, and the relative affordances for web archival practice and scholarly use.
- To consider the performativity of web archiving, and the ways in which the practices of selection, collection and classification are forms of knowledge production, and thus shape what is known about the Web.
- To examine the implications for a socio-technical understanding of web archives – by observing the interplay of both social and technological agents in the production of web memory practice(s).
This will be achieved through the use of ethnographic methods to produce an in-depth understanding of the assumptions, motivations, and technologies that inform practice(s) within different communities engaged with archiving the Web. The research will be carried out within three to four distinct ‘communities of practice’ (pending consent) – some of which involve formally dedicated organisations engaged in web archiving such as libraries, archives and other non-profit groups, as well as other less formal, distributed collectives of volunteers and hobbyists. The overall aim is to take into account and document the wider social, cultural, economic and technical landscape in which each community of practice resides.
This study is supported by the Web Science Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Southampton (UK).
Why have I been chosen?
You have been approached because you have been identified as an organisation or member of an organisation that was or is involved in web archiving in some way – including but not limited to activities associated with web harvesting and indexing, metadata or description practices, supporting research, developing archival policies, services, tools and standards, etc.
What will happen if I take part?
The study is taking an ethnographic approach, which includes a flexible period of on-location observation with employees, team members and volunteers involved in web archiving at your organisation. The researcher will observe (as a participant or non-participant, as appropriate) the everyday activities of web archivists and other individuals that support and engage with web archiving. This will involve allowing the researcher to be present at the organisation and to shadow employees and team members in the office during their everyday work activities. The researcher will use digital photography to record some observations and may follow-up with unstructured engagements with individuals, including asking informal questions and clarifications on aspects of activities, as observed.
All observations will be contingent on prior organisational consent, where individuals will be given the opportunity to opt-out should they not wish to take part in the observations.
Walking interviews will be used to contextualise the observations by enabling individual participants to describe their working experience as it exists within the actual space and place of the organisation. Individual participants will be asked to describe and explain their work as it takes place in different physical (and digital) spaces associated with archiving. Occasional follow-up questions will be asked to clarify aspects of each tour, and may also include the use of ‘screen casts’ and other digital recording techniques (e.g. photography) to record the tours of working environments. Each walking interview is expected to last no longer than 1 hour.
Biographical interviews will be used to further situate the observations and give a narrative element to understanding the historical development of web archival practice within your organisation or community. This will involve an in-depth semi-structured interview with the investigator, focusing on the participant’s involvement in web archiving and lasting approximately 1.5-2 hours.
All interviews will be contingent on prior individual consent, and will be audio recorded. Some individuals may be recruited for one or both types of interviews, but individuals are under no obligation to participate in either.
Where available, the researcher will request access to any archival policy and practice documentation produced by your organisation.
Are there any benefits in my taking part?
It is expected that the study will add to current knowledge about the state and development of web archival practice and directly contribute to the investigator’s graduate-level research. Furthermore (and where applicable), it is the researcher’s hope that the study may also incentivise and promote further interaction with web archives within the organisation and the wider community of potential users of web archives.
Are there any risks involved?
The expected risks to involvement are considered minimal and primarily associated with the ‘pseudonymisation’ of observations. All individual participant names will be given pseudonyms in the reporting of the findings of this research, though informants should be aware that full anonymity may not be possible in the context of the relatively small community of individuals and organisations associated with web archiving. The inclusion of organisation names and affiliations in the reporting will be negotiated on a case by case basis. In the event that individuals or organisations do not wish their affiliation to be revealed, organisations will be given a pseudonym, as well.
Will my participation be confidential?
Although this study will not collect personal or sensitive data, anything recorded during the context of the observations deemed confidential will remain so.
What happens if I change my mind?
Organisations and individuals may withdraw at any time and for any reason, at which point your data will be removed from the study.
What happens if something goes wrong?
Should you have any concern or complaint, please contact the University of Southampton Head of Research Governance (+44 2380 595058, rgoinfo[at]soton.ac.uk).
Where can I get more information?
Should you require any further information on the study, please contact the investigator directly (Jessica Ogden: jessica.ogden[at]soton.ac.uk).