Neglected Areas for Web Managers?

Online legacy of ILRT workYesterday I came across two posts in my Facebook stream which addressed areas which appear to be neglected by those with responsibilities for providing institutional web services. In the first of two posts I comment on responsibilities for maintaining the online legacy of staff after they have left their host institution.

“Pondering the online legacy of my work”

Yesterday Virginia Knight shared a link on Facebook to a blog post with the words “Pondering the online legacy of my work at Bristol, or: why is there not much of it visible now?“. in the blog post, entitled “Where did my work go?“, Virginia described how she has been “working out how much of what I did in my sixteen years at ILRT at Bristol University has survived in a recognisable form“. Virginia pointed out that “Obviously there are publications, such as an article in Ariadne [such as ‘The SPP Alerting Portlet: Delivering Personalised Updates’– Editor] and more recently a prizewinning essay” but concluded “my online legacy is harder to trace“.

This is an area of particular interest to me. Almost two years ago I finished work at UKOLN. During my final week at UKOLN I published a series of blog on “Reflections on 16 years at UKOLN“. The five blog posts covered my early involvement with the Web (which dated back to December 1992), my outreach activities, my research work, my work for UKOLN’s core funders and my interests in evidence-based policies and openness.

Digital Preservation – Whose Responsibility?

During my final few months at UKOLN I had responsibilities for managing the preservation of UKOLN’s web resources. In brief this covered updating web sites so that the home page for self-contained activities described the background to the work and made it clear that the web site was no longer being maintained (e.g. see the Cultural Heritage Web site and the web site for the JISC-funded QA Focus project). After updating the content the web sites were archived by the UK Web Archive, which included the main UKOLN Web site, sub-sites (such as the QA Focus project and sites with their own domain such as the Cultivate Interactive ejournal).

In addition to the management of traditional web assets, typically hosted on an institutional web site, I also emphasized the importance of being able to continue to manage and maintain one’s professional profile, running a workshop session at the IWMW 2013 event on “Managing Your Professional Online Reputation“. During this period I became aware of the possible tensions between the provision of institutional web sites and the use of third-party services from the perspective of a professional who wishes to continue professional activities after leaving the host institution. As Virginia has pointed out, one’s online legacy can easily vanish.

But whose responsibility is to ensure that an institution does not lose its scholarly digital resources and individuals do not lose their online legacy? In a poster presented at the LILAC 2014 conference on “Preparing our users for digital life beyond the institution” I summarized a survey carried out by myself and Jenny Evans in which we found that librarians do not feel they are responsible for supporting academics who wish to continue making use of their digital assets after they have left the institution.

I therefore wondered whether web managers felt they had responsibilities for the preservation of web resources, not just as institutional assets but also as assets of value to members of staff after they leave the institution. A workshop session on “Page Not Found’: Practical Web Preservation Advice” was intended to explore some of these issues, with the abstract for the session suggested that “in web site development projects … a full impact analysis encompassing all stakeholders is essential“. Unfortunately the session has been cancelled due to lack of numbers.

In the poster presented at the LILAC 2014 conference I asked, in light of the survey findings “Are librarians enablers of life-long access to digital technologies or custodians of institutional services?” In light of the apparent lack of interest in web preservation at the IWMW 2015 event there seems to be a gap: who should be responsible for managing long-term access to web resources? Perhaps the answer will be self-motivated individuals, just as it was for long-lost copies of episodes of Doctor Who?


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