December 22, 2010 -- We naturally assume that older books, newspapers and other information sources are kept until we need them. But until recently there has been no easy way to track down earlier versions of information on Websites, despite the fact that they are increasingly important in terms of documenting our culture.
Work by a Library of Congress project to address this challenge is getting worldwide attention. The Memento Project, led by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Old Dominion University, has won the Digital Preservation Award 2010 (external link). The award, given by the Institute for Conservation and the Digital Preservation Coalition, and supported by Sir Paul McCartney, celebrates the highest standards worldwide in the field of digital preservation.
Information on the Web is dynamic, changing every day or even every few seconds. When users visit a site, they are automatically shown the most recent content version. There is no uniform, simple way to find older information. Memento proposes a technical framework aimed at better integrating the current and the past Web. The project has a solution that lets users enable a "time-travel" mode to find content that is date-and-time specific.
In other words, Memento can allow users to see what was formerly on the Web, such as during disasters, national elections or any other point before the current moment. Many people, from scholars to school kids, have a growing need to do this to learn about and understand the past as it is documented on the Web.
"We are enormously pleased that Memento won this award," said Laura Campbell, the Library’s associate librarian for strategic initiatives. "The project team is doing outstanding work. But two other of our National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program partners also deserve recognition for making the short list for the prize," she said.
"The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access did fine work examining the economic basis of stewarding digital content. And the Preserving Virtual Worlds project, lead by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has led the way in exploring preservation of video games."
"Winning the Digital Preservation Award is a big achievement," said William Kilbride, Executive Director of the Digital Preservation Coalition. "It is the only prize in this area that considers projects from every part of the world and that uses an expert panel of judges to pick the best one. The Library of Congress deserves recognition for supporting Memento along with many other innovative projects devoted to digital preservation and access."
"The web has exposed the importance of the 'long tail' of older books and other information resources," said Michael Nelson of Old Dominion University. "We're interested in exploring how to provide access to the 'long tail' of the web itself by integrating separate web archives."
Nelson also sees his project serving a critical educational role. "It is important to make people aware about how important it is to preserve older copies of Web information. And we have an even broader goal: encouraging people to think about digital archiving in general by demonstrating how it can be applied to web pages."
Herbert Van De Sompel of Los Alamos National Laboratory echoed similar thoughts. "This award demonstrates how much people want easy access to the web of the past. The digital preservation and archiving community needs to have a front seat in architectural discussions about how to promote Web persistence."
Van De Sompel noted that Memento has the right sponsor. "It makes sense that the Library of Congress, with its interest in promoting innovative access to knowledge, had the foresight to support this effort."
The Los Alamos Memento team includes Van de Sompel, along with Luydmilla Balakireva, Robert Sanderson and Harihar Shankar. The Old Dominion team includes Nelson along with Scott Ainsworth.