What happens when a brilliant feminist blog gets deleted, or an online magazine disappears? The Women’s Library is ensuring that as many resources as possible leave a more permanent mark through the British Library Web Archive, Inderbir Bhullar explains
The Women’s Library has taken in and stored items relevant to many women’s campaigns, organisations and movements since the 1920s, whether that’s personal or organisational papers, the libraries of individuals or event flyers. These solid, tangible things are links to the past that people can leaf through and touch long after the events and the people themselves have passed.
While the protests that have made news across the world show demonstration and activism relies on people getting together to make their presences felt, much of the debate, discussion and dissemination upon which contemporary feminism relies happens online. Increasingly and meaningfully it appears to be the case that traditional networks and face-to-face communication are being supported by social networking and blogging.
The question pertinent to organisations such as The Women’s Library which are predicated on the notion of celebrating and recording women’s lives has faced is how to collect and record things as traditionally intangible and ephemeral as websites. In 2004, the British Library began its UK Web Archive as an attempt to provide a solution to “a potential ‘digital black hole'”.
The Web Archive exists in a similar manner to all archives which preserve the records they contain for use by current and future generations – only this time the records are all available to view 24/7 provided you have access to a stable enough internet collection and the required hardware. And you don’t even have to worry about only using pencils around them.
The Women’s Library is involved and responsible for nominating websites which can be included as part of the Women’s Issues Special Collection. The collection mirrors not only the existing materials held by The Women’s Library but also the Library’s own collection development policy. Many of the archives held at The Women’s Library are complemented by having their website preserved in this collection, such as the Fawcett Society. But there are a range of UK websites that have been included such as women’s organisations and campaigns, research reports, government publications and statistics pertaining to women, personal sites of women, businesses, blogs, contemporary analysis and women-focused online publications; a total of 313 sites have so far been archived and are available to view (accurate at the time of writing).
During last year’s annual Fawcett Lecture, held by The Women’s Library, comedian Sandi Toksvig spoke about the dangers of the formation of media oligarchies and the risk of the lack of space for disparate opinions. The issue of the cuts was also brought up and particularly the hugely disproportionate impact they would have on women and organisations that rely on women working on behalf of them. Both of these discussion points have inspired women to create their own platforms on which to write, debate and organise by using the world wide web.
Last year, The F-Word featured a timely and stirring piece by Fionnuala Murphy about the difficulties faced by many women’s organisations in the face of the cuts affecting public services and funding sources.
Many of the issues raised by Fionnuala remain prescient and relevant to those who are still involved in the anti-cuts movement and those working hard to secure the future of organisations such as the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Resource Centre.
Indeed The F-Word has featured many articles by women involved in different struggles and has been a part of the archive since 2005, meaning these stories will still be read in years to come. In the case of many women’s organisations, we have unfortunately not been successful in getting permission in time and they have disappeared. This is why we hope to convince as many women’s organisations as we can to archive their sites.
There are a range of sites which we will be including in the project which have been gathered with the help of our staff, volunteers and interns. However, the internet is a pretty big place and there are a lot more of you who are familiar with many more websites that we may have missed and which we should be including. Some of them may even be your own. So in the spirit of collective willing please feel free to send your suggestions to us via email/Twitter/Facebook, etc. For those who still like to communicate ‘IRL’, we still have telephone lines and a physical location. Stay in touch.