PANDORA always takes some explaining. You collect online publications? You mean websites? Aren’t they out there and freely available anyway? Doesn’t the Internet Archive already do that? And why does it need you, couldn’t you just get some software to do it? Well …
PANDORA was set up in the early 1990s. That’s when the internet broke through its government and academic bounds and burst into the public arena, that’s when its navigability changed from a mass of Unix commands to hyperlinks, when it became the World Wide Web. From that point the commentary, poetry, history and art contained thereon became content unique to the platform. And it was collectable.
The Internet Archive was in place, harvesting as much of it as it could, favouring coverage over depth. Other attempts like the Swedish Library’s whole domain collection were faced with the problem of access against the copyright barrier. The National Library of Australia approached the new form of publication as they had any other, like librarians: selecting titles, requesting permission from their publishers, gathering the material, testing it so that it was a fair copy of its live originals, scheduling anything that warranted future gathering, and cataloguing it like a book or a serial for access by anyone who could search the catalogue. The State Library of Victoria joined in 1998.
The average shelf life of online material is one hundred days
What was out there still is but in ancestral form. As the Internet Archive maintain, the average shelf life of online material is one hundred days. Even with the huge variation around that that statistic internet publishing remains ephemeral. Take the Melbourne International Film Festival. PANDORA has been collecting its website since 1998. It has changed from the ground up every year since then, going from the kind of perfunctory web page organisations felt obliged to publish for form’s sake to an essential hub of interactivity. PANDORA lets you trace that timeline with the real thing.
Since the 2000s with most of the state and territory libraries and other collection organisations like Screen Archive in the partnership, PANDORA can collect in greater numbers and to greater depth. The recent federal election collecting is an example of this with the states ensuring the quality control at the local level under the National Library’s coordination resulting in no less than six sub-collections composed of thousands of individual sites, documents, videos etc from the web alone that together stand as a record of how the web was used in the weeks of the poll. The first federal election campaign conducted by PANDORA was in 1996. There are five titles accessible from a single screen that, even on a 4X3 1996 monitor, wouldn’t require as much as a tap on the Page Down key.
Online collecting is also dependent on cooperation at a more local level. Staff throughout the library contribute by sending through links to suitable material and there are well established workflows that ensure that as much government publication comes to our notice. Since the Premier’s Circular of 2005 we have been able to collect online Victorian government material without the permission process and the delays it necessitates. This is in addition to the work of the team itself whose business is knowing the internet social media to perceive trends and shifts in practice. Thematic web searching still returns a lot of titles. PANDORA is nothing if not a collaborative effort.
PANDORA is a collection that continues to expand in scope and grow in magnitude. With the changes achieved by the National Library in the Legal Deposit legislation continued development is secure. The future will see greater efficiency in use of the large scale capacity of Heritrix and perhaps further enrichment nationwide as other states and territories develop their legal deposit provisions to meet the demands of this publishing medium that, while still young, will only grow and continue to challenge.
This post is part of Born Digital 2016, the inaugural digital preservation week – an initiative of the National and State Libraries of Australasia raising awareness of the importance of preserving digital content for the public good.