Reviewed December 2020
Miranda Siler, MSLIS/MA History of Art and Design Candidate, Pratt Institute
NYARC Web Archiving Fellow at the Frick Collection
The Collective Architecture and Design Response to Covid-19 Web Archive uses the tool Archive-It, developed by Internet Archive, to collect resources related to architecture and Covid-19. This collection was curated by librarians from Harvard, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania in conjunction with the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation (IPLC). So far, the group has archived forty web sites that run the gamut of coronavirus landing pages on popular architecture news websites or professional groups like the AIA, individual articles, open-source face shield designs, and more. The collection is geared toward anyone within the greater design community, which they define as “practitioners and organizations who play a role in shaping public space and the built environment, including: architects, landscape architects, urban planners, and artists.”
Many are familiar with the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Archive-It collections use the same web crawling and playback technologies but include a few significant differences. The first is the ability to curate and display a specific collection, which allows the user to browse through archived resources as opposed to needing a specific URL as a starting point. Along with this, archivists can assign metadata to the archived pages using Dublin Core elements. For this specific collection, the archivists decided to use the subject, creator, and language elements, although the date of capture is also displayed. This level of metadata is consistent with other IPLC collections, and is useful as a means for faceted searching of resources. Users are also able to search the full text of the sites, which could prove very useful as practitioners start to reimagine design norms in response to the pandemic. The concept of social distancing has forced the industry (as well as individuals) to think more carefully about space planning and airflow, among other things. For example, a user may search for something specific, like “cubicle”, or something more broad, like “ventilation.” As experts warn that pandemics are increasingly likely, architecture and adjacent fields need to design health-oriented spaces that can respond to changing needs. This collection is a good place to start that initial design research.
The other major difference between simply archiving through the Wayback Machine and creating an Archive-It collection is the ability to perform quality assurance (QA) measures on the archived sites. The web crawler rarely captures all of the elements on a page, so the archivist is able to manually go through each page and patch in any missing documents deemed essential to the site. QA is a meticulous and time-consuming process and is often something smaller web archiving teams do not have the resources to perform in its entirety. This may be the case with this collection. It is also important to note that all IPLC web collections are works in progress, so fuller captures may be forthcoming. At the moment, many trickier elements such as image galleries do not display properly, and in some cases, there are images that are simply missing. In another example, subject tabs on the AIA coronavirus landing page do not seem to work, although it is hard to tell if this is an issue that could be solved through the QA process, or if it is a playback problem that would need to be addressed by Archive-It’s engineering team.
Despite these issues, this is still a useful resource for present-day practitioners and future architectural historians. The Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation curated a web archive that has both breadth and depth of content, with the ability to add more as the pandemic continues. By assigning appropriate metadata, the group has taken advantage of the user-friendly Archive-It interface. The most significant issue is the lack of QA on specific pages, which plagues many web archives. The web archivists cannot be faulted too much on this point; they did an excellent job of quickly creating this archive, likely with limited people-hours. Overall, the Collective Architecture and Design Response to Covid-19 Web Archive is a timely resource that can be used by a wide audience.