Columbia University Libraries Releases Human Rights Web Archive

The HRWA, which was made possible by generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is a collaborative initiative of the Libraries’ Center for Human Rights Documentation & Research, its Web Resources Collection Program, and its Digital Program Division.  HRWA’s search and discovery system also makes use of the Internet Archive’s Archive-it web services as an integral part of its functionality.  

The HRWA allows archived websites to be searched and browsed by their titles, urls, subjects, geographic focus, and language.  A full-text index of all web pages and documents allows results to be searched and filtered by keywords, web domain, date of website capture, file type, geographic focus, organization type and other key attributes.  The Archive is currently in beta release to allow for more feedback and user testing.  New features and enhancements are under development, and the next production release is planned for March 2013.

Selection of sites for HRWA is done by Columbia subject specialists and web curators with input from external human rights researchers and practitioners.  The website also includes a means for users to nominate additional websites for inclusion.

According to Pamela Graham, Director of the Center for Human Rights Documentation & Research, web-based information produced by human rights organizations is often at risk of disappearing within a short time period.  “Archiving websites is essential to preserving a record of human rights advocacy, practice, and research.  We also hope to support and foster new approaches to discovering and using human rights information that is disseminated online.”

The Libraries' commitment to integrating web archiving into ongoing collection development and preservation best practice is informed by collaboration with other research libraries and the broader web archiving community.  Plans are currently underway for Columbia to increase collaboration with and provide assistance to other institutions wishing to develop or expand their web collecting efforts, and to engage more directly with website owners and human rights researchers. 

Alex Thurman, Web Resources Collection Coordinator, believes that collecting and archiving websites is a vital new role for research libraries made more challenging by the ever expanding volume of online content and the dynamic evolution of the web technologies used to express them. “Many millions of people are creating web content and only a few thousand are currently engaged in archiving websites.  To succeed in our goal of preserving primary materials for present and future researchers it’s essential that we collaborate on best practices and strive to create web archive collections of broad and lasting interest and make them usefully accessible to the public.”

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 11 million volumes, over 150,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, and graphic and audio-visual materials. The services and collections are organized into 22 libraries and various academic technology centers. The Libraries employs more than 500 professional and support staff. The website of the Libraries is the gateway to its services and resources: