One of the areas we started to explore with our digital archive project for www.open.ac.uk/library/digital-archive was web archiving. The opportunity arose to start to capture course websites from our Moodle Virtual Learning environment from 2006 onwards. We made use of the standard web archive format WARC and eventually settled on Wget as the tool to archive the websites from moodle, (we’d started with using Heritrix but discovered that it didn’t cope with our authentication processes). As a proof of concept we included one website in our staff version of our digital archive (the downside of archiving course materials is that they are full of copyright materials) and made use of a local instance of the Wayback machine software from the Internet Archive. [OpenWayback is the latest development]. So we’ve now archived several hundred module websites and will be starting to think about how we manage access to them and what people might want to do with them (beyond the obvious one of just looking at them to see what was in those old courses).
So I was interested to see a tweet and then a blog post about a tool called warcbase – described as ‘an open-source platform for managing web archives…’ but particularly because the blog post from Ian Milligan combined web archiving with something else that I’d remembered Tony Hirst talking and blogging about, IPython and Jupyter. It also reminded me of a session Tony ran in the library taking us through ipython and his ‘conversations with data’ approach.
The warcbase and jupyter approach takes the notebook method of keeping track of your explorations and scripting and applies it to the area of web archives to explore the web archive as a researcher might. So it covers the sort of analytical work that we are starting to see with the UK Web Archive data (often written up on the UK Web Archive blog). And it got me starting to wonder both about whether warcbase might be a useful technology to explore as a way of thinking about how we might develop a method of providing access to the VLE websites archive. But it also made me think about what the implications might be of the skills that librarians (or data librarians) might need to have to facilitate the work of researchers who might want to run tools like jupyter across a web archive, and about the technology infrastructure that we might need to facilitate this type of research, and also about what the implications are for the permissions and access that researchers might need to explore the web archive. A bit of an idle thought about what we might want to think about.