Archiving the 1 October web

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Editor’s note: This is the fourth post of a series that continues the conversation begun in the February 2018 issue of The Public Historian with the roundtable “Responding Rapidly to Our Communities.”

The Las Vegas sign adorned with flowers on October 9, 2017, a week after the shooting

The Las Vegas sign surrounded by flowers, October 9, 2017. Photo credit: Rmvisuals via Wikimedia Commons. Image licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Tragedy struck Las Vegas, Nevada on October 1, 2017, when a gunman opened fire onto a crowd of twenty-two thousand people attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival, injuring over five hundred people and killing fifty-eight. Overnight, Las Vegas became the site of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

Like others across the nation, the staff in the Special Collections and Archives of UNLV’s University Libraries were shocked and horrified in those first few hours, and we checked in with our colleagues and loved ones to make sure they were safe. The next day, we wondered what we could do to help. Reflecting on our mission to document southern Nevada, we realized that we had a critical responsibility to preserve this history—the voices of the survivors, first responders, and communities who rushed to our support—so that we could study, remember, and reflect on it later.

Special Collections and Archives collaborated early with museums in the area, and we determined that we would focus on collecting digital primary sources and oral histories, while the museums focused on collecting physical artifacts. Within a month, our Oral History Research Center (OHRC) began collecting oral history interviews with a variety of individuals to document several aspects of 1 October, including local concert attendees and first responders. We continue to recruit narrators following leads from media stories, by calling police departments, the county coroner’s office, funeral homes, fire departments, and hospitals. The Nevada State Museum is collecting artifacts, memorabilia, and other documentation about the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival as well as physical documents related to the event and its aftermath, while the Clark County Museum is collecting artifacts, memorabilia, and other documentation from memorials and vigils. The Mob Museum is focusing on collecting objects, images, official documents, and stories that illustrate the activities of law enforcement agencies during and after this tragic event.

To capture digital primary sources, we used two methods—web archiving and Twitter archiving.  As the manager of Special Collections and Archives’ web archiving program my immediate thought was to start archiving the reactions and stories on the web. Following the lead of web archives documenting massacres that occurred at Virginia Tech and at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, we created the 1 October Web Archive, which preserves hundreds of websites that document firsthand testimonies, videos, and photographs from attendees and first responders, especially through media coverage. The web archive preserves the diversity of responses across the nation to the massacre by capturing reactions and stories from individuals on social media, YouTube videos of survivors’ stories, and news stories from all sides of the political spectrum.

We are a member of Archive-It, a web archiving service of the Internet Archive that preserves and documents cultural heritage on the web. The service allows libraries, museums, and archives to curate topical collections comprised of archived captures of websites. The ephemeral nature of information on the web makes web archiving particularly important, and we wanted to quickly capture the primary source evidence of the local, national, and international reactions to the shooting in Las Vegas so as not to lose this significant history. We started by archiving websites for local educational institutions, local government, and local media, many of which immediately published temporary statements responding to the horrific massacre. We focused on archiving news stories from the local media but also cast a wide net to capture a broad spectrum of voices.

Using a tool called twarc developed by the Documenting the Now project, we also captured millions of tweets using the term “Las Vegas” as our search parameter. We extracted a list of the top retweeted URLs and archived those websites. We discovered that Twitter users were retweeting articles from traditional news media, such as CNN and the New York Times, but also retweeting blog posts, crowdfunding websites, fake news websites, and live video streams hosted on Periscope TV, Twitter’s live-streaming video app. We also discovered many retweets to personal accounts—some of which were already deleted by their users by the time we started archiving.

Web archiving is vital for preserving primary source evidence for future discovery and access. Information on the Web is ephemeral, fleeting, and unstable. Evidence of our activities that is online today can easily be taken down tomorrow without any recourse for recovering the information. The life cycle of most web pages lasts for a few months, so with over one billion websites (and counting) it becomes vital for cultural heritage organizations to play our part in preserving this material. We hope to continue archiving websites and capturing the memories and testimonies of those who experienced the massacre firsthand. Eventually, our goal is to provide access not only through our institutional Archive-It page but also to enable users to discover the web archive through a collection finding aid published on the Special Collections and Archives website and the UNLV Libraries online catalog. Our hope is that our efforts will ensure that future users will be able to discover, access, and study the evidence of what occurred on October 1, 2017, as it was presented on the web. For now, we are sharing information about the project and details on how to contribute memories, content, and websites on our UNLV University Libraries Special Collections and Archives blog. Feel free to contact us. And we hope you will visit us when in Las Vegas for the annual meeting.

~ Tammi Kim is a special collections and archives technical services librarian at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where she is responsible for accessioning, University Archives, and web archiving. She holds a master’s in library science from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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