Archiving the Belgian internet

20 December 2019

Web archiving is a hot topic. The 107 Belgian and international participants of the 'Saving the Web: the Promise of a Belgian Web Archive' colloquium prove this. In doing so, researchers of the PROMISE project set out a federal strategy for the preservation of the Belgian Internet in the Royal Library of Belgium (KBR) and the State Archives. 

Why is a web archive necessary? 

Preserving Online Multiple Information: towards a Belgian strategy’ (PROMISE) was established in 2017 to actively get to work on web archiving. According to Professor Niels Brügger, speaker at the colloquium, we have to avoid losing another 25 years of Belgian web history. Without a national web archive it is not possible to do national and international historical analyses based on the web. 

Moreover, nowadays the Internet is the preferred means of communication and a publication channel in its own right. Publications used to be restricted to printed publications that were kept by the legal depository. We must not lose sight of digital publications either now. By preserving them for the long term, future generations will be able to study Belgium's history. 

Belgium's national web 

Several researchers considered the selection policy of which websites should be archived. A national web is defined as all domain names that are linked to the Belgian territory, such as domain names with the extensions .be, .vlaanderen, .brussels, etc. supplemented with online information about the country in question, e.g. relevant information aimed at the population or in the national language', explains project member Friedel Geeraert. Content created on the Belgian territory, etc. also comes into consideration.

In the case of libraries, for example, we are also thinking of a slightly broader selection of the national web in combination with more selective collections on themes such as elections or attacks. Within the State Archives it is more about the websites of government agencies,' says Geeraert.

During the research project, DNS Belgium was consulted several times for more information about data and classification mechanisms. Several researchers studied the selection policy of which websites should be archived. They examined legal issues and sought answers to questions such as: what about copyrights and the protection of personal data? How much does the evidential value of online archived content weigh? 

Results of the PROMISE research project

During the colloquium, the results of the PROMISE research project were discussed. The best practices within web archiving were presented together with the results of the legal analyses, the strategy and various scenarios developed by the State Archives and KBR. 
An important legal finding, for example, was that copyright legislation severely restricts access to the web archive. In most cases, the web archive would only be accessible in the KBR's reading room. 

The web archiving process' technical specifications and the results of the survey on user needs within web archives were also discussed. The many advantages of web archiving became clear. Researchers could use the archived material, for example for a literature study within political or social sciences. This would provide great added value for the research community and society. 

Thanks to the wide range of perspectives and visions on web archiving, the colloquium ensured a cross-fertilisation between different professionals in the world of web archiving and the study of archived websites. The PROMISE project team is already entering the final months of the project full of new inspiration. 

With this article, we support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.