LOC to track edits, updates of websites

Thursday - 12/23/2010, 10:41am EST

Martha Anderson, Director of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, Library of Congress

Click to hear the interview.

Download mp3

There's really no easy way to track down earlier versions of information on websites. Until now. The Library of Congress has come up with a project called "Memento," which allow you to see what used to be on any particular website, before it was updated.

The tool is centered around a plug-in which when installed on a web browser would allow the user to access earlier versions of websites.

Martha Anderson, the director of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program at the Library of Congress, which developed the tool, said that the current web-archiving environment is one in which there are numerous separate organizations around the world that are extensively archiving websites, but are not connected in any way.

The plug-in allows users to connect to a network of 50 of those organizations, including domestic, international, and academic organizations, and access their database of cataloged previous editions of websites

The plug-in is available to the public at large, and allows anyone to "install it in their browser and just look around for the kinds of things that interest them," Anderson said.

There are useful applications for the tool as well, Anderson said, and they hit close to home at the Library of Congress.

"A lot of public policy is based on knowing what happened before, and at the Library, we have Congressional researchers, and they are heavy users of older websites because they look at what Congress was doing around certain events," Anderson said. These include national disasters,or supreme court nominations. "Now, most of [that] stuff is not available in a printed form that libraries can bind and put on their shelf, it's actually mostly digital. So this provides in the way of consulting it for research."

The Memento project recently won the Digital Preservation Award which is given by the Institute for Conservation and the Digital Preservation Coalition in the U.K. Sir Paul McCartney is among the funders of the coalition, which Anderson said contributed a celebrity element the award.

The plug-in can be downloaded at www.Mementoweb.org, where users can also get detailed technical information about the project. The tool works well with Firefox, Anderson said, but has been developed for other browsers as well.

"At the library we feel that this is one of those disruptive ideas that can change the way we think and work with the information that comes to us everyday," Anderson said.