Preserving UTSA’S Presence on the Web

Nov 17, 2014

By Ryan Schoensee, Communications Specialist

Special Collections gathers and preserves UTSA’s website content for the University Archives.

For many of us, perusing favorite corners of the Internet is a daily ritual, and sometimes we find these corners wearing new coats of paint. Websites are constantly evolving and replacing their content­—but once a site is updated, is all that old content gone forever?

Not at UTSA.  The university has positioned itself to be on the forefront of a new archival trend—ensuring that past iterations of the university’s websites are not lost and forgotten.

Charged with curating the university’s online history, Special Collections maintains a list of official and UTSA-related websites. These sites are then captured and preserved for public access and research as part of the University Archives collections.

In 2009 Special Collections realized the importance of documenting the Web and became an early adopter of Archive-It, an online tool that tracks and captures websites. Using Archive-It, Special Collections captures UTSA websites biannually after each fall and spring semester.

After being carefully curated by Special Collections, previous website iterations are available for full access on the Wayback Machine, Archive-It’s online portal for viewing page captures through time.

UTSA’s online archive contains hundreds of sites ranging from academic departments, student organizations and university administration. Student organizations like PRSSA, The Paisano, American Society of Civil Engineering, chronicle their organizations through their social media outlets, which Special Collections also tracks and archives.

The earliest record of UTSA’s website occurred in 1996, when the Wayback Machine was first created by Archive-It as an archive for the Internet. At this time, online archiving was still rudimentary and only able to capture snapshots of text and photos. This later caused issues for researchers and archivists because sites weren’t accurately stored.

“The Internet can be a messy place but we are doing everything we can to preserve this important online content that documents UTSA’s Web presence,” said Julianna Barrera-Gomez, University Archivist. “In order to thoroughly capture data you have to get intimate with these websites; you have to know how they are made.”

Archiving the Web has since improved, but archivists still encounter hiccups when trying to capture videos; sites with interactive Javascript; web calendars that stretch to infinity; or content that can only be displayed with a user’s input or login credentials.

Special Collections also collects websites from groups outside of UTSA such as San Antonio Organizations, Mexican Cooking Blogs, Renewable Energy in Texas and many more. See the UTSA Archive-It page for a complete list of all the websites being archived and visit Special Collections’ The Top Shelf for more information.