The preservation of Brazilian government websites

Mrs. Carolina Oliveira - Dr. Moises Rockembach

World Digital Preservation Day celebrated on 4 November 2021 has the theme ’Breaking Down Barriers’. The digital environment has this kind of ‘power’ indeed! We’d like to share just some of the initiatives for digital preservation, especially websites and social media, we are developing in Brazil.

The preservation of digital content from the web, whether made available on websites or social networks, allows control over the organization and retrieval of information, as well as access over time, given the quickness with which this data is lost on the web. For this reason, we understand that web archiving is defined as a process that comprises the collection, storage and availability of retrospective information from the World Wide Web for future researchers and the general public.

On this basis, in 2020 we started the case study The preservation of Brazilian government websites by the National Archives of Brazil, an ongoing project that aims to study the web environment and digital preservation with web archiving. Our concerns were about continuous access to older versions of websites and the migration of all the websites of the Federal Executive Branch to a new domain, which is

Federal Decree 9,756 of 2019 established the rules for unifying the Internet communication channel, such as government websites and apps, but does not rule on the preservation of websites. With this in mind, we have decided to use Conarq’s1 website as the subject of this case study (figure 1).

Figure 1 – National Council on Archives of Brazil website main page on 27 October 2021 

This case study has the purpose of studying methodologies and best practices for website preservation, since Brazil does not yet have web archiving on a continuous and periodical basis covering national domains. In addition, we are interested in case studies involving the preservation of government websites and how these studies can stimulate debate and the adoption of public policies for web archiving. 

Another initiative came from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), the headquarters of the Research Group of Web Archiving and Digital Preservation – NUAWEB2;(figure 2). It was created in 2017 to investigate the characteristics of web archiving through national and international initiatives, dealing with both the policies and the technologies involved in the process. Its studies are related to the preservation, use and access over time of digital objects available on the web in a retrospective manner and as digital memory.

Figure 2 – The Research Group of Web Archiving and Digital Preservation – NUAWEB 

It is important to emphasize the notion that websites should be considered as records – according to the definition whereby they are a product of organizations’ activities. However, as complex records are used for many purposes, they require collaborative work between Archival Science, Library Science, Information Science, Communication Science and Computer Science, in an interdisciplinary way. 

In the Brazilian scenario, digital preservation has been a constant debate between academics and practitioners. Challenges? Costs of infrastructure, personnel and technical abilities, comprehension of the digital components of websites and social media, biases, legal and ethical issues, etc. These challenges are opportunities as well, because they unlock potential for connections, innovative work, and continued access to digital records and knowledge on the web. 

(1) The National Council on Archives of Brazil – Conarq is a collegiate body, linked to the National Archives of Brazil. It was created by Art. 26 of Law 8,159 of 8 January 1991, with the purpose of defining the national policy of public and private archives.