Thursday, December 12, 2013

'Scarcity in abundance'

The Mount website captured by the Wayback Machine
at one minute after midnight on June 1, 2005.
WE CAME ACROSS A COUPLE OF EXAMPLES recently of disappearing web content, a common problem for archivists and one that is going to leave a big hole in history. It's sometimes known as the conundrum of "scarcity in abundance," the phenomenon of overwhelming amounts of information in electronic form, very little of which is being retained, preserved and discoverable later.

A staff member recently needed access to the important "Diversity Statement" written during the first years of her presidency by Dr. Jacqueline Powers Doud, 2000-2011. It was posted on the Mount website, taken down at some point during a web update or redesign, and not archived.

In a similar case, a UCLA doctoral student recently wanted to see our "Diversity Timeline," which was also posted for many years on the MSMC website. It too was removed and not archived.

Our preservation fallback.
Thank goodness for the Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine. The computers of this nonprofit organization periodically take snapshots of websites and preserve them in a meaningful way -- they can be located and even searched up to a point, and although the pages are often incomplete or missing some content, at least some material can be found.

The Diversity Timeline shows up in snapshots in the mid-2000s forward. (MSMC home page snapshot shown at top), including the Diversity Statement. December 16, 2008, marks their final snapshot nearly five years ago. In the snapshot of January 31, 2009, the "Leadership in Diversity" pages have disappeared from the Wayback Machine.

You can see them by accessing this link, shown in its entirety:

We're lucky with this content. As the frame capture below shows, some content doesn't make it into the Wayback Machine. Another thing about Wayback is you have to know pretty much exactly what you are looking for, or have a complete link, and not count on ordinary searching.

Handing responsibility for keeping our web pages to a set of algorithms owned by a third party isn't a long-term model. Always in need of more funding, what would happen if the Internet Archive went under? We're both glad it's there, and worried that we're all starting to count on it. Unlike paper, once this stuff is gone, it's really gone.

A blank rectangle frames some white space where a photo gallery
on the MSMC home page was not captured by the web snapshot.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Missing a lion?

The birthday girl, center, with her purloined mascot. (Mount Archives)
ALL THE THANKSGIVING FOOTBALL CLASSICS last week got us thinking about sports and mascots, and the time the Loyola Lion made an unauthorized appearance at the birthday party of a Mount sophomore.

Mount memorabilia belonging to the late Margaret "Pegi" Parkinson '53, who passed away in 2012, recently came to the Archives. 

In among the letters and drama programs was this April 1951 newspaper photo showing Pegi at the center of some collegiate friends trying to pin a couple of corsages onto the mane of a life-sized lion mannequin. 

The picture accompanies a clipping from the Social Notes column of the weekly La Canada-Flintridge Ledger. It describes how 50 of her closest friends helped Peggy celebrate her birthday April 23, 1951, at a surprise party at her parents' home. The papier-mache lion, which had recently gone missing after a pep rally at Loyola, had been spotted in the back seat of Peggy's yellow convertible as she roared around Brentwood and nearby communities. At the party, the Loyola Lion was returned to his rightful owners, but as a substitute the Loyola sophomores pitched in and gave Peggy a 3-foot stuffed version.

The partygoers in the picture are identified, from left, as Ellen Farmer,  Dick Sulik, Joe Kamoda, Peggy, Frank Tarrentino and Mount student Dawnie Cobb (Dolores Cobb Berry '52). In the lion's jaws is Joan Odiorne. The three men were all sophomore members of Loyola's football squad.

Postscript: The spring of 1951 was a big year for pranks involving animal statues.  Just weeks before, a giant plaster Easter Bunny showed up in the Circle, with credit apparently due to a Loyola fraternity. Maybe the lion's disappearance was payback time?