You may think of the GIFs, memes, and emoji you swiftly deploy every day as just ephemeral contributions to internet conversations, but they won’t be lost to time even as you forget about them. The Library of Congress — yes, this nation’s oldest federal cultural institution — has been collecting your viral (and not so viral) web content for the past three years, and it recently made public two web archives that capture the internet in all its creative, silly, wonderful, and downright terrifying glory.
Joining preserved WPA posters, vintage panoramic photographs, and decades-old poetry and literature recordings are the Web Cultures Web Archive and the Webcomics Web Archive. The former compiles websites that have considerably shaped online culture, for better or worse: Urban Dictionary, Internet Meme Database, Giphy, Emojipedia, and the nightmarish CREEPYPASTA are among those sites that curators have already saved and catalogued, like any other material item the library has digitized. The Web Cultures Web Archive, notably, is part of the American Folklife Center — a categorization that reminds that folklore doesn’t refer only to past traditions but also to culture created in the digital age.
“Memes, emojis and other cultural expression on the web are very much folklore,” Nicole Saylor, head of the American Folklife Center Archives told Hyperallergic. “Folklore is informal shared knowledge that connects us to each other. It is just as much, if not more, of an agent of the present as it is of the past. Folklore is about understanding how people create traditions and make meaning in everyday life, and it has adapted to the digital age.”
The Webcomics Web Archive celebrates a specific corner of the website — that of online comics, from Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half to The Nib, edited by Matt Bors. As librarian Megan Halsband explained, the library has been collecting webcomics since 2011, specifically archiving Ignatz award-winning and -nominated web comics. In the last three years it expanded the collection to include recently launched webcomics; curators also made a conscious effort to add works that represent women, POC, and LGBTQ+ artists as well as characters.
The Library of Congress has been archiving websites since 2000, but many of these were created for a specific occasion and were used for a certain period of time. You can comb through thousands of election campaign websites, for instance, or platforms dedicated to the Darfur crisis or the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. These two recently published web collections stand out as they are vital hubs for our everyday communication; to archive them may seem a little redundant right now, but internet culture moves fast, and the digital is so easily disposable.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.