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Archives Month Spotlight: Documenting Mary in the Digital Age

By Kayla Harris

Each October, archival repositories across the United States celebrate American Archives Month as an opportunity to increase awareness of their collections. Here at the Marian Library, we have celebrated this occasion in a variety of ways over the years, such as curating pop-up exhibits or highlighting unusual items from the collection

Become a Citizen Archivist for the Marian Library

One way that we’re increasing public awareness of our archival collections this year is through a program developed jointly with colleagues in Roesch Library on web archiving. The online program, Citizen Archivists: Preserving Websites for the Common Good, is available to anyone who is interested in learning more about the process of web archiving, the web archive collections curated by the University Libraries, and how any individual can serve as a citizen archivist by archiving a webpage using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. 

The University Libraries has subscribed since 2015 to Archive-It, a tool developed by the Internet Archive specifically for cultural heritage institutions like museums, libraries and archives, to curate their own collections of web archives. Information on the Internet can disappear for many different reasons — from deliberate deletion to overwriting a homepage with updated information. The websites, social media posts and articles created on the Internet today are the historical record that researchers will depend on in the future. You have the power to ensure that record is as comprehensive as possible! 

Archives are Digital, Too

In the Marian Library, we have been archiving information on the web around several topics that connect to our mission to make the Blessed Virgin Mary better known, loved and served. For example, the Marian Shrines collection includes “captures” — the emerging term for a web presence recorded at a particular point in time — of Marian shrine websites that are not as well-represented in our physical materials, while the Mary’s Gardens collection includes the content of the original Mary’s Gardens website that was transferred to the Marian Library along with the physical papers and items in the John Stokes and Mary’s Gardens collection.

The Marian Library Web Clippings collection mirrors the nearly 50 years’ worth of physical collecting once done by longtime Marian Library volunteer Mildred Sutton. Known as the Sutton File, this extensive historical collection includes clippings from secular and religious newspapers; brochures; comics; shrine schedules; and miscellaneous ephemera about Mary. In 1986, the Sutton File numbered over 50,000 items.

Now, much of the material that Sutton would have once collected is available exclusively online. Without web archives such as the Marian Library Web Clippings collection, documentation of Mary’s global reach in the digital age could be lost to the future researchers. Although the collection includes several different categories of content such as Marian imagery and Mary’s connections to social justice movements, much of the collection documents Marian devotion during the present coronavirus pandemic. A visual and summarized version of some of these stories can be found at Documented Devotion, a page on the Marian Library website. 

We invite you to celebrate American Archives Month by learning more about web archiving, becoming a citizen archivist and exploring the Marian Library’s existing web collections

Kayla Harris is an assistant professor and librarian/archivist in the Marian Library.

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