Capturing Virtual FSU

When the world of FSU changed in March 2020, the website for FSU was used as one of the primary communication tools to let students, faculty, and staff know what was going on. New webpages created specifically to share information and news popped up all over and we had no idea how long those pages would exist (ah, the hopeful days of March) so Heritage & University Archives wanted to be sure to capture those pages quickly and often as they changed and morphed into new online resources for the FSU community.

Screenshot of a capture of the main FSU News feed regarding coronavirus. Captured March 13, 2020.

While FSU has had an Archive-It account for a while, we hadn’t fully implemented its use yet. Archive-It is a web archiving service that captures and preserves content on websites as well as allowing us to provide metadata and a public interface to viewing the collected webpages. COVID-19 fast-tracked me on figuring out Archive-It and how we could best use it to capture these unique webpages documenting FSU’s response to the pandemic. I worked to configure crawls of websites to capture the data we needed, set up a schedule that would be sufficient to capture changes but also not overwhelm our data allowance, and describe the sites being captured. It took me a few tries but we’ve successfully been capturing a set of COVID related FSU URLs since March.

One of the challenges of this work was some of the webpages had functionality that the web crawling just wouldn’t capture. This was due to some interactive widgets on pages or potentially some CSS choices the crawler didn’t like. I decided the content was the most important thing to capture in this case, more so than making sure the webpage looked exactly like the original. A good example of this is the International Programs Alerts page. We’re capturing this to track information about our study abroad programs but what Archive-It displays is quite different from the current site in terms of design. The content is all there though.

On the left is how Archive-It displays a capture of the International Programs Alerts page. On the right is how the site actually looks. While the content is the same, the formatting and design is not

As the pandemic dragged on and it became clear that Fall 2020 would be a unique semester, I added the online orientation site and the Fall 2020 site to my collection line-up. The Fall 2020 page, once used to track the re-opening plan recently morphed into the Stay Healthy FSU site where the community can look for current information and resources but also see the original re-opening document.

We’ll continue crawling and archiving these pages in our FSU Coronavirus Archive for future researchers until they are retired and the university community returns to “normal” operations – whatever that might look like when we get there!

Published by Krystal Thomas

Digital Archivist at Florida State University

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