Transcript: GLAM International Series – Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO)
The GLAM International Series will help gallery, library, archive, and museum professionals in BC reflect on what it means to be an informed citizen with a global perspective. In this podcast series, we will interview innovators, disrupters, and thinkers that help to frame the work we do in an international context.
Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO) is a group of more than 1,300 cultural heritage professionals working together to identify and archive at-risk sites, digital content, and data in Ukrainian cultural heritage institutions while the country is under attack.
In this episode, BCMA’s Ryan Hunt and Tanya Pacholok are joined by Dr. Kimberley Martin to discuss SUCHO, the importance of online cultural heritage, and how you can help preserve Ukrainian heritage.
You can learn more about SUCHO and their work online at https://www.sucho.org/
The GLAM International Series will help gallery, library, archive, and museum professionals in BC reflect on what it means to be an informed citizen with a global perspective. In this podcast series, we will interview innovators, disrupters, and thinkers that help to frame the work we do in an international context. Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO) is a group of more than 1,300 cultural heritage professionals working together to identify and archive at-risk sites, digital content, and data in Ukrainian cultural heritage institutions while the country is under attack.
Leia Patterson: Welcome to the first episode of GLAM International!
This podcast series will help gallery, library, archive, and museum professionals (a sector often referred to as GLAM) in BC reflect on what it means to be an informed citizen with a global perspective. Through this podcast series, we will interview innovators, disrupters, and thinkers that help to frame the work we do in an international context.
Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO) is a group of more than 1,300 cultural heritage professionals – librarians, archivists, researchers, and programmers – working together to identify and archive at-risk sites, digital content, and data in Ukrainian cultural heritage institutions while the country is under attack. This volunteer network is using a combination of technologies to crawl and archive sites and content, including the Internet Archive’s Way Back Machine, and the Browsertrix crawler – so far saving more than 40 Terabytes of scanned documents, artworks and many other digital materials from more than 4,500 websites of Ukrainian museums, libraries and archives.
A few notes before we get to the interview:
Web crawling is the process of systematically browsing a website or set of websites. Browsertrix is the tool SUCHO is using to crawl entire sites and copy all their contents for the purposes of emulation and replay. Most websites can be preserved in their entirety using this tool.
In today’s episode, BCMA’s Ryan Hunt and Tanya Pacholok are joined by Dr. Kimberley Martin, Assistant Professor in History at the University of Guelph to discuss SUCHO, the importance of online cultural heritage, and how you can help preserve Ukrainian heritage.
Ryan Hunt: Can you please introduce yourself?
Kimberley Martin: My name is Kim Martin. I’m an assistant professor in history and culture and technology studies at the University of Guelph.
Ryan Hunt: And how are you connected to the SUCHO project?
Kim Martin: I have been working with SUCHO almost since the beginning, I think week two when it started. And I currently help organize the metadata group. That’s most of what I spend my time doing and then doing a lot of media work to get the word out about SUCHO.
Ryan Hunt: So it seems like for daily for months now, we’ve seen stories of the destruction of physical Ukrainian culture and heritage, including museums, historical buildings, libraries, theaters. But I feel like broadly, we don’t think of digital heritage being at risk. What kind of risk is Ukrainian online heritage currently at?
Kim Martin: Yeah, quite a bit. We see sites going down every day. And I think really there’s multiple ways. It’s risk. There’s obviously the physical destruction like bombing that can take down servers, take down buildings where the servers are held. And that’s one element of it. And then the other element is virtual warfare, right?
There are definitely people that are attacking through cyber attacks, digital heritage. And wanting to destroy it on both levels. So it’s trying to be proactive in thinking about what’s going to go down and working with folks in Slack and in Ukraine to get to it before people with ill intentions do.
Tanya Pacholok: Yeah. So then, so when, and how did SUCHO form, and can you tell us a little bit about who makes it up?
Kim Martin: Yeah, there’s close. I checked this morning. There’s close to 1400 of us in the Slack channel now. But when it first started and this is from my point of view, I’m not privy to the very first conversations.
But, Anna Kijas who’s a music librarian was looking to host an event focusing around archiving Ukrainian music and was talking online to Sebastian and Quinn on Twitter, about ways they might do this. And all I saw on Twitter was this, thrown together website, which immediately became something quite professional looking when they were saying, how do we do this?
And we’re not going to do this without people. So they had to throw it open and did very publicly, very quickly, but very organized. And they reached out for people to do all sorts of different things. One of the first things you could do was just search the internet for links to cultural heritage.
And this includes everything from libraries, community hubs, museums, university archives all the way to newspapers, magazines, everything you can imagine that makes up someone’s culture. And we were first just checking these websites to see if they’d been put in the internet archive already through their Way Back Machine.
And if they hadn’t, we would add them to a list where people could go and then scrape the websites using a couple of different methods. So really it was just getting the word out and mostly through social media and then joining a Slack channel, which is now, like I said, almost 1,400 people strong.
Ryan Hunt: And I think for people who may not think a lot about how the internet works on a logistical level, you often think that once something’s online, it’s there forever and it’s not removable. And yet a physical war is putting at risk digital, cultural heritage. Can you, for people who might not be as familiar with kind of the specifics of how the digital world works. Talk about why or how online cultural heritage is currently at risk?
Kim Martin: I think we do assume that stuff is when it’s on the web, is there forever. And we don’t spend a lot of time, looking for websites that no longer exist, but anyone who plays old video games, who has an interest in history or a history of the web, you’ll start to look back and things disappear.
It takes work to keep these things online. It takes people power, right? It does infrastructure always relies on people. But it also takes physical hardware, like the servers. I mentioned to keep things like these images somewhere to spread to the web. So a lot of the work that we’re doing to capture these things is not necessarily the websites, which may or may not go back up if internet is, becomes available in the same area.
Again, sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s the internet that goes down or the server that goes down But too, we’re trying to capture the actual documents. So the PDFs, the JPEGs, the images, the videos, things that if the server that they’re on or the computer that they’re on is destroyed, they are destroyed.
They don’t live on the web. So if we capture them and by capture them, put them somewhere else. Usually at the beginning, this was in the internet archive, and now we have a large space on the internet that was donated partially by Amazon and partially by other institutions, including universities.
Once we’ve saved it there and hopefully replicated it elsewhere. There are more chances of it surviving and staying on the web.
Tanya Pacholok: Yeah, that sounds like such an important component. And I guess it could be this aspect of an unseen or invisible aspect of the war that we otherwise might not really think about. And we talk a lot about the disinformation. That’s going on or the disinformation war. And this sounds an extension of that sort of this cyber war that could take place.
So yeah, thanks for sharing all of that. That’s really important and really interesting. So SUCHO has preserved terabytes of data. What comes next for that data?
Kim Martin: So several different things can happen with the data and it depends where it goes and what kind of materials that it is. Some of it have ended up in the internet archive, as I’ve mentioned, it’s in different collections and there’s a team of metadata librarians and professionals information professionals that are working to organize it. So if it is needed by the institutions, to who it originally belonged to, it’s easy for them to be able to build their websites back up or put those things backward belongs. Much, much more of it is on web servers and really right now it’s a matter of, it’s just being scraped and organized as best as we can, as it goes in that has to be gone through carefully made sure that the information about it is correct, which means we need the help of professionals with the language skills and the background in information studies to be able to help us clarify what belongs where, and keep it together in an organized manner. Another more recent project that has come out is organizing some of the collections into an online Omeka collection. So that’s a gallery site now that is just getting started. And we’re hoping to be able to showcase some of the pieces from different cultural heritage institutions that we’ve collected data from.
And we’re working with people from those places to be able to build these mini collections, to showcase what they had on the way. So multiple different things will happen to it. But ideally the, the main thing is that it’s available. You know that when the time is right or when it’s needed people can get to their resources and build back up what they had and what they’d put their hard work into.
Ryan Hunt: You mentioned people with language skills and it didn’t even occur to me until you, you mentioned that with the people working on this project, I presume not all of them speak Ukrainian. I imagine probably many of them don’t. So how are you saving information that is often presented in languages that people on the team may not be from?
Kim Martin: Speaking for myself, Google translate has become my very good friend. I don’t read Cyrillic, have no familiarity with basically any languages other than English and a little bit of French. And it was daunting when I started and we work with translating sites, mostly Google translate to put titles of pages in titles of descriptions of these artifacts and and do our best between them.
But we have an entire channel in Slack called quality control and that’s for folks with both Russian, Ukrainian, Cyrillic reading skills to be able to go in and double check what we’ve done. And that’s going to be a long task. And we recognize that but there’s many places. We have a metadata spreadsheet.
That’s 15,000 rows and there’s many places that we have a little like dropdown that says needs checking because there’s things we’re just not quite sure about. And that’s just part of doing this work right, is recognizing that you’re not an expert, you’re just, you’re helping you’re volunteering and you’re doing the best you can with the skills that you have.
Tanya Pacholok: Wow. Yeah. That sounds like an incredible amount of information to be working with. Yeah. Amazing. So in your opinion, how could this SUCHO model be applied to other areas of the global culture and heritage sector?
Kim Martin: Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s one of the things that I think, SUCHO has been this amazing coming together of volunteers.
But it was a an effort started because there was a war. So while I’m, awed by what we’ve done together, I also think that we need to be proactive in thinking about how we do this internationally, possibly globally in ways that are proactive. And I think it’s gonna have to start small.
It’s going to have to start with, regional interests people who have come to SUCHO definitely not everyone, but many people have ties to Ukraine in their own history. And I feel like there is a desire to get the material that’s most closely related to you as an individual on the web.
But I think Canada being, what it is, and having people from all over the world here and same with the United States can be places that these, I don’t know, smaller efforts startup whether it’s focusing country by country language, by language, incident by incident there have to be ways of doing this.
I think coming out of SUCHO, what I would love to see is very clearly documented ways, paths if they’re doing this right. Things have changed since we started things are changing all the time. But it would be lovely if a year from now we could have a little series of online tutorials that helps people think about how to do this and do this well.
Some of this work has been done obviously by places like the internet archive, Wikimedia Foundation, they’re collecting and have been collecting materials like this for years that live on the web. But, as we know about places, especially like Wikipedia, it gets done by a certain segment of the population.
And then what they think is important, it gets put on the web. And so we have to broaden that. And I think that’s something that SUCHO has really clearly shown is that we have to do deep dives and not skim the surface and organizing you know what order this comes in and how it happens is for thought or for future thought, I think.
But I would love to see something like a package about how we do this and do this well come out of SUCHO.
Ryan Hunt: You’re making me realize things that I realized my own ignorance, I think, SUCHO is a volunteer effort. That’s extremely grassroots. Are there any international organizations or structures who could be, should be, are doing this work? Like a United Nations or a UNESCO or any of those bigger global structures?
Kim Martin: Yeah. I was chatting with both Quinn and Anna a while ago and said, I’d love to be part of whatever group takes this work forward. Cause I think it’s so important and Quinn started a very preliminary conversation with UNESCO and that was a few weeks back. I don’t know if there’s anyone else doing it at the international level, but obviously people have been interested and we’re not the only ones archiving through Ukrainian cultural heritage, but we are, there’s a lot of us doing it in this one space, which is why I think we’ve got the media attention that we have. So I think hopefully coming out of this more and more more and more people are interested and we’re going to have to continue to do this outreach, we’re going to have to continue to speak to folks like you and to get events together at different conferences and at, make sure that people don’t feel daunted by doing something like this. Cause it takes a community to get this work done and it takes people’s time more than it takes any time of any type of skill so anyone can participate.
But it’s making that participation possible it’s where I think we’re at right now and there’s been a great, there’s great videos and great documentation in SUCHO already, it’s just making it more widely applicable, I think is the next step.
Tanya Pacholok: So if folks did want to participate or be a part of that community that you’re talking about, or be a part of the SUCHO community and anyone here listening that wants to help that’s a part of the heritage museum or GLAM professional community, could they right now or what could they do at this point?
Kim Martin: Yeah. I reached out again to Anna and Quinn this morning because I wanted to make sure I had the right answers to this question because it’s this changes week to week. And so I’ll mention a couple of things that they mentioned specifically Ana. Things that museum professionals will be folks that we need to continue doing outreach for.
So we’re going to have long-term and future planning. And so anyone in your community who’s done this work and is interested in this whether digital or not, but just helping us think forward could definitely be very useful. We want to have conversations about how to coordinate web archiving efforts.
So it’s not just all happening in one space. If other people are doing this, how do we put our work together and our minds together? And that of course means what I just went, what I just said, doing this proactively. So making sure that we’re not waiting for a disaster or a war, but I’m thinking about it this together beforehand.
And I think there are a couple of ways, the language skills, if there’s anyone with those language skills that I mentioned they could in a variety of ways. So Anna mentioned those couple of ways.
Quinn mentioned language skills in particular and that they’re going to be doing kind of a review in the next week or so about what’s. And where we can get people with certain skills in the door. And we do have that gallery channel, which is just starting. So if anyone has experience in Omeka or other virtual gallery sites, and they’d want to lend a hand there’s metadata work that needs to be done there.
And the Omeka is, a long established digital humanities project. So it’s got lots of documentation. So that would be somewhere that someone could jump in quite comfortably. And not necessarily have to have a lot of technical skills. People can still join SUCHO, so you can still join. You just joined through the Slack channel on the website, there’s a emails that you can get to access to the Slack channel.
You jump in, you introduce yourself. You say what you’re interested in helping with, and someone will direct you to the proper channel. Or there’s a mentor’s group as well. So if people are really not sure where they go, they can connect with someone who’s doing some work and find a path in that way.
So there’s lots of different ways. And I think we’ve got a lot of library folks at the moment, a lot of information professionals, but I would love to see some more folks from the museum sector, really dive in and share their knowledge with us.
Ryan Hunt: And you mentioned, there are things that people who are not technically minded can do to help. Let’s say you’re someone who maybe isn’t super comfortable on the tech side may not have the language skills. Are there like broad things that people can do to help?
Kim Martin: It depends on the level of what we deemed technically comfortable when I started, I did basically what I did was open up Google maps, poked around on Google maps and into like deep into Ukraine, like so down to the city and town level and looked for different sites. I was looking particularly for oral histories and my first kind of run through cause that’s an interest of mine.
And that was a matter of just grabbing a URL and putting it into a spreadsheet. So that I think is as simple as it would get. I don’t know how much of that is currently needed. That would be a question for when you popped into general, but that is something that I imagine most people would be comfortable doing.
If they can get on Slack, they can do that. And then I think the metadata work also is is describing items that you see in front of you. And we have details on how to get involved in that and how to go step by step through it. Some of them need a little more work because you have to work with some of the language going back and forth.
But a lot of people have jumped into the metadata channel and said that they don’t have a lot of technical experience, but are looking to spend some time doing work and that’s worked out quite well. So I think either of those [00:16:00] spaces otherwise I would say, coming in paying attention to what we’re doing and helping us spread the word is also another another way, cause this isn’t something that’s going to be done in a week, right?
This is a very long project. So keeping keeping people’s minds, attuned to the fact that it’s going on is going to get more difficult as time goes by. So that’s another way I think that people could come and just listen and be around and share the news either on social media or with family.
Ryan Hunt: Thank you so much for joining us and telling our members more about the SUCHO project.
Tanya Pacholok: Kim, thank you so much for sharing all of that. I echo, Ryan and yeah, it’s been so great to learn more. This is something that quite new to me as well, and just expanded my understanding of all of this. And yeah, it’s been really great and enriching to, to hear more about it. So thank you very much.
Kim Martin: Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you both for having me.
Leia Patterson: Thanks so much to Dr. Martin for chatting with us about her work with Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online. If you have experience that might be relevant to the work SUCHO is doing or you want to take part, you can get in touch through the website https://www.sucho.org/
There are also great definitions and explanations of some of the work mentioned by Dr. Martin, making it a great resource for those looking for more information about how this work is done. I will make sure to add the link to the show notes.
Thanks to my colleagues Ryan and Tanya for the great interview – a great kick off episode to our GLAM International programming. Stay tuned for future episodes!