Meet the 1,300 librarians racing to back up Ukraine’s digital archives

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Meet the 1,300 librarians racing to back up Ukraine’s digital archives

Apr 15 2022

Over the past month, a motley group of more than 1,300 librarians, historians, teachers and young children have banded together to save Ukraine’s Internet archives, using technology to back up everything from census data to children’s poems and Ukrainian basket weaving techniques.

The efforts, dubbed Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online, have resulted in over 2,500 of the country’s museums, libraries, and archives being preserved on servers they’ve rented, eliminating the risk they’ll be lost forever. Now, an all-volunteer effort has become a lifeline for cultural officials in Ukraine, who are working with the group to digitize their collections in the event their facilities get destroyed in the war...

...“I have not seen anything like it,” said Winston Tabb, dean of libraries, archives and museums at Johns Hopkins University. “We didn’t really have the tools before that made it even possible to undertake this kind of initiative.” ...

...For Majstorovic, the importance of the work he’s helping organize was made apparent a few weeks ago. In early March, he happened upon the Ukrainian State Archive of Kharkiv’s website. As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was gearing up, he was worried how long the site would remain active, fearing its servers would be susceptible to cyberattacks or shelling. ... By early morning, [he'd] collected over 100 gigabytes of information, including the district’s census records, criminal cases, and lists of people who have been persecuted in the region.

Within hours, the website was gone. But still, its records remained. Looking back, Majstorovic says, that’s exactly why he is doing this work.

“If we can save these things, we prove that Ukraine has a history,” he said. “[If] they are gone forever … that just rips a black hole into the history of a place that will last forever.”

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