Server Savior

Quinn Dombrowski preserves digital culture

Quinn Dombrowski co-leads Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online, which is archiving 5,000 Ukrainian websites. (Image by Kelly Sullivan/Berkeleyside)
Quinn Dombrowski preserves digital culture

As an academic technology specialist at Stanford University, Quinn Dombrowski, MS ’09 IS, helps scholars conduct better digital research in linguistics. When Russia invaded Ukraine, she found herself co-leading a new effort: Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online, which has enlisted more than 1,000 volunteers to archive 5,000-plus Ukrainian websites. 

Why do websites need saving?

We think about the internet as being in the cloud—it’s all backed up somewhere. But there’s nothing magical about the internet. It exists on physical servers and other tangible infrastructure that, if hosted in Ukraine, can be destroyed like anything else. Also, refugees—understandably—might not prioritize their website bills.

What materials are you archiving?

In the past 20 years, museums have been moving toward digitizing documents and photographs. There also are all these materials—blog posts from museums and libraries, children’s poems and Christmas pageant photos—that never existed in physical form, and represent what it means to be Ukrainian. We’re also gathering memes about the war from Twitter, Telegram and other places.

What does success look like?

Best-case scenario: the war ends, we check in, all the people are still alive, the websites are fine, and we can delete everything and go home happy. It’s not looking like that will be the case. We’re in communication with the Ministry of Culture and the Ukrainian Library Association. We’ll keep these archives until we can work on the next phase.

Can lessons learned from this project inform future efforts?

We’re writing a handbook on emergency web archiving. If war breaks out or there’s a natural disaster, a subset of things from everywhere can be reliably archived someplace in another corner of the world.