THE BRITISH LIBRARY

UK Web Archive blog

45 posts categorized "Web/Tech"

22 December 2017

What can you find in the (Beta) UK Web Archive?

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We recently launched a new Beta interface for searching and browsing our web archive collections but what can you expect to find?

UKWA have been collecting websites since 2005 in a range of different ways, using changing software and hardware. This means that behind the scenes we can't bring all of the material collected into one place all at once. What isn't there currently will be added over the next six months (look out for notices on twitter). 

What is available now?

At launch on 5 December 2017 the Beta website includes all of the websites that have been 'frequently crawled' (collected more often than annually) 2013-2016. This includes a large number of 'Special Collections' selected over this time and a reasonable selection of news media.

DC07-screenshot-brexit

What is coming soon?

We are aiming to add 'frequently crawled' websites from 2005-2013 to the Beta collection in January/February 2018. This will add our earliest special collections (e.g. 2005 UK General Election) and should complete all of the websites that we have permission to publicly display.

What will be available by summer 2018?

The largest and most difficult task for us is to add all of the websites that have been collected as part of the 'Legal Deposit' since 2013. We do a vast 'crawl' once per year of 'everything' that we can identify as being a UK website. This includes all .UK (and .london, .scot, .wales and .cymru) plus any website we identify as being on a server in the UK. This amounts to tens of millions of websites (and billions of individual assets). Due to the scale of this undertaking we thank you for your patience.

We would love to know your experiences of using the new Beta service, let us know here: www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/ukwasurvey01

 By Jason Webber, Web Archive Engagement Manager, The British Library

 

10 November 2017

Driving Crawls With Web Annotations

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By Dr Andrew Jackson, Web Archive Technical Lead, The British Library

The heart of the idea was simple. Rather than our traditional linear harvesting process, we would think in terms of annotating the live web, and imagine how we might use those annotations to drive the web-archiving process. From this perspective, each Target in the Web Curator Tool is really very similar to a bookmark on an social bookmarking service (like PinboardDiigo or Delicious1), except that as well as describing the web site, the annotations also drive the archiving of that site2.

In this unified model, some annotations may simply highlight a specific site or URL at some point in time, using descriptive metadata to help ensure important resources are made available to our users. Others might more explicitly drive the crawling process, by describing how often the site should be re-crawled, whether robots.txt should be obeyed, and so on. Crucially, where a particular website cannot be ruled as in-scope for UK legal deposit automatically, the annotations can be used to record any additional evidence that permits us to crawl the site. Any permissions we have sought in order to make an archived web site available under open access can also be recorded in much the same way.

Once we have crawled the URLs and sites of interest, we can then apply the same annotation model to the captured material. In particular, we can combine one or more targets with a selection of annotated snapshots to form a collection. These ‘instance annotations’ could be quite detailed, similar to those supported by web annotation services like Hypothes.is, and indeed this may provide a way for web archives to support and interoperate with services like that.3

Thinking in terms of annotations also makes it easier to peel processes apart from their results. For example, metadata that indicates whether we have passed those instances through a QA process can be recorded as annotations on our archived web, but the actual QA process itself can be done entirely outside of the tool that records the annotations.

To test out this approach, we built a prototype Annotation & Curation Tool (ACT) based on Drupal. Drupal makes it easy to create web UIs for custom content types, and we were able to create a simple, usable interface very quickly. This allowed curators to register URLs and specify the additional metadata we needed, including the crawl permissions, schedules and frequencies. But how do we use this to drive the crawl?

Our solution was to configure Drupal so that it provided a ‘crawl feed’ in a machine readable format. This was initially a simple list of data objects (one per Target), containing all the information we held about that Target, and where the list could be filtered by crawl frequency (daily, weekly, monthly, and so on). However, as the number of entries in the system grew, having the entire set of data associated with each Target eventually became unmanageable. This led to a simplified description that just contains the information we need to run a crawl, which looks something like this:

[
    {
        "id": 1,
        "title": "gov.uk Publications",
        "seeds": [
            "https://www.gov.uk/government/publications"
        ],
        "schedules": [
            {
                "frequency": "MONTHLY",
                "startDate": 1438246800000,
                "endDate": null
            }
        ],
        "scope": "root",
        "depth": "DEEP",
        "ignoreRobotsTxt": false,
        "documentUrlScheme": null,
        "loginPageUrl": null,
        "secretId": null,
        "logoutUrl": null,
        "watched": false
    },
    ...



This simple data export became the first of our web archiving APIs – a set of application programming interfaces we use to try to split large services into modular components4.

Of course, the output of the crawl engines also needs to meet some kind of standard so that the downstream indexing, ingesting and access tools know what to do. This works much like the API concept described above, but is even simpler, as we just rely on standard file formats in a fixed directory layout. Any crawler can be used as long as it outputs standard WARCs and logs, and puts them into the following directory layout:

/output/logs/{job-identifer}/{launch-timestamp}/*.log
/output/warcs/{job-identifer}/{launch-timestamp}/*.warc.gz

Where the {job-identifer} is used to specify which crawl job (and hence which crawl configuration) is being used, and the {launch-timestamp} is used to separate distinct jobs launched using the same overall configuration, reflecting repeated re-crawling of the same sites over time.

In other words, if we have two different crawler engines that can be driven by the same crawl feed data and output the same format results, we can switch between them easily. Similarly, we can make any kind of changes to our Annotation & Curation Tool, or even replace it entirely, and as long as it generates the same crawl feed data, the crawler engine doesn’t have to care. Finally, as we’ve also standardised the crawler output, the tools we use to post-process our crawl data can also be independent of the specific crawl engine in use.

This separation of components has been crucial to our recent progress. By de-coupling the different processes within the crawl lifecycle, each of the individual parts is able to be move at it’s own pace. Each can be modified, tested and rolled-out without affecting the others, if we so choose. True, making large changes that affect multiple components does require more careful management of the development process, but this is a small price to pay for the ease by which we can roll out improvements and bugfixes to individual components.

A prime example of this is how our Heritrix crawl engine itself has evolved over time, and that will be the subject of the next blog post.

  1. Although, noting that Delicious is now owned by Pinboard, I would like to make it clear that we are not attempting to compete with Pinboard. 

  2. Note that this is also a feature of some bookmarking sites. But we are not attempting to compete with Pinboard. 

  3. I’m not yet sure how this might work, but some combination of the Open Annotation Specification and Memento might be a good starting point. 

  4. For more information, see the Architecture section of this follow-up blog post 

25 September 2017

Collecting Webcomics in the UK Web Archive

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By Jen Aggleton, PhD candidate in Education at the University of Cambridge

As part of my PhD placement at the British Library, I was asked to establish a special collection of webcomics within the UK Web Archive. In order to do so, it was necessary to outline the scope of the collection, and therefore attempt to define what exactly is and is not a digital comic. As anyone with a background in comics will tell you, comics scholars have been debating what exactly a comic is for decades, and have entirely failed to reach a consensus on the issue. The matter only gets trickier when you add in digital components such as audio and animation.

Under-construction

Due to this lack of consensus, I felt it was important to be very transparent about exactly what criteria have been used to outline the scope of this collection. These criteria have been developed through reference to scholarship on both digital and print comics, as well as my own analysis of numerous digital comics.

The scope of this collection covers items with the following characteristics:

  • The collection item must be published in a digital format
  • The collection item must contain a single panel image or series of interdependent images
  • The collection item must have a semi-guided reading pathway1

In addition, the collection item is likely to contain the following:

  • Visible frames
  • Iconic symbols such as word balloons
  • Hand-written style lettering which may use its visual form to communicate additional meaning

The item must not be:

  • Purely moving image
  • Purely audio

For contested items, where an item meets these categories but still does not seem to be a comic, it will be judged to be a comic if it self-identifies as such (e.g. a digital picturebook may meet all of these criteria, but self-identifies as a picturebook, not a comic).

Where the item is an adaptation of a print born comic, it must be a new expression of the original, not merely a different manifestation, according to FRBR guidelines: www.loc.gov/cds/FRBR.html.

1 Definition of a semi-guided reading pathway: The reader has autonomy over the time they spend reading any particular aspect of the item, and some agency over the order in which they read the item, especially the visual elements. However reading is also guided in the progression through any language elements, and likely to be guided in the order of movement from one image to another, though this pathway may not always be clear. This excludes items that are purely pictures, as well as items which are purely animation.

Alongside being clear about what the collection guidelines are, it is also important to give users information on the item acquisition process – how items were identified to be added to the collection. An attempt has been made to be comprehensive: including well known webcomics published in the UK and Ireland by award-winning artists, but also webcomics by creators making comics in their spare time and self-publishing their work. This process has, however, been limited by issues of discoverability and staff time.

Well known webcomics were added to the collection, along with webcomics discovered through internet searches, and those nominated by individuals after calls for nominations were sent out on social media. This process yielded an initial collection of 42 webcomic sites (a coincidental but nonetheless highly pleasing number, as surely comics do indeed contain the answers to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything). However, there are many more webcomics published by UK and Ireland based creators out there. If you know of a webcomic that should be added to our collection, please do nominate it at www.webarchive.org.uk/ukwa/info/nominate.

Jen Aggleton, PhD candidate in Education at the University of Cambridge, has recently completed a three month placement at the British Library on the subject of digital comics. For more information about what the placement has entailed, you can read this earlier blog.

09 August 2017

The Proper Serious Work of Preserving Digital Comics

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Jen Aggleton is a PhD candidate in Education at the University of Cambridge, and is completing a work placement at the British Library on the subject of digital comics. 

If you are a digital comics creator, publisher, or reader, we would love to hear from you. We’d like to know more about the digital comics that you create, find out links to add to our Web Archive collection, and find examples of comic apps that we could collect. Please email suggestions to Jennifer.Aggleton@BL.uk. For this initial stage of the project, we will be accepting suggestions until the end of August 2017.

I definitely didn’t apply for a three month placement at the British Library just to have an excuse to read comics every day. Having a number of research interests outside of my PhD topic of illustrated novels (including comics and library studies), I am always excited when I find opportunities which allow me to explore these strands a little more. So when I saw that the British Library were looking for PhD placement students to work in the area of 21st century British comics, I jumped at the chance.

Having convinced my supervisor that I wouldn’t just be reading comics all day but would actually be doing proper serious work, I temporarily put aside my PhD and came to London to read lots and lots of digital comics (for the purpose of proper serious work). And that’s when I quickly realised that I was already reading comics every day.

The reason I hadn’t noticed was because I hadn’t specifically picked up a printed comic or gone to a dedicated webcomic site every day (many days, sure, but not every day). I was however reading comics every day on Facebook, slipped in alongside dubiously targeted ads and cat videos. It occurred to me that lots of other people, even those who may not think of themselves as comics readers, were probably doing the same.

Forweb2-slytherinpic
(McGovern, E. My Life As A Background Slytherin, https://www.facebook.com/backgroundslytherin/photos/a.287354904946325.1073741827.287347468280402/338452443169904/?type=3&theater Reproduced with kind permission of Emily McGovern.)

This is because the ways in which we interact with comics have been vastly expanded by digital technology. Comics are now produced and circulated through a number of different platforms, including apps, websites and social media, allowing them to reach further than their traditional audience. These platforms have made digital comics simultaneously both more and less accessible than their print equivalents; many webcomics are available for free online, which means readers no longer have to pay between £8 and £25 for a graphic novel, but does require them to have already paid for a computer/tablet/smartphone and internet connection (or have access to one at their local library, provided their local library wasn’t a victim of austerity measures).

Alongside access to reading comics, access to publishing has also changed. Anyone with access to a computer and internet connection can now publish a comic online. This has opened up comics production to many whose voices may not have often been heard in mainstream print comics, including writers and characters of colour, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, those with disabilities, and creators who simply cannot give up the stability of full-time employment to commit the time needed to chase their dream of being a comics creator. The result is a vibrant array of digital comics, enormously varying in form and having a significant social and cultural impact.

But digital comics are also far more fragile than their print companions, and this is where the proper serious work part of my placement comes in. Comics apps are frequently removed from app stores as new platform updates come in. Digital files become corrupted, or become obsolete as the technology used to host them is updated and replaced. Websites are taken down, leaving no trace (all those dire warnings that the internet is forever are not exactly true. For more details about the need for digital preservation, see an earlier post to this blog). So in order to make sure that all the fantastic work happening in digital comics now is still available for future generations (which in British Library terms could mean ten years down the line, or five hundred years down the line), we need to find ways to preserve what is being created.

One method of doing this is to establish a dedicated webcomics archive. The British Library already has a UK Web Archive, due to the extension of legal deposit in 2013 to include the collection of non-print items. I am currently working on setting up a special collection of UK webcomics within that archive. This has involved writing collections guidelines covering what will (and won’t) be included in the collection, which had me wrestling with the thorny problem of what exactly a digital comic is (comics scholars will know that nobody can agree on what a print comic is, so you can imagine the fun involved in trying to incorporate digital elements such as audio and video into the mix as well). It has also involved building the collection through web harvesting, tracking down webcomics for inclusion in the collection, and providing metadata (information about the collection item) for cataloguing purposes (this last task may happen to require reading lots of comics).

Alongside this, I am looking into ways that digital comics apps might be preserved, which is very proper serious work indeed. Not only are there many different versions of the same app, depending on what operating system you are using, but many apps are reliant not only on the software of the platform they are running on, but sometimes the hardware as well, with some apps integrating functions such as the camera of a tablet into their design. Simply downloading apps will provide you with lots of digital files that you won’t be able to open in a few years’ time (or possibly even a few months’ time, with the current pace of technology). This is not a problem that can be solved in the duration of a three month placement (or, frankly, given my total lack of technical knowledge, by me at all). What I can do, however, is find people who do have technical knowledge and ask them what they think. Preserving digital comics is a complicated and ongoing process, and it is a great experience to be in at the early stages of exploration.

And you can be involved in this fun experience too! If you are a digital comics creator, publisher, or reader, we would love to hear from you. We’d like to know more about the digital comics that you create, find out links to add to our Web Archive collection, and find examples of comic apps that we could collect. Please email suggestions to Jennifer.Aggleton@BL.uk. For this initial stage of the project, we will be accepting suggestions until the end of August 2017. In that time, we are particularly keen to receive web addresses for UK published webcomics, so that I can continue to build the web archive, and do the proper serious work of reading lots and lots of comics.

08 June 2017

Revitalising the UK Web Archive

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By Andrew Jackson, Web Archiving Technical Lead

It’s been over a year since we made our historical search system available, and it’s proven itself to be stable and useful. Since then, we’ve been largely focussed on changes to our crawl system, but we’ve also been planning how to take what we learned in the Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities project and use it to re-develop the UK Web Archive.

Screenshot-ukwa-homepage
UKWA homepage

Our current website has not changed much since 2013, and doesn’t describe who we are and what we do now that the UK Legal Deposit regulations are in place. It only describes the sites we have crawled by permission, and does not reflect the tens of thousands of sites and URLs that we have curated and categorised under Legal Deposit, nor the billions of web pages in the full collection. To try to address these issues, we’re currently developing a new website that will open-up and refresh our archives.

One of the biggest challenges is the search index. The 3.5 billion resources we’ve indexed for SHINE represents less than a third of our holdings, so now we need to scale our system up to cope with over ten billion documents, and a growth rate of 2-3 billion resource per year. We will continue working with the open source indexer we have developed, while updating our data processing platform (Apache Hadoop) and dedicating more hardware to the SolrCloud that holds our search indexes. If this all works as planned, we will be able to offer a complete search service that covers our entire archive, from 1995 to yesterday.

Shine-word-home
SHINE search results page

The first release of the new website is not expected to include all of the functionality offered by the SHINE prototype, just the core functionality we need to make our content and collections more available to a general audience. Quite how we bring together these two distinct views of the same underlying search index is an open question at this point it time. Later in the year, we will make the new website available as a public beta, and we’ll be looking for feedback from all our users, to help us decide how things should evolve from here.

As well as scaling up search, we’ve also been working to scale up our access service. While it doesn’t look all that different, our website playback service has been overhauled to cope with the scale of our full collection. This allows us to make our full holdings knowable, even if they aren’t openly accessible, so you get a more informative error message (and HTTP status code) if you attempt to access content that we can only make available on site at the present time. For example, if you look at our archive of google.co.uk, you can see that we have captured the Google U.K. homepage during our crawls but can’t make it openly available due to the legal framework we operate within.

The upgrades to our infrastructure will also allow us update the tools we use to analyse our holdings. In particular, we will be attending the Archives Unleashed 4.0 Datathon and looking at at the Warcbase and ArchiveSpark projects, as they provide a powerful set of open source tools and would enable us to collaborate directly with our research community. A stable data-analysis framework will also provide a platform for automated QA and report generation and make it much easier to update our datasets.

Taken together, we believe these developments will revolutionise the way readers and researchers can use the UK Web Archive. It’s going to be an interesting year.

 

28 April 2017

What websites do we collect during UK General Elections?

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The UK Web Archive has been archiving websites connected to General elections since 2005.

During the 2005 and 2010 elections, collecting was done on a permissions-cleared basis requiring curators to make contact with individual website owners requesting permission to archive the website before it was captured and stored. Any site belonging to website publishers who refused permission, did not respond or were not contactable were not archived. The 2015 election was collected following the introduction of new Legal Deposit regulations in 2013 that allow any UK website to be collected without permission.

Although the collections are not comprehensive, due to various factors such as the time consuming permissions process and the ephemeral nature of websites (which often do not include contact details), there are large sections of content relating to the General Elections that could not be covered.

Collection Summary:

2005

The UK General Election 2005 was the first of our Election collections. It includes 139 different items, or ‘Targets’ which cover a wide variety of websites such as those of individual candidates, major political parties, interest groups and a selection of election manifestos. Even though this collection is fairly small it is worth highlighting that until relatively recently election campaigning was predominantly carried out through print media; in 2005 it was by no means the case that all political candidates had a website.

2010

The UK General Election 2010 collection is much bigger totalling 770 items. This collection has eleven sub categories that cover:

Candidates (15 items)

Election Blogs (27 items)

Interest Groups (113 items)

News and Commentary (30 items)

Opinion Polls (7 items)

Other (8 items)

Political Parties - Local (191 items)

Political Parties - National (54 items)

Public and Community Engagement (13 items)

Regulation and Guidance (15 items)

Research Centres and Think Tanks (14 items)

2015

The UK General Election 2015 collection is the biggest collection of its type with 7,861 items. By 2015 we observed that much more, traditionally paper-based content had moved onto the web. This shift in publishing along with the introduction of the Non-Print Legal Deposit Regulations (NPLD) in 2013, which enabled the Legal Deposit Libraries to collect online UK content at scale without seeking explicit permissions, meant that this collection was bigger than those of previous years. This collection has eleven sub categories that cover:

Candidates (1,957 items)

Election Blogs (100 items)

Interest Groups (416 items)

News and Commentary (4,582 items)

Opinion Polls (32 items)

Other (75 items)

Political Parties - Local (442 items)

Political Parties - National (142 items)

Public & Community Engagement (45 items)

Regulation & Guidance (7 items)

Research Centres & Think Tanks (62 items)

 All content archived in 2015 will be available to users later this year either via the UK Web Archive website or through a UK Legal Deposit Library Reading Rooms depending on the permission status of the individual websites.

2017

As the June 2017 general election was called at short notice, the collection will likely be much smaller in size compared to the 2015 collection. However, as a number of the websites in the 2015 collection are still live they will be re-tagged for the 2017 collection which will give the curators more time to focus on selecting the more ephemeral websites and social media content.

By Helena Byrne, Assistant Web Archivist, The British Library

18 April 2017

The Challenges of Web Archiving Social Media

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What is the UK Web Archive?
The UK Web Archive aims to archive, preserve and give access (where permissions allow) to the UK web space. It only collects information that is publically available online in the UK. Therefore, any web pages that require a log in such as membership only areas are not captured; neither are emails or private Intranets. As most of the popular social media platforms are not hosted in the UK, being largely based in the US, their public interfaces are not automatically picked up in our annual domain crawl. Thus, all social media sites in the archive have to be manually selected and scoped in so that they are legitimately archived under Non-Print Legal Deposit Regulations.

What Social Media is in the UK Web Archive?
The UK Web Archive selectively collects publically accessible Facebook and Twitter profiles related to thematic collections such as the EU Referendum, or ‘Brexit’, or those accounts of prominent individuals and organisations in the UK, such as the Prime Minister and the main political parties.  In the main, Social media is collected when building special collections on big events that shape society for instance elections and referendums. We collect profiles that are related directly to political parties or interest groups campaigning on relevant issues.  As we can only archive content from the UK web space we cannot crawl individual hashtags like #BBCRecipes and #Brexit as a lot of this content is generated outside the UK, and we cannot ascertain the provenance of 3rd party comments.

Difficulties with web archiving social media
Archiving social media is technically challenging as these platforms are presented in a different way to ‘traditional’ websites. Social media platforms use Application Programming Interfaces (API’s) as a way to ‘enable controlled access their underlying functions and data’ (Day Thomson). In the past we have tried to crawl other platforms such as Instagram and Flickr but have been unsuccessful, due to a combination of technical difficulties and restrictions that are sometimes set to prevent crawler access.

How to access the UK Web Archive
Under the 2013 Non-Print Legal Deposit Regulations the UK Legal Deposit Libraries are permitted to archive UK content published on the web. However, access to this content is limited to Legal Deposit Library premises unless explicit permission is obtained from the site owner to make content available on the UK Web Archive  Open UK Web Archive website. More information on Non-Print Legal Deposit can be found here and information on how to access the UK Web Archive can be found here.

What to expect when using this resource
The success rate of crawling Twitter and Facebook is limited and the quality of the captures varies. In the worst case scenario, what is presented to the user amounts to the date a post was made in a blank white box. There are many reasons why a crawler cannot follow links. One reason is that the user used a Shortened URL that is now broken or couldn’t be read at the time of the crawl. The Internet Archive is currently working with companies that provide this service to ensure the longevity of shortened URL’s. Advertisements on social media and archived websites are not always captured, resulting in either a ‘Resource Not in Archive’ message or leakage to the live web.  More information on this can be found here.

Twitter

1. Unison Scotland Twitter

Unison Scotland –Twitter from April 8th 2016

2. RC of Psychiatrists

RC of Psychiatrists – Twitter from August 2nd 2016

Facebook

Initially when we first started archiving public Facebook pages the crawls were quite successful albeit with the caveat around archiving external links. As you can see from the Unison Scotland example there are white boxes where an external link was shared using a shortened URL which wasn’t captured. In spring 2015 Facebook changed its display settings and we were only able to capture a white screen. However, more recent captures have been successful.

3. Unison Facebook

Unison Scotland –Facebook from April 8th 2016

4. EU Citizens for an Independent Scotland Facebook

EU Citizens for an Independent Scotland- Facebook from 15th November 2014

Conclusion

As you can see from the few samples here the quality of the capture can vary but a lot of valuable information can still be gathered from these instances. In March 2017 the UK Web Archive deployed a new version of their web crawler which will take a screen shot of the home page of websites before they archive the content. Although, it will be sometime in the future when the technology will be available for researchers to view these screenshots it is hoped that it will bridge the gap between what is captured and not captured.

Internationally more research needs to be done on archiving social media along with the assistance of the platform proprietors. No two platforms are the same and require a tailored approach to ensure a successful crawl.

More information about the UK Web Archive can be found here.

20 December 2016

If Websites Could Talk

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The UK Web Archive collects a wide variety of websites for future researchers. This made us think…

…IF WEBSITES COULD TALK …

… it’s surely possible that they would debate amongst themselves as to which might be regarded as the most fantastic and extraordinary site of all.

“I’d like to stake my claim,” said the 'British Interplanetary Society'.

A Walk across London - north to south

“Aren’t you just a bit too predictable?”, said the 'British Banjo, Mandolin & Guitar Federation'. “Outer space and all that. Music can be fantastic, in its way.”

“Yes indeed,” said the 'British Association of American Square Dance Clubs'. “Mind you, you could make a case for the 'British Fenestration Rating Council'.”

“Or even the 'Bamboo Bicycle Club',” interjected the 'Dorset Moths Group'. “To say nothing of the 'Association of Approved Oven Cleaners'.”

“Far too tame,” said the 'The Junglie Association'. “No-one has a clue what we’re about, so the title should surely be ours.”

“Not so fast,” countered the *British Wing Chun Kuen Association*. “You’re overlooking us!”

“You two are both too obscure, which isn’t the same as extraordinary,” said the 'Brighton Greyhound Owners Association Trust for Retired Racing Greyhounds'. “Don’t you agree, 'Scythe Association of Great Britain & Ireland'?”

They looked more than a little put out at this, but each came round after receiving a friendly hug from the 'Cuddle Fairy'.

Suddenly 'Dangerous Women' butted in. “May we introduce our friend 'I Hate Ironing'?” There was a pause. “Who is it making all that noise?”

“Oh, that’ll be the 'Society of Sexual Health Advisers',” said the 'Teapot Trust'. “No doubt sharing a joke with 'You & Your Hormones'. Where is the 'National Poisons Information Service' when you need it?”

“Now now,” tutted the 'A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down', “No need for that. Like the 'Grateful Society', we should just give thanks that they’re here.”

At this point a site which had hitherto been silent spoke up. “With the utmost respect, I reckon I am what you are looking for.”

“Really?” chorused the others. “And your name is … ?”

“The 'Eccentric Club'.”

Silence fell. They knew that, for the time being, the title had been won …

By Hedley Sutton, Asian & African Studies Reference Team Leader, The British Library