UK Web Archive blog

07 October 2014

Thoughts on website selecting for the UK Web Archive

Hedley Sutton, Asian & African Studies Reference Team Leader at The British Library gives his thoughts and experiences of web archiving.

A Reference Team Leader spends most of their day answering queries sent in by e-mail, fax and letter or manning Reading Room enquiry desks. Some, however, also help with contributing to the selection of sites for inclusion in the UK Web Archive.

The rise of digital
Digital content is of course increasingly important for researchers, and is certain to become ever more so as publishers slowly move away from print to online formats. The Library recognized this when it began to archive websites in 2004, aiming to harvest a segment of the vast national web domain by providing free access both to live sites and to snapshots of existing and defunct sites as they developed over time.

Those which have been fully ‘accessioned’, as it were, are available to view online, and can be found alphabetically by title, or subject/keyword, or in some cases grouped in themed collections such as the 2012 London Olympics or the ‘Credit crunch’. 

Websites of interest
I volunteered to become a selector in 2008, planning initially to concentrate on tracing websites within my own specialism of Asian and African studies. I soon discovered, however, that it was more rewarding (addictive, even) to look beyond conventional subject divisions to home in on all and anything that looked of potential interest to present and future users of the archive.

Worthy, unusual and not-quite-believe-it
Over the years this has ranged from the worthy (such as the UK Web Designers’ Association and the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research), through the unusual (step forward the Federation of Holistic Therapists, the Fellowship of Christian Magicians, and the Society for the Assistance of Ladies in Reduced Circumstances), to the I-see-it-but-do-not-quite-believe-it (yes, I mean you, British Leafy Salads Association; no, don’t try and run away, Ferret Education and Research Trust; all power to you, Campaign Against Living Miserably). Being paid to spend part of your time surfing the web – what’s not to like?

Permission required
The only mildly disappointing aspect of selecting websites is the fact that at present only about 20% of recommended sites actually make it into the Open UK Web Archive. The explanation is simple – the Library requires formal permission from website owners before it can ingest and display their sites.

This is offset in part by the amendment to the Legal Deposit legislation that (since 2013) has allowed The British Library to archive all UK websites. These, however, can only be viewed in the Reading Rooms of the UK Legal Deposit Libraries.

If you know of a website that you feel should be in the Open UK Web Archive, please nominate it.


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

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