THE BRITISH LIBRARY

UK Web Archive blog

3 posts from April 2020

27 April 2020

The Brexit Collection in the UK Web Archive

By Jennie Grimshaw, Curator of Official Publications, The British Library

The vote to leave the EU on June 23rd 2016 by 52% to 48% bitterly divided the nation. Remainers argued that the margin of victory was narrow, and that Leave voters had been misled. They saw Brexit as a self-inflicted wound and campaigned for a second referendum.  Leavers accused the Remain camp of seeking to undermine democracy and frustrate the clearly expressed will of the majority of voters. They saw Brexit as an opportunity to throw off what they viewed as the shackles of the EU and become a proud, independent sovereign nation once again.

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The Brexit web archive collection follows on directly from the EU Referendum Collection and traces the course of the increasingly bitter battle to either overturn Brexit or “get it done” from June 24th 2016 to Brexit Day on January 31st 2020.  It was created by web archivists and curators at the British Library, the Bodleian Library, and the national libraries of Scotland and Wales working in collaboration over three years.  It seeks to achieve balance by including:

  • News reports, indexed at the level of the individual article, from pro-Brexit, anti-Brexit and neutral newspapers and broadcasters. Pro-Brexit sources include the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Express newspapers. Overtly anti-Brexit sources are represented by the Guardian and the Independent.  Coverage of broadcast news sources focuses on the BBC, ITV and Sky News. The aim is to document every twist and turn of the unbelievably complex and convoluted process of delivering the EU Referendum result in order to guide enquirers through the labyrinth.
  • A range of online only news and comment services, indexed at the site level, including Politics Home, Politics.co.uk, Huffingtom Post, CAPX, The Conversation, Spiked and Unherd. Unfortunately Politico had to be excluded as it operates outside of the UK web domain.
  • Legislation and legal commentary, covering bills, Commons and Lords debates,  briefings on them by the Commons and Lords Libraries, legal challenges and case law, and comment in blogs such as EU Law Analysis and by professional groups such as Lawyers for Britain
  • Government and Parliamentary action, offering Commons and Lords Select Committee reports, analysis by the Commons and Lords Libraries, and speeches, press notices, letters and guidance from GOV.UK.
  • The EU view on developments as reported by UK-based news sources. The constraints of the UK Non-Print Legal Deposit regulations meant that we could not include EU institutional websites based in Brussels!
  • The voices of politicians of all parties, heard through their websites, Twitter feeds, and blogs such as Conservative Home, Conservative Woman, Labour List and Liberal Democrat Voice.
  • Comment by pro- and anti-Brexit pressure groups such as Best for Britain and the People’s Vote Campaign (anti-Brexit) and Brexit Central and Better Off Out (pro-Brexit)
  • The voices of a wide range of trade and professional associations,  charities, business organisations and trade unions lobbying government and speaking up for and advising their members. Some voices are sadly silenced due to technical difficulties, such as the website of The3Million, which speaks for EU citizens in the UK, but which cannot be archived because it is Wix-based.  Others which are heard range from business associations MakeUK  and the CBI to charities like Age UK and professional bodies such as the British Veterinary Association.
  • Research and analysis by pro- and anti- EU think tanks such as Centre for European Reform, the Federal Trust,  Policy Exchange, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Red Cell, Briefings for Brexit,  Demos, IPPR  and Centre for Policy Studies, the Institute for Government, Global Britain, Politeia,  etc.
  • Sub-Collections on the impact of Brexit on Wales and Scotland built up energetically by colleagues at their respective National Libraries.
  • Sub-collections on the impact on Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, especially the vexed question of the Irish land border.

The path leading to Brexit day on January 31st was long and winding. The debate polarised society and strained the UK constitution to breaking point as Remainers in a hung Parliament fought across party lines to delay or prevent Brexit  and Leavers went to equally extreme lengths to deliver it. The process saw the birth of Lawfare as Remainers used legal challenges to seek to block it.  Brexit also destabilised the devolution settlement and reignited calls for Scottish independence. We hope that by documenting the debate as it played out on the Internet and on social media we can help researchers to gain understanding in retrospect of this tumultuous period of our history.

24 April 2020

Harnessing the Crowd: Coronavirus Topical Collection at the UK Web Archive

By Nicola Bingham, Lead Curator of Web Archiving, The British Library

Note: This post was originally published on the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) blog.

The UK Web Archive, a partnership of the 6 UK Legal Deposit Libraries* (LDLs), has been collecting UK websites since the early 2000’s. As well as archiving snapshots of the whole UK Web Space we have dozens of curated collections focussing on a wide range of topics, themes and events reflecting all aspects of UK life.

Collections are instigated by a broad range of curators – in this context, ‘curator’ is not necessarily synonymous with job title - including LDL staff, academic researchers, various UK GLAM organisations (e.g., Jersey Heritage, Hampshire Archives and Local Studies, Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum) and local community groups. Collections may focus on a researcher’s area of interest, align with an institution’s collection policy or reflect diverse political, sporting or topical events such as the London Olympic Games, Brexit or Climate Change. Below are the members of the Web Archiving team at the British Library.

UK Web Archive Team

We have a particularly strong time-series of collections focusing on UK General Elections having archived every campaign since 2005. For each event we have used more or less the same categories – candidate’s web presence, national and local political party websites, online news and commentary, interest group manifestos and comment and analysis by think tanks.

Structuring the collections with consistent sub-categories enables curators to distribute web archiving more efficiently, as does dividing selection broadly along the lines of the geographical interest of the 3 National Libraries that belong to the UKWA.

We hope that our General Election collections will preserve the voices and illustrate the concerns and priorities of a wide spectrum of UK society and help to show how political parties and candidates engaged and responded at pivotal moments in UK history.

It is interesting to note how use of the Internet for political campaigning and communication has evolved over time. In 2005 very little social media existed and politicians were just beginning to explore its capabilities, whereas by 2019 campaigners were making little or no use of websites, concentrating almost exclusively on using social media.

The (somewhat) scheduled nature of UK General Elections, especially since the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011, allows us to plan election web archiving strategies ahead of time. Having said this, we have been tested in recent years with snap elections in June 2017 and December 2019! And of course candidates are only announced a couple of week’s before polling day which means we have to react at that point to archive candidate’s websites, or official, publicly facing social media accounts.

Rapidly unfolding events such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks require a different approach. However, even here we have some experience, having archived collections about the London Terrorist Attack 2005, Grenfell Tower Fire, and Pandemic Outbreaks such as Avian Flu and Swine Flu over the years.

For the past few weeks we have been actively collecting the UK perspective of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic. We are clearly facing one of the severest threats in our lifetimes, certainly one of the fastest and most clearly devastating, and while Librarians might not (yet) be members of the Emergency Services, we feel the act of recording the outbreak as it plays out online is a crucial one.

Websites are being selected by a cohort of curators across the LDLs and beyond. We have also been ably assisted by colleagues at the Royal College of Nursing Archives who are nominating health-related websites. However due to the unpredictable, fast paced nature of the outbreak and the consequent deluge in online information, it is more important for us to harness the crowd to elicit website nominations. For this reason, we will canvas for website nominations much more widely among our colleagues, the library and archive community and the general public when responding to rapidly unfolding events. We will also visit targeted websites much more frequently than we would usually to capture frequently edited web content.

The collection is not public yet while we concentrate on acquiring the websites. Once we’re finished, it will take time to prepare the collection for publication by performing quality assurance and clearing permissions for open access. In due course, the Coronavirus collection will be available here under the Pandemic Outbreaks Collection. The top-level heading reflects the fact that we have previously collected around Avian Flu and Swine Flu and acknowledges that, sadly, we will be collecting about future outbreaks.

UKWA_PandemicOutbreak_Collection_Screenshot

In terms of getting involved, we welcome submissions from colleagues in the DPC community - and in fact from any member of the public. Details of how to nominate websites for inclusion are here: www.webarchive.org.uk/nominate. Alternatively, please email nominations to web-archivist@bl.uk
We’re also working on an international collection with the International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC). Details of how to contribute to this collection are here: netpreserveblog.wordpress.com/2020/02/13/cdg-collection-novel-coronavirus/ (non-English language websites are particularly welcome here).

If your organisation has not previously done any web archiving and you would like to capture your own institution’s or communities’ response to Coronavirus, plenty of tools exist that can be used remotely. Webrecorder is a good place to start as it can be used in a browser, free of charge up to a 5GB data limit. Of course web archives such as the UKWA and Internet Archive would also be very happy to preserve your websites free of charge (see details above).

*The UK Legal Deposit Libraries: Bodleian Libraries, Oxford University, British Library, Cambridge University Libraries, National Library of Scotland, National Library of Wales, Trinity College, Dublin

15 April 2020

Adding Poetry Websites to the UK Web Archive

By Pete Hebden, Phd Student Placement, Newcastle University

One of the great features of the UK Web Archive is its series of curated collections, which can be found on the UKWA Topics and Themes page. Each collection centres on a specific topic, some responding to particular events, such as Brexit or the First World War Centenary, others drawing upon the knowledge of contributors to create a set of in-depth examples around a particular subject. During my time at the British Library, I spent some time contributing to the Poetry Zines and Journals collection, originally started in 2016 by previous PhD placement student Joe McCarthy. The collection contains an amazing range of UK-based online outlets for poetry, encompassing blogs, Twitter accounts, online journals, and the personal websites of some poets, where there is a significant amount of the poet’s creative work on the site.

Poetry writing
Poetry writing

 Although the collection was already very well curated when I came to it, it had not been significantly updated in several years, so many newer publications were not included in the collection. The past few years have seen a serious increase in the number of high-quality online literary journals – a trend that this collection was very astutely responding to when it was first created – and so there were a number of recent but well-established poetry titles that I could add to the list. One example is perverse, an online-only poetry journal started by the poet Chrissy Williams in 2018.

Along with roughly a third of the Poetry Zines and Journals collection, the archived version of perverse is only accessible on-site at the reading rooms of the UK’s legal deposit libraries. The rest of the content, for which open access permission has been obtained, can be viewed from anywhere. The Rialto and Porridge magazine are two examples of recently added sites that are open access, and the links here lead to the archived versions of those sites.

My other choices for inclusion in the collection were guided by some of my own specific areas of knowledge and interest. I included several online journals that are based in, or focus on, the north of England and Scotland, as these are literary scenes that I am more familiar with. Butcher’s Dog and Another North are two relatively recent literary journals based in the north of England. Another North is entirely digital, while Butcher’s Dog is a print journal with a strong online presence. I also added several more websites for print magazines that feature a significant amount of poetry on their site. For example, Popshot and The Rialto, both print magazines, regularly feature poetry from their most recent issues on their websites and/or social media, which gives readers an idea of the journal’s editorial policy and marks a significant change in the way that poetry is distributed by these publications thanks to the internet.

One interesting problem that I encountered during the process was around the formats that some digital publications use for distribution. While most online poetry journals choose to publish in a standard website or blog form, some distribute each issue as a downloadable file, such as a PDF or EPUB. This method of delivery presents a problem when attempting to archive the content, as the web crawler is not necessarily able to access and download these files, meaning that the poetry itself goes unrecorded. For these journals, we had to use alternative ways of recording their poetry in the collection. For example, perverse (mentioned above), as well as distributing each issue as a PDF download, also posts each poem individually to Twitter, and so we set up a regular capture of their Twitter account in order to record all of the poetry. Many other journals use social media in a similar way, and so in these cases I was able to use this as a way of archiving the journal’s output.

Over the past few decades, the web has provided an exciting platform for a diverse range of poets and publishers to showcase their work and it has been a very enjoyable challenge to contribute to the cataloguing of this transformation. I hope that my work on the Poetry Zines and Journals collection will help other readers and researchers exploring the breadth and variety of UK poetry available online today. 

If you know of any websites that should be included in this collection or in the general UK Web Archive, please nominate it.