Celebrating ten years of collecting the UK Web Space
Nicola Bingham, Lead Curator, Web Archiving, British Library
This April, we are celebrating ten years of collecting and preserving digital publications in the UK such as websites, e-books, and online journals, under legal deposit regulations. The UK Web Archive forms an important part of our collecting activity, across all six legal deposit libraries. We aim to preserve a copy of every UK website that we can identify, reflecting the broad range of experience and expression across the UK.
The UK Web Archive provides a detailed insight into the evolution of online public communication over the past two decades. Communication on the web is central to understanding the history, politics, culture and society of the 21st century. However, we know that information shared publicly on the web is rapidly changed, deleted and replaced. The UK Web Archive helps people to understand current events, and the recent past, by preserving that information before it is lost.
Here are a few examples of topics and themes that we have preserved in the archive:
- General elections: We have archived websites related to every UK general election since 2005. These websites provide a fascinating insight into the political campaigns, issues, and debates of each election.
- London Olympics and Paralympics 2012: These websites document the planning, organisation, and events of the games, as well as the cultural and social impact they had on the UK.
- Brexit: This collection documents the political, social, and economic impacts of Brexit. It contains official sources as well as voices from all sides of the debate across the UK.
- Online Enthusiast Communities: This collection provides insight into hobbyists in the UK. It covers a wide range of interests from more traditional areas, such as stamp collecting and cycling, to the more esoteric, such as the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society.
The UK Web Archive is used by researchers to answer significant questions on various topics. Recent examples include:
- discovering changes in word meanings over time (Barbara McGillivrary, the Alan Turing Institute)
- exploring the evolution of the digital economy in the UK (Prof Emmanouil Tranos, University of Bristol)
- investigating nationalism, internationalism and sporting identity, through the media coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games (Caio Mello, School of Advanced Study).
- preserving and exploring online communication about health during the Covid-19 pandemic (National Library of Scotland, funded by Wellcome Trust).
The UK Web Archive has been in existence since 2004. Legal deposit regulations came into effect on 6 April 2013 which increased our capacity to collect the UK’s online heritage and ensure it is available for future generations to research and study.
Prior to these regulations, we had to ‘hand pick’ websites to archive, and then could only proceed with written permission of the website owner. From 6 April 2013, the six legal deposit libraries of the UK and Ireland (the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, the Bodleian Libraries, Cambridge University Library and the Library of Trinity College Dublin) were empowered to collect and preserve all web content that could be identified as published in the UK. Since then, we have been archiving the UK Web at the “domain” level and hold many millions of websites - or over a Petabyte of digital content. The 11th annual “domain crawl” will be launched this week.
How can I access it?
Anyone can access the UK Web Archive, free of charge, at the six UK Legal Deposit Libraries.
You can search the archive, and view thousands of openly accessible archived websites at https://www.webarchive.org.uk/
Help us build the archive
Even though we aim to collect as much of the UK Web as possible, we miss many websites as we cannot automatically identify all of them as being published in UK. If you know of a UK website that should be preserved, please suggest it here: https://www.webarchive.org.uk/en/ukwa/info/nominate