November 07, 2011
By Katharina Hering
Maybe you are researching recent British history, and are interested in finding out how London’s mayoral election 2008 was discussed in local blogs? Or you are studying the celebrations of Darwin’s 200th birthday in 2009? Then the UK Web Archive may be able to help you. The UK Web Archive, which is based in the British Library, is one of the oldest, most ambitious national initiatives to archive a small selection of the millions of web sites currently in the U.K. domain. Its aim is to “collect, preserve and give permanent access to key UK websites for future generations.”
The project, which began in 2004, currently archives more than 9,000 titles, reflecting a cross-section of British social and political life. The selected sites are either nominated by specialists inside or outside the library, or by members of the public. The archive is designed to appeal to a wide range of users, and content can be discovered in several ways: Users can search by title or full-text, and can also browse collections by subject or genre. In addition, “special collections” are compiled by curators and subject specialists in collaboration with key organizations, including collections of web sites on London’s mayoral election 2008, or on the British countryside, or a collection of a wide range of web logs by private citizens as well as institutions.
The UK Web Archive is a work in progress, and reflects many of the challenges of archiving the dynamic web, and its changes over time. For example, the context of archived websites is often not evident, the display not always reflects the original design, and numerous links from the original sites no longer work. Many audio-visual formats cannot yet be archived. The UK Web Archive, therefore, is not only an interesting resource, but also an important model and experiment in archiving the web in the future.