What is the UK Web Archive?
The UK Web Archive contains websites that publish research, that reflect the diversity of lives, interests and activities throughout the UK, and demonstrate web innovation. This includes "grey literature" sites: those that carry briefings, reports, policy statements, and other ephemeral but significant forms of information.
There are millions of UK websites. They are constantly changing and even disappearing. Often they contain information that is only available online. Responding to the challenge of a potential "digital black hole" the UK Web Archive is there to safeguard as many of these websites as practical. Its purpose is to collect, preserve and give permanent access to key UK websites for future generations.
Contributors to the UK Web Archive seek permission from the website owner for every website it archives. This is costly and difficult (many owners simply don't respond to the request) so we have been advising the Government on the necessary regulations required to gather all in-scope UK websites automatically. The British Library and other "legal deposit libraries" have this right in principle under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act (2003) but need a further legal regulation to go ahead.
Because websites are revisited and snapshots ("instances") are taken at regular intervals, readers can see how a website evolves over time.
The archive is free to view, accessed directly from the Web itself and, since archiving began in 2004, has collected thousands of websites.
Who is the UK Web Archive for?
All are welcome to use the UK Web Archive and to nominate sites that are not yet in the collections.
The UK Web Archive is designed to appeal to users across a wide spectrum of interest and knowledge: the general reader, the teacher, the journalist, the policy maker, the academic and personal researcher, and many more besides. Those represented by the sites themselves, in all the diversity of the United Kingdom, are also intended to be prime users.
Most users will find archived sites that deal with their particular area of interest or subject, and which may contain information that is no longer given on the equivalent live site. Sometimes the live site will no longer exist: in which case the UK Web Archive is likely to hold the only copy that remains.
Because the Web is of such cultural importance in itself researchers of the history of the Internet will also find the UK Web Archive of great interest. Website owners themselves use the UK Web Archive to locate information misplaced from previous versions of their sites.
In addition to working to radically increase the amount of content in the UK Web Archive, the British Library, which provides the underpinning infrastructure, is committed to improving the user experience of the Archive. The web site will gradually be developed to bring even better search capabilities and other features of value to the user. The UK Web Archive will also be stored in the British Library's secure digital repository, designed to enable the UK to preserve and make accessible its digital output forever, as well as offering further opportunities of searching across various kinds of archive.
The organisations behind the UK Web Archive work hard to identify individual websites and obtain permissions from website owners to archive them, making them freely accessible and preserving them for the future. This is a labour intensive process for both the Archive and the individual website owners. As a result, only a small fraction of the UK domain is being collected, while some valuable websites will have disappeared before their owners were contacted.
The Legal Deposit Libraries Act (2003) was designed to facilitate digital archiving of digital content. Six libraries, including the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, the Bodleian Library, Oxford, Cambridge University Library and Trinity College Dublin, were granted in principle the same legal entitlement to archive digital material as they have with printed works. Britain is one of almost 30 countries that have passed laws about the digital archiving of online material. However, the necessary regulation is yet to come in to effect. The expectation is that, when it does, the UK Web Archive will expand considerably by adding regularly snapshots of the entire in-scope UK web domain.
The UK Web Archive is provided by the British Library in partnership with the National Library of Wales, JISC and The Wellcome Library. In the past, The National Archive and the National Library of Scotland have also been involved. The British Library also works with the The Live Art Development Agency, The Society of Friends Library, Women's Library at London Metropolitan University and other key institutions to build Special Collections within the UK Web Archive.