THE BRITISH LIBRARY

UK Web Archive blog

19 July 2012

UK Web Archive in the eyes of scholars

We commissioned IRN Research earlier this year to gather a scholarly perspective on the UK Web Archive. This work has now completed and we have received feedback on the Archive’s perceived research value, and particularly on the content and access mechanisms which should be further developed to support research use.

The feedback came from two groups of users: those who already use the Archive for research (26%) and those who have not used the Archive (74%). The overwhelming majority are from Arts and Humanities or Social Sciences disciplines. The participants were interviewed over the telephone and a small group also undertook a second phase where they searched the Archive based on specific case studies, detailing each step of the search and results.

All participants appreciated the potential scholarly value of the Archive. Those interested in web history, statistics and digital preservation research highly value the Archive in particular. However, the selective nature of the Archive seems to impact the perception of those using it for the first time, in that they could not find content relevant to their research. This is further related to the search tool, which has been seen by some as complex with  the presentation of the search results perceived as unstructured. On the contrary, existing users are generally satisfied with the search tool, suggesting that increased familiarity with the Archive may help overcome the perceived weakness.

Special Collections were thought by all users to be useful. However, users would like to understand our selection criteria and how the themes for Special Collections are established. There is a desire to see more Special Collections and the facility to nominate themes. “UK politics” and “Contemporary British History” are the 2 broad themes which have been suggested. All users expressed the requirement for including more images and rich media, as well as more blogs.

Many first-time users are unsure about the usefulness of the visualisation tools, especially the N-gram search. However a small group of users are extremely enthusiastic about this. Again there is more interest in visualisation tools from existing users, suggesting the need to add better explanations about the functions and features of the Archive.

The study has given us some insight on how the UK Web Archive is perceived by scholars, which will direct us through the next stage of development. Things to consider for improvement or adjustment include not only the user interface, but also the underlying search and the scope of our collection.

Many thanks to IRN and those took part in the project.

Helen Hockx-Yu, Head of Web Archiving

 

Comments

Have you given any thought to additional visualization tools, and what they might be? I'd be interested in a follow on discussion in this area -

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.

We will work with researchers and develop more based on their requirements. We recently released a few visualisations and datasets using a JISC research dataset.

We are expecting regulations for non-print Legal Deposit sometime next year but the caveat is that resources collected for Legal Deposit will have restricted access, ie within the reading rooms of the Legal Deposit Libraries.

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