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