UK Web Archive blog

Information from the team at the UK Web Archive, the Library's premier resource of archived UK websites

The UK Web Archive, the Library's premier resource of archived UK websites


News and views from the British Library’s web archiving team and guests. Posts about the public UK Web Archive, and since April 2013, about web archiving as part as non-print legal deposit. Editor-in-chief: Jason Webber. Read more

09 March 2020

A Readers Journey: an introduction to using the Reading Rooms at the British Library

By Rachel Brett, Science Reference Team Leader, The British Library

The British Library is one of six UK legal deposit libraries.  We are a dual site based in London and Boston Spa, Yorkshire. At St. Pancras in London we have eleven different subject focused reading rooms comprising of:

  • Humanities 1
  • Humanities 2 - Sound & Vision
  • Newsroom
  • Science 1 & 2
  • Social Sciences
  • Business & Intellectual Property

Plus specialist collections readings rooms:

  • Manuscripts
  • World’s largest Maps collection
  • Rare Books early pre 1850 print & Music
  • Asian & African Studies
British Library reading room
British Library reading room

All reading rooms are staffed by qualified Reference Specialists providing librarian support to all our readers. Access to the Reading Rooms is by free Reader Pass which everyone needs to register for first before they can enter the rooms. Online pre-register is available which must be completed in person with 2 forms of ID. It is advisable to check our website as only certain types of ID are suitable.

Once registration is complete readers are asked to leave large bags and outdoor coats in the cloak room and lockers. We are looking after the National collections, and therefore have some restrictions, including: No pens (pencils only) no food or drink or other items that may damage or mark collection items and no downloading (the only exception being BIPC1).

Depending on the subject and more specifically material type that is being consulted readers can select the room they wish to use. The exception being specialist collections can only be viewed in the respective reading rooms.

“Where are all the books?”
We hold millions of copies of collection items and as such you can’t come in and find all the books on the shelves as you would in public libraries. Our collection is in closed storage and can only be accessed via searching and ordering items from our online catalogues.  The main catalogue for the majority of the Library's collection, including digital items is called Explore the British Library and can be used remotely to discover and locate items, identify delivery times and order material. Items that are held in our basements at St. Pancras take 70 minute for delivery, while collections held at Boston Spa have a 48 hour+ delivery time, with no deliveries at weekends.  Readers can order up to 10 items per day and 6 can be kept on reserve for 3 working days on a rolling basis. The only material that is held on open shelves in the reading rooms is our reference collections including dictionary, encyclopaedia. National bibliographies, biographies etc.  Additionally, we also subscribe to databases, the majority of which can also only be accessed in the reading rooms.

More than just books
We are a hybrid library, and have multi-format collections covering all subjects, including

  • Legal Deposit copies of items published within the UK & Ireland- which also now included digital items and ebooks
  • Open access reference works
  • World’s largest Maps and Rare Books collections
  • Newspapers, Journals, comics, zines
  • Manuscripts & Music scores, Theatre archives
  • Indian Office records, photographs
  • over 2 million sound recordings
  • Stamps, Official publications
  • 5 million reports, conference papers
  • over 50m patents – the largest collection in the World

Oh yes and the UK Web Archive! 
Only some of the UK Web Archive is available to access anywhere, the majority is only available in Reading Rooms of the six UK Legal Deposit Libraries.

To access the web archive, take your readers pass to any of the reading rooms and find a free computer terminal. From there, go to and you will be able to access all of the UK Web Archive collection.

Also note that there is FREE WIFI, and items can be scanned freely to email or USB, digital items cannot be downloaded, but photography is allowed with some restrictions. Copyright law applies.

Additionally we offer a Chat service and 1-2-1 sessions delivered by our reference teams to help readers navigate our procedures and collections.

02 March 2020

15 Years of the UK Web Archive - The Early Years

Think back 15 years to the beginning of 2005. Future Prime Minister David Cameron wasn't yet Leader of the Conservative party and Google Maps, Twitter and the iPhone all had yet to be launched. It was, however, the year that we started collecting copies of UK published websites for permanent preservation and access.

The original UK Web Archive Consortium website captured by the Internet Archive.
First UKWAC website via the Internet Archive

Our Origins
In the beginning a group of interested UK institutions - The British Library, The National Archives, Wellcome Trust, National Library of Scotland, National Library of Wales and  JISC - formed a consortium (UKWAC) to implement a project to archive websites.

A multi-disciplinary team was formed to look into the many challenging technical and curatorial issues involved in archiving websites. The learning curve in this field can be steep and was especially so then. At the time only a few other organisations were in this field, including the Internet Archive and the National Library of Australia (NLA). In fact, initially, it was a tool developed by NLA - Pandas software - that we used in those early days. Later on we switched to using Heritrix to collect the web (and still do).

One of the special elements of archiving the web is that whilst it can be difficult, this very challenge encourages co-operation and partnership. We have been very grateful for all of the input and help along the way.  

What to archive?
In this early era of web archiving, website 'targets' were carefully selected by curators and the owners were asked for permission for us to archive and publicly display them. If the website owner refused, which is very rare, or didn't respond then the website couldn't be archived. 

Overall, the responses that we received from website owners were overwhelmingly positive and led to the formation of key early collections such as the 2005 General Election and the 7 July London terrorist attacks.

BBC news Election website from 2005
BBC News 2005 Election website

Where next?
By early 2005 the first websites were being captured and stored, however, it wasn't until May 2005 that we first displayed them to the public.

The evolution of the UK Web Archive website and how we developed a growing number of 'special collections' (as they were initially known) will be the subject of future blog posts over the next few months.

Watch this space!





26 February 2020

Spotlight on Hedley Sutton, Asian & African Studies Reference Team Leader at The British Library

By Helena Byrne, Curator of Web Archives, The British Library

Hedley Sutton is the Team Leader, Asian & African Studies Reference Services at the British Library. He joined the Library as a cataloguer in what was then called the Bibliographic Services Division in 1982. Early in 1988 he moved to the India Office Library and Records Section (later renamed the Oriental & India Office Collections … then Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections … and now Asian & African Studies) as Serials and Acquisitions Librarian, before taking up his current role in the Reference Enquiry team in 1999.


 In a previous blog post (2014) Hedley stated that:

“A Reference Team Leader spends most of their day answering queries sent in by e-mail, fax and letter or manning Reading Room enquiry desks. Some, however, also help with contributing to the selection of sites for inclusion in the UK Web Archive.”

In 2008, Hedley started to select websites for the web archive team and to date has selected over 6,000 targets. His initial focus was on UK published websites related to his own specialism of Asian and African studies, however he soon turned to selecting websites on a wide variety of topics that will be of interest to future researchers.

In Hedley’s free time, he likes to write limericks and when he started to come across websites that covered interesting niche subject areas he was inspired to write a series of blogs called If Websites Could Talk. In the first blog post (2016), Hedley brings many of the websites to life as they discuss amongst themselves “to which might be regarded as the most fantastic and extraordinary site of all”. In the second blog post (2017), the websites talked about “which one has the best claim to be recognized as the most extraordinary”. After a long break, the third blog post (2020), also tries to determine which website is the most extraordinary site of all.

You can view archived versions of the websites that Hedley has selected by searching on the UK Web Archive website:   

If you know of a website that you feel should be in the UK Web Archive, please nominate it.

09 January 2020

If Websites Could Talk - Part 3 (this time it's personal)

By Hedley Sutton, Team Leader, Asian & African Studies Reference Services

After a long gap of time, we are back eavesdropping on a conversation among U.K. domain websites as they try and decide which of their number should be recognized as the most extraordinary site of all.

“Who would like to begin?” said the Museum of Fenland Drainage. “Perhaps you, Catholic Association of Performing Arts?”

“If you’re going to get all religious, then I think we should be considered,” said the Equinox Pilgrimage of the Glastonbury Zodiac.

“Religions are merely derelict husks of an impoverished intellectual paradigm,” mused the UK Sartre Society. “We’d be far more inclined to nominate a site encapsulating the essential shallowness of contemporary culture.”

“Such as … us, perhaps?” chipped in Desperate Optimists.

“Rubbish!” cried Primal Bushcraft & Survival. “We want a site that’s rugged and tough!”

“Then you surely mean us,” said Adrenalin Addicts. “We’re much tougher than you!”

“Now now, just calm down,” said the Challenging Behaviour Foundation soothingly. “Why don’t you two make up and have a little chat with the Balloon and Party Professionals Association? If you don’t, we may need to use the services of Action for Happiness. Or in the worst case scenario, the British Pain Society. ”

“If you are lucky, you might make the British Blacklist."

“How about a song?” chuckled the *Falmouth Fish Sea Shanty Collective*. We’d now like to entertain you all with a duet with our dear friends the Cornish Sardine Management Association. The National Federation of Fishmongers may like to join in too.”

“Fish doesn’t seem to agree with us,” said the UK Men’s Sheds Association, changing the subject. “We usually find we have to go running to the Association of Registered Colon Hydrotherapists.”

In the background the Apostrophe Protection Society could be seen, mouthing the words “Thank you.”

“Keep still!” pleaded the Big Wasp Survey. “I think I see one. Look out, Flea Circus Research Library, it’s heading your way!”

“We’re getting off the point,” sighed the Pylon Appreciation Society. “A sing song or an insect hunt aren’t going to help us decide.”

With time running out, they eventually decided that the best qualified candidate site would be … Perfect Information.

Also see:

If websites could talk

If websites could talk (again) 


04 December 2019

What is left behind? Exploring the Olympic Games legacies through the UK Web Archive

By Caio Mello, Doctoral Researcher at the School of Advanced Study, University of London

The Olympic Games happen every four years. This means that every four years a city has to be chosen as a host city. It is easy to think about the impact of hosting such a big event in your own country. Usually governments have to prepare everything for their guests and be aware that the local population is expecting something that will remain as a legacy after the event ends. But what are people actually expecting? What usually happens after the Olympics? Are people happy or unhappy with the legacy left behind with the end of the games? We can try to answer these questions by reading what was published on the internet before, during and after the games in these countries that have hosted the Olympics.

This project will be looking at the media coverage of the two most recent Olympics that took place in London (2012) and Rio (2016). Our main goal is to detect the kind of legacy that had been covered by the media and also the sentiments behind the articles, considering how they had changed over time. This analysis will provide us with insights about what sort of legacy people usually expect and what are their feelings when they face the materialization of their plans some years later. This kind of research has many possible applications. It can help governments to plan better public policies as well as provide us with tools to understand the impacts of such big events, what can be used to find solutions.


What do we mean by Olympic Legacy?
Despite being an important pillar of the Olympic Movement and also regularly brought up to justify cities – and nations – participation in the event, the concept of legacy is not very clear and has still been requiring some effort of scholars and members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to determine – or even get closer of – what it exactly means. Legacy can be basically understood here as being all the results generated by the event.

Among the most recognizable legacies of Olympic Games are the sports infrastructure - such as new stadiums and training venues – and the urban planning – which involves many aspects such as new residential areas and new transportation infrastructure, for instance. But it is not reducible to material – or “hard” – legacy. There are also many abstract/immaterial legacies that can be called as soft legacies. As an example it is possible to mention the national self-confidence, production of new ideas, popular memory and additional know-how.

It is important to point out that legacy does not have to be positive, although most of the time it is used in positive contexts. There are possible negative legacies such as debts from planning or construction and infrastructure that is not needed after the event.

This research is part of the CLEOPATRA Innovative Training Network and it has been conducted under a PhD developed at the School of Advanced Study at the University of London. The project is entitled ‘Nationalism, internationalism and sporting identity: the London and Rio Olympics’. For more information:

20 November 2019

Militarism and its role in the commemoration of British war dead

By Liam Markey, Collaborative Doctoral Student, University of Liverpool

Mediating Militarism: Chronicling 100 Years of Military Victimhood from Print to Digital, 1918-2018 is an ESRC funded CASE studentship in collaboration with the University of Liverpool and the British Library. The project aims to assess militarism and its role in the commemoration of the British war dead since the end of the First World War.
By taking advantage of unique access to print and digital materials captured and held by the British Library my aim is to chronicle the changing public portrayal of the British war dead from the print to the digital age, evaluating the role this portrayal plays in the mediation of militarism in the process.


What is Militarism?
Militarism, generally defined as the glorifying of war and invasion of the civilian sphere by military ideals, manifests itself in a variety of ways that depend heavily on contemporary politics, alongside both military and social developments. In the case of Britain, national narratives surrounding the First World War have played a key role in the development of the nation’s own form of militarism.

The nature of Britain’s involvement in the First World War meant that following the Armistice of 11th November 1918, a multitude of commemorative practices were developed in order to facilitate the mourning of an entire nation. British soldiers who had died abroad were not repatriated following the war, meaning tangible sites of mourning, such as the Cenotaph in London, were created as focal points of British remembrance. A unique language and symbology surrounding the commemoration of the war dead developed. Fallen soldiers began to be venerated as almost Christ-like figures, and symbols such as the poppy became tangible representations of commemoration, these practices continue into the present day and have saturated British attitudes to the military and the waging of war.

UK Web Archive
How, then, can the UK Web Archive assist in the development of this research project? Websites curated by the archive provide us with a valuable look at how ordinary British people and communities interact with these commemorative practices, and I am interested in looking at how the language and symbols popularised over the past century are reproduced, for example, in amateur websites. One of the big questions I have been asking as I carry out my research is how the First World War leaving living memory has affected the function of these practices.

Using the UK Web Archive to assess the British discourse around those who were killed in the war, be it regarding a family member or a soldier who served in a local regiment, will prove fascinating when interrogating ideas such as the sanitisation and trivialisation of war.

Does language steeped in religious rhetoric glorify war, representing the saturation of British commemorative practices with militarism over the past century, or instead are they an insight into the more personal and isolated forms of commemoration distinct from national narratives we are presented with in the media? Does an excessive use of the poppy on both amateur and media websites reflect this potent symbol’s original meaning or has it been hijacked to serve more nationalistic and militaristic purposes?

Materials collected by the UK Web Archive will prove invaluable in answering these questions.

04 October 2019

UKWA Website Crawl - One hour in One minute

By Jason Webber, Web Archive Engagement Manager, The British Library

Each year we attempt to collect as much of the UK web space as we can. This typically involves millions of websites and billions of individual assets (images, pdf's, css files etc.). We send out our robots across the interwebs looking for websites that we can archive. The bots follow links to pages that have links to follow and it keeps going until we have archived (almost) everything. But what does it look like to 'crawl' the web? Here we have condensed an hour of live web crawling into a one minute video:

Every circle is a different website, and every line represents a link that was followed between websites. The size of the circle represents how many pages we visited from that site, and the width of the line represents the number of links we followed.

If you want to see what we are crawling at the moment, look here (NOTE: this link only works while we are crawling the web):

You can see what we have captured at our website (, however, many of the sites themselves can only be viewed in the reading rooms of UK Legal Deposit Libraries. 

Despite our best efforts we can't collect every UK owned website as many are hosted abroad and not under a .UK (looking at you wordpress, squarespace and wix). You can nominate a website here:

30 September 2019

The Magic of Wimbledon in the UK Web Archive

By Robert McNicol, Librarian at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum


The magic of Wimbledon is its ability to preserve its history and tradition while simultaneously embracing the future. When you enter the Grounds of The All England Lawn Tennis Club, you know you’re somewhere special. It’s the spiritual home of the sport and you can feel the history all around you. And yet Wimbledon in 2019 is also a thoroughly modern sporting venue with state-of-the-art facilities for players, spectators, officials and broadcasters. While Wimbledon loves its traditions (the grass courts, the all-white clothing, the strawberries & cream), it has always been looking ahead as well. From the very first Lawn Tennis Championships in 1877, to the introduction of Open tennis in 1968, to the building of roofs on Centre and No.1 Courts. Wimbledon is both the past and the future of tennis.

It’s in this same spirit that the Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library has teamed up with the British Library to curate a collection of tennis websites for the UK web archive. This is a subsection of the much larger Sports Collection on the UK Web Archive Website. Using the latest technology to preserve the past, it’s a project that captures the essence of Wimbledon.

Naturally, one of the first websites we added to the Tennis collection was our own. was established in 1995 and is very excited to be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year.  This project ensures that, in future, researchers will be able to go back and search the contents of the Wimbledon website from previous years. We have also archived some Wimbledon social media feeds, including the Twitter feed of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, of which the Library is part.

However, the ultimate aim is to archive a complete collection of UK-based tennis websites. This will include sites belonging to governing bodies, clubs, media and individual players. One part of the project already completed is to archive the Twitter feeds of all British players with a world ranking. From Andy Murray and Johanna Konta to Finn Bass and Blu Baker, every British player with a Twitter account has had it saved for posterity!

If you want to hear more about the project, you may be interested in attending Wimbledon’s Tennis History Conference on Saturday 9 November, where Helena Byrne (Curator of Web Archiving at the British Library) will be joining me to do a joint presentation.

And if you’d like to know more about the Wimbledon Library, feel free to get in touch. We’re the world’s biggest and best tennis library, holding thousands of books, periodicals and programmes from more than 90 different countries. We’re open by appointment to anyone with an interest in researching tennis history.

Finally, if you’d like to nominate a tennis or other sporting websites for us to archive, go to our Save a UK website form: