UKWA Conference 2021

I was recently able to attend the third annual UK Web Archive (UKWA) Conference, which took place over Zoom on November 18th. I found it really interesting, and since it’s a topic which hasn’t come up too often in day-to-day library work, I thought I’d turn my notes into a blog post. UKWA is a partnership between the six UK Legal Deposit Libraries, which are permitted to take a copy of any UK digitally published resources under the Non-Print Legal Deposit Regulations 2013. This is done through a combination of annual “capturing” of all .uk websites, ongoing “crawls” of certain sites and subjects, and the rapid formation of collections in response to current events. These copies are then preserved in perpetuity and made available on Legal Deposit Library premises. Captured sources range from official publications to social media posts, and sites can be nominated via an online form. However, it is not technically possible to capture everything – for example, Facebook currently cannot be harvested, and Twitter can only be captured through manual intervention. The conference featured presentations about a range of recent collections and projects, offering a broad insight into UKWA’s work over the last couple of years.

The first guest speaker was Joe Marshall, Associate Directions of Collections Management at the National Library of Scotland. He spoke about the Archive of Tomorrow, a new collaborative collection focusing on the impact of Covid-19. The collection aims to tell both the official and unofficial story of the pandemic, featuring government guidance, public dissent, and consequences for communities and industries. An interesting point here was the issue of metadata: as the project intends to avoid retrospectively labelling anything as ‘true’, ‘false’, or similar, there is a small possibility of someone encountering the collection and mistaking old captures for current guidance. However, this neutral attitude towards a huge breadth of content is crucial to the collection’s sense of completeness: to select and record an “official” version of the pandemic would not tell the full story. The Archive of Tomorrow is an ongoing project, and is currently recruiting web archivists across the Legal Deposit Libraries to continue curating and preserving the pandemic.

After a short break, the next two talks focused on specific collections within the UKWA. Nicole Bingham, Lead Curator of Web Archiving at the British Library, spoke about the Covid-19 collection, which can be found as a subsection of the pre-existing ‘Pandemic Outbreaks’ collection. There are obvious challenges in attempting to record global events through UK-centric sources, and so this talk also featured UKWA’s collaborative work with the International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC) Content Development Group, a partnership which enables researchers to combine and compare the Covid-19 collections of various national web archives.

Saskia Huc-Hepher and Xiao Ma then spoke about two diaspora collections focusing on French and Chinese speakers in London. Their presentation discussed archives in a more theoretical sense, exploring how the concept of a “community web archive” might be conceptualised differently according to varying connotations of the term “community” within the relevant groups. They also highlighted the importance of including these “microarchives” as a way of broadening UKWA’s scope beyond an Anglophone-centric perspective.

The next presentation was from Teagan Pyke, a PhD researcher currently working on the preservation of New Media Writing Prize (NMWP) entries. The NMWP is a competition for pieces of writing which cannot be expressed through “old media” alone; shortlisted entries from 2020 include several different styles of games and interactive webpages. Like the earlier talk from Joe Marshall, Teagan’s work involves the idea of completeness, focusing on the criteria for attaining a “good capture” of these works. Some of these factors are purely technical, such as attempting to ensure that links follow through correctly, while others are more abstract; Teagan determined that if some element of the work’s narrative, themes, or atmosphere were missing from the capture, it had not been preserved in full.

The final speaker was Tom Storrar, Head of the UK Government Web Archive (UKGWA). The UKGWA comprises captures from over 800 government-related websites and social media accounts, and, unlike much of the rest of the archive, can be accessed outside of the Legal Deposit Libraries. One project which stood out from UKGWA’s work in the last year was the EU Exit Web Archive. As the National Archives are responsible for publishing legislation, a decision was taken to capture all content published on Eur-Lex (the European legislation website) ahead of 11pm on December 31st, 2020. The result is, as described on the archive itself, “a comprehensive and official UK reference point for EU law as it stood at the end of the implementation period.” Future UKGWA plans include continuing to capture the government’s response to Covid-19, the integration of Instagram archives into public services, and generally improving the archive’s functionality as a research resource.

The conference was hosted by Jason Webber, Engagement Manager at UKWA, who also gave two talks during the morning. The first was a basic introduction to UKWA, while the second demonstrated how to access and navigate the available resources. As someone new to web archiving in general, I particularly appreciated this extra context to the various presentation topics, and found the conference as a whole to be a fascinating introduction to the area. As well as the annual conference, the UKWA also runs online training for staff and readers at Legal Deposit Libraries, and I would certainly recommend keeping an eye out for upcoming sessions.

Josie Fairley Keast, Bodleian Law Library

Further reading & links

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