National Archives
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Instant history: Labour’s 13 years in power captured on the web

While it may be decades before many government documents see the light of day, the UK Government Web Archive already contains more than a billion documents -instantly available to the public - which together comprise a comprehensive digital record of Labour’s time in power.

The web archive captures some of the most dramatic moments of recent times including government websites’ response to national emergencies such as Swine Flu and the heightened security threat following the 2006 plot to bring down several aircraft in mid-flight: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/webarchive/themed-collections.htm

Since 1997 there has been an explosion in web usage and government began using the new technology to distribute more of its information online. But there was a serious risk of this valuable historic record disappearing into a cyber graveyard. In response, The National Archives started archiving websites in 2003 and now trawls more than 1,500 government websites three times a year, capturing and preserving their contents for the digital archive of the future.

This year for the first time, the wealth of online government information circulated in the weeks leading up to and immediately after the general election has been systematically documented. The National Archives has been capturing key government websites, including the Number 10 site, before and after the election to ensure nothing was lost as a result of a change in government.

The records can be viewed at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/webarchive and capture all the news, press notices, briefings, web chats, speeches, statements, transcripts and e-petitions from the out-going and in-coming government.


David Thomas, Director of Technology at The National Archives, said:

"We are the only government archive in the world regularly capturing and preserving government websites. The ephemeral nature of websites means there’s a risk that important information could be lost without a comprehensive web archiving programme.

"The programme not only preserves the government’s online record for future

generations, it’s also accessible right now - providing instant access to historic government information, such as the Treasury’s decision on 6 May 1997 to give the Bank of England responsibility for setting interest rates*"

 

 

 

Notes to editors

* Link to Treasury website announcing the decision to give responsibility to the Bank of England for setting interest rates in May 1997: http://web.archive.org/web/19970707050549/www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/pub/html/e_info/monetary/main.html

 The National Archives - UK Government Web Archive (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/webarchive/) contains more than a billion documents drawn from around 2000 websites dating back to 1997 and is the official web archive of government.

These websites – which will become the raw material of history for future generations - provide a fascinating narrative of the changing machinery of government and hold an invaluable amount of information, from green and white papers, to seminal speeches and key announcements.

Our digital archives contain enough space – 2,200 terabytes – for 33 billion A4 pages of text. Uniquely, The National Archives also work with government departments to ensure day-to-day government information remains accessible to the public by ensuring website links are not broken.

The service provided by The National Archives’ web continuity team has seen a steady increase in traffic as government departments redirect to the archive. In March 2010 the web archive received 23 million hits.

The National Archives began its programme of web archiving in 2003, entering into a contract with the Internet Archive which gave access to its pre-existing collection dating back to 1997. Initially around 50 government websites were harvested.

Since 2005 the web archiving has been carried out under contract to the European Archive and the number of websites captured has gradually grown.

Last November The National Archives began regularly archiving all UK central government websites, meaning that today around 1500 government websites are being archived three times a year.

Users can search for specific named websites using an A-Z index, and the websites have also been categorised by major themes, such as climate change, so people can search by categories.

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