British Library starts digital drive

The British Library – and the nation’s other legal deposit libraries – have officially taken on responsibility to archive UK web content, opening up immense opportunities for researchers.

April 6, 2013

All British print publications have been held by the libraries since 1662. But from today, says Lucie Burgess, the library’s head of content strategy, this has been extended “to capture the digital universe as well”.

The 4.8 million websites using the .uk domain will all be collected and made accessible from January 2014, though certain material will be available earlier. Other British websites with .org and .com domain names should follow soon after.

Though the principle of extending legal deposit beyond print was established with the Legal Deposit Libraries Act of 2003, 10 years’ worth of e-books and e-journals have since been lost beyond recall (since the regulations do not allow them to be collected retrospectively).

The British Library has now embarked on a systematic process of signing up publishers, starting with large-volume and e-only companies, and it is hoped that from this May many publications should be available for consultation within weeks of their release. Ms Burgess expects “100,000 new journal articles and several thousand e-books” to come on stream by the end of the year.

As with books, all this material will be “restricted to the premises of the library,” says Ms Burgess, in order to strike “a balance between the need to create a comprehensive archive and the right of publishers to exploit their content commercially”.

Data discs containing material have to be deposited in the British Library within a month of publication. Longer-term plans will also ensure the collection of blogs and social media content.

To accompany the launch of this major new initiative, curators at the library released a list of a hundred websites they believe might offer the historians of the future the best picture of what British life is like in 2013. Their suggestions include the websites of Argos and the Anarchist Federation,, The Beano online, the Church of England’s site and the Camberwell Online blog.

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Then, of course, there's this site with over 5 million hits...

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