The NRS Web Archive and the NRS Web Continuity Service

So far in this blog series we have discovered government websites’ value as public records, and explored the world of web archiving. This week we combine these two threads, to introduce the NRS Web Archive and our Web Continuity Service.

The NRS Web Continuity Service went live in February 2017. Delivered as part of NRS’s Digital Preservation Programme, our service allows us to archive selected websites that fall within our statutory and strategic collecting remit, and make all archived snapshots accessible in the NRS Web Archive. After just a few months of operations, we are delighted to say that the service is fully functioning and delivering on what it set out to do. To find out more, keep on reading!

As a national archive, NRS collects the archival records of the Scottish Government, Scottish Courts, and the Scottish Parliament. We also collect the records of many public authorities, Public Inquiries in Scotland, and a selection of private organisations: full details here. This collecting remit extends to websites – which is where the Web Continuity Service comes in.

manuscript acts of the scottish parliament

scot parl website
One record creator, two formats, one archive: manuscript Acts of the (Scottish) Parliament, 1542, snapshot of the Scottish Parliament, 2017. Both records are preserved and made available by NRS, documenting two particular points in the history of democracy in Scotland.

As we found out last week, web archiving is technically tough. To manage this, we procured the services of a commercial supplier, Internet Memory Research, to deliver the technical elements of our service. This allows us to focus our in-house efforts on stakeholder engagement, appraisal and selection, quality assurance, and service advocacy. See our Service Model document for more details. We’ll talk more about our processes in our next blog.

Our Web Archive operates on a permissions’ basis, whereby we ask website owners to provide us with information ahead of capture to enhance our collection knowledge and permit us to manage access to archived content appropriately. We only archive content in the public domain, but it’s still important to get owners’ insight on any potential copyright or other sensitivities, as well as talk through the benefits of the service for them e.g. support recordkeeping, assist web teams in managing historic content etc.

This permissions’ process has been effective in helping website owners get to grips with the concept of the web archive. Furthermore, it has helped forge closer links between NRS and parts of our stakeholder organisations with whom we’d perhaps not spoken to before e.g. IT teams, web teams, communications. These new connections may prove invaluable to future discussions on transfer of other born digital records.

We capture selected sites every month, giving us flexibility to schedule crawls in line with owners’ requests and to help capture as much unique content as possible e.g. before or after a significant event, during business/website change etc. Each site is normally captured between one and two times a year, creating a representative record of its existence and development.

Our service also has one special trick up its sleeve: Web Continuity, designed to help combat ‘link rot’ on government sites. ‘Link rot’ refers to instances where online information located on a specific web URL is taken down or moved, meaning that if a user navigates to this link, they are likely to receive a ‘404 page not found message’.

Link rot can have an impact on government transparency and openness – for instance leading to scrutiny on why content was removed – and is still a significant threat to modern jurisdictions. For example, 83% of .pdfs were previously hosted on US Government .gov domains disappeared between 2008 and 2012, and a recent revamp of the US Supreme Court was tailored to combat such an issue.

To help our stakeholders manage this risk, we provide them with a free opportunity to connect their live website with the NRS Web Archive via Web Continuity redirection. With this in place, when a user navigates to a broken link within the owner’s live site, rather than receive a ‘404’ error message, they will be redirected into the web archive and an automatic search for an archived version of the information will be made and served back with associated branding. This will mean that users will see many fewer broken links and help preserve the online chain of official information. One of our service’s key objectives is to support Scottish Government’s dedication to openness, citizen participation and transparency, and we intend to measure its impact over time.

404 error message on The White House website. Changes in government often lead to government webpages going offline. Web Continuity helps to preserve access to government online information in Scotland, even when it’s taken offline. Taken from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_House.gov_404_error_1-20-09.JPG
404 error message on The White House website. Changes in government often lead to government webpages going offline. Web Continuity helps to preserve access to government online information in Scotland, even when it’s taken offline. Taken from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_House.gov_404_error_1-20-09.JPG