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

 

 

Surfing the Web…Archive!

Binoculars
Web archives can be a ‘looking glass’ into government (image from https://pixabay.com/en/looking-glass-binoculars-magnifying-653449/ )

Welcome to our blog! Over the course of few weeks, we will take Open Book readers on a tour of NRS’s new Web Continuity Service. Web archiving and Web Continuity represent an exciting new era for archiving at NRS, providing a digital tool that directly supports our mission to,

“collect, preserve and produce information about Scotland’s people and history, and make it available to inform present and future generations.”

Stay tuned for bite-sized articles on how this new service operates, and how it will contribute to the development of Scotland’s national archive collection and support the Scottish Government’s transparency agenda.

Websites as archival public records and the ‘looking glass’ into government

Nowadays, when a member of the public wants to understand something about government, the first source they will likely check is an official government website (probably found via Google).

In this multi-channel era, government websites have a critical role to disseminate official, trusted information, so that the government remains accountable and transparent to the citizen.

Government websites contain evidence of the democratic process, provide context and content on official decision making and spending, and function as the dynamic interface between the state and the citizen.

As a result, government websites form an integral part of the public record. National archives, who capture, preserve and make available public records, are therefore taking steps to capture a representative record of this modern aspect of government. To do so, national archives are creating web archives. Web archives have been around for some time. Nevertheless, the process of web archiving is technically challenging: more on that in our next blog post.

If done well, web archiving has the potential to dramatically alter the way we record, preserve, and analyse the activities of our government and wider society.

Selecting and capturing government websites, evidencing how these change over time, and making the output of this archiving process clear, reusable and interoperable, can create a powerful ‘looking glass’ into modern official business. It can also do this in a scalable and consistent manner.

Furthermore, emerging research is indicating that web archives may form the single most important contextual record for understanding society in the last twenty years, and will continue to do so. Here’s some examples to ponder:

Screenshot of the Edinburgh Tram Enquiry website as shown on our web archive, with banners and URL aking it clear it is an archived site.
The Edinburgh Tram Enquiry website as shown on our web archive – with banners and URL making it clear it is an archived site. http://webarchive.nrscotland.gov.uk/20170401010904/http://www.edinburghtraminquiry.org/

 
Observant readers will quickly notice some unusual features about these archived pages; they all have arresting headers to show the user the page is archived and when this occurred, and some of the original dynamic functionality such as search, unfortunately  may not work.

What is key though is that these archives have attempted to capture information from these websites as completely and accurately as possible.

In the next blog, we will explore the core technology behind web archiving, its technical challenges, and how archives (and NRS) are responding to this new era of collecting.

Getting started with digital preservation

Our Digital Records Unit is launching two new digital preservation tools this summer. These guidance and capacity planning tools have been specifically developed for Scottish local authorities. They are the product of a 12 month project and will assist local authority archivists and record managers get started with digital preservation.

The guidance tool will help local authorities to understand and implement the steps needed to ensure that digital records are captured and preserved within the archive, while the capacity tool enables users to calculate their digital storage needs.

The events are aimed towards those currently working within Scottish local authorities, however other interested parties are also very welcome to attend.

The tools will be launched in Glasgow City Chambers on July 10th (book here) and in Aberdeen Town Hall on August 8th (book here).

Tickets are selling fast so be sure to register soon if you would like to attend, and spread the word to anyone who might be interested.

You can follow the events on Twitter, using the hashtag #scotladp and we’ll be livetweeting from @natrecordsscot.

We look forward to seeing you in Glasgow or Aberdeen!

 

White gloves

If you watched and enjoyed “The Hector: From Scotland to Nova Scotia” on BBC 2 yesterday (if you missed the programme it’s currently on the iplayer), you’ll have seen Neil Oliver viewing documents in our Historical Search Room. You may also have noticed he’s wearing white gloves – something we don’t generally require readers in our search rooms to do, unless they are handling photographs. 

 

Neil Oliver in our Historical Search Room wearing white gloves to handle a document.

There are different schools of thought about the value of wearing white cotton gloves. While once it was common place, it has become a matter of debate. It’s sometimes pointed out that not wearing gloves at all would be better than wearing ill-fitting or dirty gloves – something we agree with. Continue reading “White gloves”

Weeding Scotland’s Courts

Every summer, a team of NRS archivists visits Sheriff Courts all over Scotland to collect historical records for preservation and storage.

Case records must be retained for decades after the cases finish for future appeals, cold case reviews and police enquiries, so it’s vital they are kept safe and secure. Centuries from now, these cases will provide an insight for research and understanding of Scottish law, culture and society.

Between May and August each year, our Court & Legal Team visits up to six of Scotland’s 39 Sheriff Courts to collect records that are 25 years old or over. This isn’t a glamorous process as the records must be removed box-by-box, and they’re stored in attics, basements, turrets and other hard-to-access places. Continue reading “Weeding Scotland’s Courts”

Changing lives with data

Data can change lives! Huge amounts of data are made freely available by government and other organisations across Scotland, including NRS. Lots of people use this data in all sorts of ways, but there are plenty of people who don’t, just because they don’t know what is available. To try to help people get started, we ran a free event as part of the recent Data Festival, called ‘Changing lives with data’.

Datafest - Amy Wilson speaking
Our Head of Statistics Amy Wilson speaking at Datafest. Thanks to Dave Fitch (@dere_street) for the picture.

Continue reading “Changing lives with data”

Manuscript pedicure

There are many exciting things a Conservator can find between the pages of a manuscript. Not only animal droppings, human hair originating from unknown body parts, and other delights, but also something that looks very much like toe nail clippings. Except, at a closer look, they are actually quill pen shavings!

Page of a book, with old handwriting and small white quill shavings
A late 18th c. Scottish Board of Custom minute book with quill pen shavings and residues of feather.

Continue reading “Manuscript pedicure”