British Library to collect web sites for posterity

The British Library is afraid, terribly afraid, that the present may be lost forever because of the transient nature of the internet and so it is making an appeal that it be allowed to archive websites before they’re gone forever.

Unlike Google, the British Library is not a commercial organisation.

The British Library has linked with a number of other organisations to form the UK Web Archive but needs permission of web site owners to keep the stuff. It’s only managed to archive 6,000 out of eight million websites so far.

Maybe Google should give it access to its record. Google doesn’t need permission to archive stuff, it seems to me.

But there are some questions here that need to be answered. Just how is it going to archive the web sites? By using digital data or by printing it all out on stout vellum so it will last more than the next sea change in the computer industry? Because if it prints all the stuff out on ordinary computer paper using ordinary printer ink, you may as well wave goodbye to it. Many books printed in the 1970s are already disintegrating because of the poor paper quality.

Perhaps, given the level of unemployment in this country, it could recruit scribes to produce illuminated manuscripts copying web sites, using fine substances like vermilion for the colour.

The most famous tale we’ve heard is of the British Secret Service that transferred all of its data onto the notoriously unreliable optical disk and went and built a vault in the country and put the paper stuff down there in case the computer system went down.

The UK Web Archive wants the UK government to give it a hand and make it OK to archive the stuff.

By law, books printed in the UK must be given to the British Library, which has a vast archive of stuff from whenever in vaults in Wetherby near Leeds.

A man from the British Library on BBC TV earlier today said it was interested in blogs – he described them as diaries – and would also sample Twitter and Facebook. My bog is here.