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I think we all know that the British Library keeps an enormous archive of books. But did you know that since 2005 they’ve been archiving websites?

Thousands of websites have been helpfully organised into topics and themes. So, if, for example, you love sports you can easily look back at the 2012 Olympics.

To archive the Crossrail website we worked with Nicola Bingham, Lead Curator of Web Archives at the British Library.  She explained more about the purpose of the archives: “The UK Web Archive provides a detailed insight into the evolution of online public communication over the past two decades. Communication on the web is central to understanding the history, politics, culture and society of the 21st century. However, we know that information shared publicly on the web is rapidly changed, deleted and replaced. The UK Web Archive helps people to understand current events, and the recent past, by preserving that information before it is lost.”

All of the web archive collections can be discovered via the UK Web Archive website.

Getting ready to archive Crossrail

We had some work to do on the Crossrail website before we sent it for archiving. This would make the archiving process easier and achieve a good result for future researchers.

The five key steps:

  1. Remove interactive elements of the website for example site search, filtering, and some dynamic content (such as the interactive map) to create a static version.
  2. Let visitors know the website was in an ‘archive’ mode by adding a banner saying the site is no longer being updated.
  3. Communicate with the British Library to ensure they are taking regular backups of the website.
  4. Test the backups to make sure they work correctly.
  5. Liaise with the TfL IT team so they can modify the DNS to point at the British Library archives once the hosting is switched off.

The web archive has examples of the Crossrail website dating back to 2008. From our perspective, it’s brilliant to reflect on how website development has changed over the 13 years we worked with Crossrail. Simon wrote a blog post looking at some of the technical challenges we experienced.

Websites come and go, and they change frequently, but they contain so much rich information about our history. I like to think future generations will look back at the Crossrail project and see the website as an important part of the legacy.

Maybe you want to save your own website? Suggest it to the UKWA!

Web archiving ensures that ephemeral materials are collected, preserved forever and made available to future generations of researchers, providing the fullest possible record of life and society in the UK in the 21st century for people 50, 100, even 200 or more years in the future.

Nicola Bingham Lead Curator, Web Archives
Crossrail website homepage viewed via the UK web archive