Online content being lost

Vital information being lost down digital black hole, warns NLS

A digital 'black hole' has opened up in Scotland resulting in valuable information about key aspects of Scottish life being lost forever.

The internet revolution means that much of what was once recorded in books or on paper now appears online. However, there is no current system for preserving this type of information and there is evidence some of it is disappearing forever.

The National Library of Scotland (NLS) warns today that the first websites of the Scottish Parliament have already been lost as has other online information including material on last year's Scottish Parliament elections and the debate around the 2005 Edinburgh congestion charging referendum. Across the UK internet and social media coverage of the 2011 London riots, the 2009 Parliamentary expenses scandal, and the 2005 London bombings have also been lost.

Legislation was passed by the UK Parliament in 2003 to give national libraries like NLS the legal right to collect and store electronic publications in the same way that printed publications have been collected for centuries. But there have been long delays in implementing the regulations and it was not until earlier this year that the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) launched a further public consultation on a set of draft regulations for implementation in 2013.

This has been welcomed but the NLS Chief Executive and National Librarian Martyn Wade says it is important that the UK Government now acts swiftly and positively to implement the regulations.

'In Scotland and across the UK we have an outstanding and enviable written heritage. However, we are now well behind many other countries in archiving the web. It is vital that we get the powers we need to save the nation’s digital memory for future generations.'

Mr Wade added: 'We hold millions of historic documents dating back centuries and it has been frustrating that we have had no ability to save electronic information from just a few years ago. Knowledge about our past is vital in shaping our future and action is needed to stop important electronic information disappearing down this digital black hole.'

NLS raised this issue in evidence to the Scottish Parliament on the NLS Bill which was unanimously passed earlier this month (May.) Although this is a matter for Westminster and not the Scottish Parliament, NLS wanted to inform MSPs of the importance of the issue.

The Education and Culture committee expressed its concern at the delay in its report on the Bill. It supported the Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop in making representations to the UK DCMS and said it 'looks forward to this issue being resolved as quickly as possible'.

As well as preserving recent important digital information, NLS would like Scotland to lead the world in making as much as possible of its rich cultural heritage available online to be seen by anyone anywhere in the world.

Significant parts of the NLS collections amounting to more than a million pages are now available online. NLS set out its vision of the historic collections held by universities, local archives, libraries and museums being made available in this way in its evidence on the NLS Bill.

'We believe this would have major benefits. It would stimulate research and creativity, boost tourism and enhance Scotland’s reputation as a centre of innovation, with a thriving knowledge economy,' said Mr Wade.

Further information on the consultation is available on the Departure of Culture, Media and Sport website.

30 May 2012

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