Web archiving activities by General Collections in the last six months of 2021 is representative of at least six of the Hellenistic muses – music, dancing, and poetry (dance in this context being Scottish Country and Highland).
Much of the activity builds on work carried out in previous years, particularly regarding music. While earlier work concentrated on national organisations and groups such as choirs, orchestras, brass bands, and pipe bands, recent work has focused on bands, musicians, poets, and Scottish dancing clubs throughout the country.
Until 2013 collection of online material was restricted to voluntary deposit by organisations that owned a particular website. This changed, after years of advocacy in the library community, with the enactment of The Legal Deposit Libraries (Non-Print Works) Regulations 2013 (ten years having elapsed since this change was proposed in the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003). The mechanism for collecting and storing material was created by the British Library in conjunction with the other legal deposit libraries in the United Kingdom and the outcome is the UK Web Archive. However, automatic collection of ‘all’ UK websites is attempted most years by the British Library in what is known as the ‘Domain Crawl’.
As with any cultural strand Scottish music is richly represented online. With such a presence, opportunities arise to collect as much of this material as possible and include it in the UK Web Archive. Much of this material is incredibly ephemeral – rock groups formed for fun or ambition lose steam as success is elusive or interest wanes. For other organisations the website is the latest manifestation of their public face in long histories. Humble or huge, all the output is potentially of interest to historians and therefore worth collecting.
The thrust of General Collections work on music, then, is on the groups, individuals, bands and so on that are responsible for performing and / or recording music, adding to the collections of organisations, choirs, orchestras, societies already made. The collections do not, therefore, contain sheet music unless incidentally so. Nor does the collection contain recordings – again unless it is incidental to the main site. Indeed, collection of sound is specifically excluded from the Non-Print Works Regulations. Therefore, the content of music sites is about the organisation or individual, their activities, what they play and their existence, the context of their work rather than the work itself.
On Scotland’s televisions in the 1970s two programmes stand out as ‘our’ entertainment shows. First, there was BBC Scotland’s Songs of Scotland featuring the smooth baritone Peter Morrison and the more folky Alistair McDonald. On the other side, STV aired Thingummyjig hosted by the self-proclaimed ‘Laird o Coocaddens’ Jack McLaughlin. And before those there was the national television hit The White Heather Club – the pattern was set; Scottish songs, lots of tartan, Scottish dance bands – and by logical conclusion, Scottish dancing.
At the National Library of Scotland we are naturally interested in all things Scots, and therefore our web archiving attention has been applied to Scottish dance of the sort featured on those TV shows of the past. It is evident from the numbers of groups that both Scottish Country Dance and Highland dance are still popular throughout the UK.
Of course, links between Scotland and the rest of the country are strong and many Scots moved for work and family and sought to maintain connections with home through Scottish societies, many solely about dance. While it is natural that pockets of Scottish societies might appear around London (significantly in Kent, Hertfordshire, and in Sussex) there is a seemingly odd pocket of Scottishness around Corby, Northamptonshire – explained by the migration of Scots to the steelworks during and after World War II. Therefore, Scottish Country and Highland dance is not confined to Scotland but includes the rest of the United Kingdom. Sadly, sites around the world are out of the scope of UK legal deposit but could be collected with owners’ permission.
Scotland has as deep a poetic heritage as any country – Walter Scott, James Hogg, Robert Fergusson and a bona fide colossus of the form in Robert Burns, while more recently the last Poet Laureate at the time of writing, Carol Ann Duffy, is a Scot. Figures such as Burns are commemorated online by societies and museums, while, modern poets, like modern musicians, promote their work personally on websites and social media. For example, figures such as the new Scots Makar, Kathleen Jamie, and Sheena Blackhall a prolific poet (among other things) writing in Scots and English from the Northeast of Scotland are represented. Indeed, all the poets listed in the Scottish Poetry Library’s ‘Online guide to Scottish Poets’ who have a website have been included.
Of course, not everyone has a website even high-profile writers. In these circumstances social media comes into play for public figures – Twitter, Facebook or Instagram pages have all been targeted for people from all walks of life as long as the posts are clearly open and relate to their public facing activities. The very famous poet and former Scots Makar Jackie Kay uses Twitter, for example. Still, some writers do not create an online presence at all – see ‘No website’ in the table that follows.
Where there is poetry there are people who publish it, talk about it, perform it, and try to gain a foothold in the poetry world. Therefore, poetry magazines, publishers, and poetry websites, which are excellent platforms for publication of young / new poets’ work, were also subject to our collecting focus. For example, ‘Loud Poets’ on I am Loud promotes performance poetry; a publisher like Kettillonia seeks to highlight ‘original, adventurous, neglected and rare writing’ in Scotland, and including Scots and Gaelic, and so on. A topic such as a performance poetry actually highlights the fuzzy edges of a subject such as ‘poetry’ as elements of theatre, stand-up comedy, rap and spoken word, among others, influence the genre.
Searching for potential websites to target generally gathers its own momentum – but it is usually a good idea to use well-known or obvious high-level sources as starting points. For poets based in Scotland a clear initial source of names, as mentioned above, is the Scottish Poetry Library website. Similarly, Scottish Country Dance is represented by The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (RSCDS) who maintain a ‘Branch & Group Finder’ for local and regional organisations throughout the world. However, our recent focus on popular music created a quandary as there is no initially palpable comprehensive source listing Scottish bands. In these circumstances we resorted to the curse of the school essay, Wikipedia – it is always with some scepticism that this resource is used, but it does contain information that can be verified separately and helpfully has internal listing that accumulates the sorts of groups of interest.
Where a band, dance group or poet is listed in any of these resources a website was usually included. However, if there was no named website or the website had for some reason vanished, then a Google search was carried out to determine existence or otherwise of an active site. It should be noted that web addresses for sites that are no longer live were recorded as there is every chance that a copy of it had been made in previous iterations of the UK Web Archive ‘Domain Crawl’.
The need to search online for a website is where momentum grows – for example, if searches are made for all the local dance groups that have no listed websites, then resources linked to that search are returned especially if no directly relevant site can be found. This indirect means of finding relevant material was certainly experienced in a small degree for dance, with sites such as MiniCrib Brief Scottish Country Dance Notes being found in this way, as well as some local Scottish Country dance groups not listed in the central site.
Similarly, searching for poets means that poetry websites, and websites of poetry magazines and publishers were identified. Further, many of these sites listed other poets not included by the Scottish Poetry Library. Therefore, pursuing the chains of websites, analogous to following chains of books and magazine titles listed in bibliographies in articles and books, means that a broader and richer sample of Scottish material was created.
In the cases of dance and poetry following up on links and listings was a relatively small task. In the case of popular music there were seemingly never-ending lists in magazine sites, fan sites, directories, music history blogs, company websites and sales catalogues in specialist record shops (to name a few) listing musicians and groups from pop, rock, indie and electronica through jazz, via traditional and folk music, to a bit of everything encapsulated by function bands (possibly more properly called ‘wedding bands’) – a potentially huge collection.
Before moving on to enumerate the effort so far, it is worth mentioning that it was not just ‘active’ musicians, bands and poets that were checked, but everything listed – in this way fan sites for old bands and sites for bands assumed to be long gone were found, as were the commemorative sites relating to some of Scotland’s older, and sometimes more obscure, poets.
The following figures give some information on the quantities of material targeted since the middle of 2021, as well as the number of potential targets investigated that for one reason or another no action could be taken. These reasons are:
- Someone else had already targeted the website.
- There was no website for the organisation, group or individual in question.
- Material relating to the organisation, group or individual is contained in another website, already targeted, a ‘subset’, in other words.
- A website address was found but that website no longer exists online nor is there a copy in the UK Web Archive, which might have existed as part of the ‘Domain Crawl’.
Table 1. General
|Part of another site
|Site no longer live
Table 2. Music breakdown
|Part of another site
|Site no longer live
 Popular includes pop, rock, electronica, blues, and their subgenres.
 General includes musicians, groups, agents, promoters, venues, and so on, targeted in this period but are either leftover from other projects or precursors to future projects.
Websites and social media are so easy to set up that it is obvious that artists seeking wider engagement with their work will create an online presence – publicity for their activities, promoting their very existence and, of course, putting their work in the public domain. In the past musicians’ work might find its way onto a record, with very little information about their other activities, opinions, origins and so on, being in existence, unless they were ‘big’ enough to merit articles in the music press or ‘really big’ enough to warrant a book. Archiving websites about music highlights the breadth of activity in Scotland – and as the music press diminishes, the next best place to find out about your favourite ‘beat band’ is online, highlighting the importance in engaging with this type of material.
By contrast, the poetry and Country Dance online presence is much less diverse, smaller, and more ‘sedate’ – and it was probably ever thus. However, for a national library in Scotland it is important to reflect artist expression that is by Scots or in Scotland (poetry and Scottish Country Dance) and originates in Scotland (Scottish Country Dance). As with music, websites are how poets and dancers promote their work and activities – somewhat in place of analogue precursors. Arguably, an online presence gives the small / more obscure / local individual or group more publicity than they could ever have imagined in pre-digital world.
Every effort has been made to be as comprehensive as possible in identifying and collecting websites for popular music, Scottish dance in the UK, and poets and poetry in Scotland. However, this work is only the starting point for collection of websites for these topics. While it is impossible to predict how groups and individuals will represent themselves online in the long term, in the short term they are likely to use the same kinds of platforms included in this project, therefore, effort will be needed to review and locate new sites for newcomers to each respective scene.
This snapshot pinpoints the purposes of targeting web material rather than simply relying on the ‘Domain Crawl’. It is not explicit in the figures, but of the 4,224 sites targeted around 2,900 do not have the default requirements of being included in the ‘Domain Crawl’ – a ‘.uk’ or ‘.scot’ suffix or an ISP address in the UK. It is a high proportion and probably reflects the ‘do it yourself’ approach of musicians, local dance clubs / societies and poets, using platforms such as WordPress or Bandcamp and social media. What is explicit in the figures is what this sort of work is trying to avoid, the 622 websites that we know existed but are lost.