Thursday, 23 April 2015

NLI Announces Marriage Equality Referendum Web Archiving Project

The National Library of Ireland (NLI) has today announced that it is archiving websites related to the upcoming marriage equality referendum.

The NLI has been carrying out selective and thematic web archiving since 2011, aimed at ensuring a permanent record is kept of websites of cultural and historical importance.

Commenting today, Joanna Finegan, Assistant Keeper at the NLI’s Digital Library, said: “Referendum campaigns and elections can, in hindsight, prove to be seminal moments in history. Yet, since so much information is now shared online, it has become difficult to ensure permanent records are kept of referendum and election materials. Relevant websites can quite literally disappear in the aftermath of a vote.

“Here in the NLI, our holdings constitute the most comprehensive collection of Irish documentary material in the world. In order to offer a broad representation of our history and heritage, it is crucial that our collections include not just hard-copy printed materials, but digital collections as well.”

The process of identifying and selecting websites to be included in the NLI’s Marriage Equality Referendum 2015 collection is currently underway. The collection will include sites documenting both sides of the debate; official sites like that of the Referendum Commission; commentary sites and political party websites. These sites are selected in order to provide as complete a picture as possible of how the referendum has been documented in the online space, for future research and to complement the NLI’s existing newspaper and ephemera collections.

According to Joanna Finegan: “The purpose of web archiving is to preserve the records of today, a sample of our world, for future generations. As our daily lives increasingly occur in the digital space, we must preserve and ensure permanent access to material that originated online to have a record of human society in the 21st Century.”

NLI’s Web Archiving Process

Once the web site identification and selection process has been completed, the NLI contacts the website owners directly to let them know of our interest in archiving their website. Working with its web-archiving partner, the Internet Memory Foundation, the NLI arranges the technical details around collecting a snapshot of the relevant website.

“With limited full-time technical resources and restricted budgets, our web-archiving projects would not be possible without collaborating with partners like the Internet Memory Foundation, an international non-profit that supports the preservation of internet content for heritage and cultural purposes,” said Joanna Finegan.

Unlike other National Libraries of a similar size we are not yet in a position to carry out full domain .ie crawls at regular intervals, but with the right resources in place, this is something we hope to get involved with in the future. In the short term, however, in addition to the referendum web-archiving project, the NLI will be creating an archive collection around the 100-year commemoration of the 1916 Rising next year. Previous websites archived by the NLI have included:

· Proposal to Abolish Seanad √Čireann, Referendum 2013: The live website of the organisation that campaigned for a ‘No’ vote in this referendum, Democracy Matters, no longer exists ( The site was archived by the NLI twice in October 2013, before and after the referendum.

· Tall Ships Races, Dublin 2012: Dublin was the final port of call for the 2012 Tall Ships Race. To coincide with this, a four-day quayside festival took place from 23rd to 26th August 2012, and was the largest event to take place in Ireland that year. The live website for the event ( no longer exists; however, the site was archived by the NLI in September 2012 and twice in October 2012.

· General Election 2011, New Vision: New Vision was an alliance of independent candidates formed to contest the 2011 General Election and committed to voting en bloc on four key issues. The live website,, no longer exists. The site was archived by the NLI in February and March 2011.

In addition to once-off archiving, the NLI also takes regular snapshots of particular sites to capture how the content evolves over time.

For more information, visit