Arts Council England is scrabbling to restore access to its archive but is planning to reinstate only “relevant” selected content on its new website.

Researcher computer

Some access is to be restored to ACE’s archive of documents, reports, evaluations and case studies following an outcry by researchers over its decision to slim down its website.

Only 100 more documents are being restored to its own site, but ACE has been in touch with the National Archives in a belated attempt to establish continuity of access to its wider archive of materials. The selection of content for ACE’s new website has been “based on user-analytics which showed how often these documents were accessed”. These analytics, together with “feedback” from site users, are now being used to determine which 100 items are being restored to the site.

ACE continues to refuse requests for information about how many web pages and documents have not been transferred from its old website to the new one, but this is likely to amount to thousands. According to ACE, “relevant” live links from its old website to the equivalent pages on its new site have been re-established, but no indication has been given as to how relevance has been determined.

Additional resource

AP has learnt that that an “additional resource” is now being created to point users to “fully-accessible archive material”. A spokesperson told AP: “In order to make it easier to locate archived content, we’re creating a glossary of archived reports which should be live on Friday. This will redirect users to the exact page on which the original material was available on the archived site. We’re working with the National Archives to do this.”

The National Archives told AP that they normally work with organisations to “ensure content has been captured successfully before it is removed from the live web”. Their publication ‘Guidance for digital and records management teams’ warns that their web archives comprise only snapshots of what was online, and stresses the limitations of archived versions.

‘Evolving’ piece of work

ACE has started to describe its new website as “an evolving piece of work”. It claims to have “conducted extensive testing throughout the process, via user testing groups representing the breadth of our online community”. But it has provided no evidence of beta testing and is refusing to reply to AP’s direct questions about the involvement of the academic community in the process.

Justifications are being offered for the “challenges” users are now facing when searching for content. ACE told AP: “Our users told us that the old website was large and cumbersome.” Rather than improve navigation, it chose “to prioritise and streamline content so that users can find what they need more easily”. ACE also told AP: “Users found our old website’s search functionality inaccurate. This has been improved on the new site.”

But the search functionality of the new site remains limited and inconsistent. It still offers null returns for searches where content is available, with an accurate search for the phrase “International Development”, for example, failing to locate the page where the phrase appears multiple times.


Missing links

AP asked the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to comment on the broken links to ACE’s website from the bibliography of its new report on Cultural Value, due to be launched at the end of April. Following its conversations with ACE, these were reinstated. AHRC told AP: “We are pleased to confirm that all the documents referenced in the report have now been restored with the same URLs.” But they declined to respond when AP asked whether they will be putting pressure on ACE to be equally responsive at restoring other content, to ensure that researchers will continue to have the same level of access to ACE-published documents in the future.

Other requests for content and links to be restored have gone unheeded. On Twitter, Sarah Bedell responded angrily to an ACE tweet encouraging people to explore its new website. Describing ACE’s response to the loss of web material as “Kafka-esque” she replied: “You're proud of this?! Vapid, PR exercise. Publicly funded research gone. Impossible to find info. Or was that the intention?”

Her tweets specifically refer to the loss of the searchable database of research reports, case studies and evaluation reports that was compiled following the four-year £20m New Audiences programme, which ended in 2004. Such was felt to be the importance of wider lessons that could be learned from participants’ experiences that ACE entered into an editorial partnership with ArtsProfessional to help disseminate the findings from over 1,000 funded initiatives that took place.

Reporting on the scheme, Gill Johnson, now ACE’s Director, Creative Media, said: “The legacy of the programme resides in documentation, reports and research linked to a process of analysis, dissemination and publication… Ensuring a long-term legacy for the New Audiences Programme is now critical.”

ACE has declined to say whether anyone will be fired as a consequence of problems associated with its new website. 

Please note: The resources indicated as missing from the ACE website were missing when this article was published.

Liz Hill