Thursday, August 3, 2017

Preservation Is Not A Technical Problem

As I've always said, preserving the Web and other digital content for posterity is an economic problem. With an unlimited budget collection and preservation isn't a problem. The reason we're collecting and preserving less than half the classic Web of quasi-static linked documents, and much less of "Web 2.0", is that no-one has the money to do much better.

The budgets of libraries and archives, the institutions tasked with acting as society's memory, have been under sustained attack for a long time. I'm working on a talk and I needed an example. So I drew this graph of the British Library's annual income in real terms (year 2000 pounds). It shows that the Library's income has declined by almost 45% in the last decade.

Memory institutions that can purchase only half what they could 10 years ago aren't likely to greatly increase funding for acquiring new stuff; it's going to be hard for them just to keep the stuff (and the staff) they already have.

Below the fold, the data for the graph and links to the sources.

The nominal income data was obtained from the British Library's Annual Report series. The real income was computed from it using the Bank of England's official inflation calculator. Here is the data from which the graph was drawn:
YearNominal GBPYear 2000 GBP


David. said...

I should have mentioned that other calculators of UK inflation, such as this one, generate slightly different real income figures, but not enough different to change the message of this post. I went with the official Bank of England calculator.

David. said...

I should also have pointed out that the British Library is but one minor if severe casualty of the Conservative government's decade-long assault on the UK's public sector:

"In the period between the 1950s and 2010 government spending increased in real terms at an annual rate of 2.9% and the UK had a level of public expenditure relative to GDP comparable to most other OECD countries. Since 2010 the increase in government spending has fallen to an annual rate of 0.3% with the result that per person real spending per head has been flat. By 2020/21 per person real government spending per person will have fallen by 4% compared to 2010 when the coalition took office.

Within government there have been catastrophic cutbacks in departmental spending (17% overall) with cuts to education (14%), defence (18%) and Communities and Local Government (25%). The NHS has had an increased level of funding (5%) but this is totally inadequate to meet demographic growth and the needs of an ageing population. Welfare spending per person (excluding pensioners) has fallen 10% in real terms since 2010."

The result has been appalling:

"real household per capita income was a mere 1% higher in 2017 than it was a decade ago. In the years before 2007 the average annual increase in household real per capita income was 2.6%, however since then it has fallen to a mere 0.3%. This has to be the worst performance by any post-war government in the UK."

David. said...

The BL's budget problems are symptomatic of UK libraries in general:

"The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy’s annual survey of Great Britain’s libraries paints familiar picture: for the seventh year running, the number of branches and paid staff declined. There are now 3,745 branches remaining in England, Scotland and Wales, down by 105 since 2016, while the number of paid staff has declined by 5% compared with a year ago.

These falls come alongside a drop of £66m in total spend on council-run libraries, with visits down by 3% year on year, and by 14% over the last five years. The decline, according to the CIPFA figures, is almost across the board: book issues fell by 6.3% in the last year, and by 25.1% in the last five years. Book stock held is also down by 2.6%."