Remotely delivered archive services - survey results revealed


07 December 2021
Satisfaction remains high with remotely delivered archive services, a survey from the Archives and Records Association commissions has revealed.

Every two years the Archives and Records Association commissions CIPFA (The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) to carry out a survey of people accessing archive services remotely – this might be via e-mail enquiries or using web-based services.

During the survey period, which ran from 19 April to 25 July 2021, anyone accessing these services via the 58 participating archives would receive an e-mail with a link to the survey. 10,590 of these survey invitations were sent out and 2,613 responses were received.

In addition to regular questions about the purpose of the enquiry, satisfaction with services and general demographic information, additional questions were posed that were relevant to the Covid-19 pandemic which had impacts on the availability of in-person services.

Satisfaction with remote services remained high and there were small increases in those rating services “Good” and “Very Good”. The largest change was seen in the question about charges made for services, with satisfaction (Good & Very Good) rising from 70 per cent in 2019 to 83 per cent in the current survey. Another small but significant uplift was in the availability of bi-lingual information from archives based in Wales where satisfaction (Good/Very good responses) rose from 93 per cent to 97 per cent.

First-time archive user experiences

More than two thirds of service users were first time users (69 per cent) and only 27 per cent of respondents cited Covid restrictions as the reason for their using a remote service, with the main reasons continuing to be that the distance to the archive was too far to travel (41 per cent), a desire to check the relevance of material before accessing (39 per cent) and greater convenience (35 per cent).

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The main purpose for enquiries continued to be researching family history (47 per cent) and the enquiries were mostly specific in nature rather than general (59 per cent v 16 per cent). 

Just over three-quarters of users were over 55 and over half were retired. Only 13 per cent of users were under 44.  The split between male and female remains fairly equal but with slightly more women in the younger half of the demographic (20 per cent of 16-54 year olds were male versus 28 per cent of 16-54 year olds who were female).

The users of these services (born in the UK and Ireland) remain overwhelmingly white – 98 per cent.

It is clear that there is work to be done to encourage the public to see archives as something for everyone as well as a resource for family history – encouragingly whilst all but one of the categories for ‘main purpose for using the service’ dropped (see table below), including Family History research, the category ‘other’ increased by five per cent. It will be interesting to see if this is a continuing trend.  

Lisa Snook, chair of the Archives and Records Association said: “We know we have work to do to improve the diversity of the sector and some of that work will be in improving the public’s understanding of what archives are and how relevant they can be for our lives now.  We need to persuade people of their value in preserving community heritage and in revealing the hidden histories of places and people. For a lot of people the word ‘archive’ brings to mind self-assembly cardboard boxes that will be sent off to a store never to be seen again or they see archives as simply a family history resource. In fact many archives are actively working with communities to record the things they value and by doing so preserve for future generations the reality of life in the UK now.  Archivists are unsung heroes safeguarding not just our past but our present and future too.”

Read the full report here.

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