Joint Information Systems Committee - Archives Sub-committee

Survey of needs


4. Conclusions

The data presented in section 3 is a selection of the possible information that could be extracted from the returns. This section will relate that data to the requirements of the terms of reference of the study.

4.1 Cataloguing

To gain an overview of the proportion of holdings for which:

The state of cataloguing is summarised in Table 10: Total extent of holdings catalogued at each level.

As noted there, seven institutions had no cataloguing at any level. Two of these were unable to estimate the extent of their holdings, and the total extent of the remaining five was 111 metres. As the total holdings of the institutions surveyed was 88,451 metres, this represents an uncatalogued proportion of 0.12%. This figure is not of much significance, not only because of the unknown extent of the holdings not estimated but also because a large collection with a single collection-level catalogue entry will have been counted as "catalogued" and therefore not included in this figure.

We can take cataloguing at the file or item level as a reasonable equivalent to cataloguing at the level of "production units", and consider that as a basic measure of "adequate" cataloguing. Out of the 128 institutions surveyed, 20 have no cataloguing at either of these levels. 52.5% of holdings are catalogued at file level and 32.4 % were catalogued at item level, but these groups are not mutually exclusive.

As is noted in 3.3.1, it is not the case that a summary catalogue is produced before any lower level catalogues. Institutions that collect many individual items of archival or manuscript material may treat each separately and catalogue it at the item level without any higher-level catalogues. Table 10 shows that 76.9% of holdings are catalogued at collection level, 52.7% at series level and 32.4% at item level.

4.2 Accessions

To gain an overview of the average volume of new accessions per annum.

As shown in Table 4, the present total holdings of 88,451 m of non-institutional archives have grown by 15,700 m in the past five years, an average growth of 3,140 m per annum, corresponding to a compound rate of growth of 3.3% or a doubling in size every 21 years. We have no evidence on past or projected future changes in this growth rate.

4.3 Networking

To gain an overview of the extent of cataloguing/editorial work that is required before existing catalogues can be networked, including a review of the implementation of ISAD(G).

It is not possible to reduce this requirement to a single figure, because the state of cataloguing is so variable between institutions. Those institutions that are using current standards are generally applying them to their current cataloguing work, and have not necessarily converted existing records retrospectively. At collection level, Table 9 shows that 53,699 m, or 60.7% of holdings, are catalogued according to a "local" standard, while 5,043 m (5.7%) are catalogued according to ISAD(G). Local standards have evolved with time, however, and may not be very different from ISAD(G), MAD or others. 21 out of the 128 institutions surveyed are using ISAD(G) at this level.

Seventeen institutions are applying ISAD(G) at lower than collection level, and have on average catalogued 38% of their collections in this form.

SGML use is not yet widespread, with only three institutions having created records in that form. The lack of widely available searching and viewing software for SGML records means that many potential users cannot yet access records in this format.

There is no direct relationship between the implementation of ISAD(G) and the ability to make a catalogue available on the Internet. Some institutions have been able to make a large proportion of their records available on the Internet, and accessible through a World Wide Web browser, by loading them into the library cataloguing system. Many library automation systems now offer WWW access, instantaneously converting records retrieved in response to an enquiry from the internal format, such as MARC, into HTML for display to the user. Some respondents interpreted this as allowing them to say that a large proportion of their records is available in HTML form, though that was not the format in which they were created or input.

Many different types of software are used for the creation of catalogues and lists, as shown in 3.3.6, with word processing software predominating, followed by generic database packages such as Microsoft Access. This reflects the lack of software specifically designed for the management of archival records. Data that is already in machine-readable form could be made available on the Internet as simple text files, but even doing this would require significant work by archival and computer staff, especially if the data is held in the format of a proprietary software package. At the least it would be necessary to create top-level indexes to give access to the lists. To provide full formatting and searching functions the data would have to be structured and tagged in accordance with current standards, and this would require substantial further work.

Much editorial work is needed to improve the records, whether they are accessed on the Web, on a local computer system, or in printed or typescript form. Substantial indexing work certainly remains to be done; Table 13 shows that name, place and subject indexing has been applied to only about 8% to 27% of holdings, depending on level. Standards for indexing are not yet widely used and are very varied, as shown in section 3.3.5.

4.4 Storage

To review the general adequacy of storage space and whether it is broadly in line with BS5454.

It is difficult in many cases to separate archival storage from stores used for library material, especially "special collections", which need the same conditions as archives. As shown in Table 16, stores are on average 87% full, so that if the observed growth rate of 3.3% per year compound continues they will be full in 4.3 years. Some are 100% full already.

73% of respondents overall (74% of JISC respondents) have a copy of BS5454, so knowledge of requirements is quite widespread (Table 17).

About 55% of holdings are stored in an environment with monitored and stable temperature and humidity (Table 19). Apart from special provision for multimedia and photographic collections, environmental control was considered poorest in the overall rating of aspects of storage (Figure 12), and was mentioned significantly more often than other factors as the aspect most needing improvement (Figure 13).

4.5 Conservation

To gain a general overview of preservation and conservation needs including the adequacy of packaging, the volume of material in need of significant work and/or unfit for production.

The overall rating of packaging and boxing of material was between "Average" and "Fairly good" (Figure 12). 37 institutions rated their packaging as "Good" while 11 rated it as "Poor" (Table 20).

The overall assessment of the conditions of archives (Table 21) showed that of the total holdings of 88,451 metres, about 10% are in need of urgent treatment for their preservation; 10% should be copied to preserve their content; 30 % should be treated for long-term preservation, but not urgently, 30% are stable and not in need of treatment; and 20% have not been assessed. Less than 16% of the holdings had been assessed by an archival conservator in arriving at these estimates (Table 22), and a condition survey had been done on only about 17% (Table 23).

24% of FB HEI institutions and 8% of others had their own facilities for archival conservation (Table 24), some of them being members of co-operative schemes. About 60% of institutions use external conservation services at times (Table 25), though the amount of use was often limited by available funds.

4.6 Accommodation for staff and users

To gain an overview of the adequacy of reading room space and office accommodation.

Of the 128 institutions included in the survey, 50 (39%) have no permanent professional archives staff (Figure 14), and a further 56 (44%) have only one or less f.t.e. professional posts (Figure 15). 87 institutions (68%) have no permanent non-professional staff posts (Figure 17), and 116 (91%) have no permanent archival conservator (Table 27).

About half of the institutions have a dedicated office area for archives staff (Table 28), with an average area of 14.6 m2per place (Table 29). Only 27 institutions (21%) have a separate archival workroom area, though working space and equipment is often shared with library staff (Table 32).

The average reading room floor area per reader place was 5.9 m2 (Table 34), though seven institutions provided less than 2 m2per place and a further 12 had from 2 to 4 m2(Figure 18). Most working surfaces were in the range 0.5 m2to 1.0 m2per place (Figure 19). The Society of Archivists' Best practice guideline I, quoting ICA Handbook Series number 6: Archive buildings and equipment, 1988 suggests a minimum table space of 0.7 m2 and a floor area of 5 m2per place.

As a measure of the adequacy of the number of reader places provided, the reading room is full on 70% or more of days at only 5 institutions, whereas for most institutions the reading room is full on 10% or fewer days (Figure 20).

Numbers of visits, enquiries and production units were not explicitly asked for in the terms of reference, but are set out in Figure 21 to Figure 24.

4.7 Factors limiting use

As an overall summary, respondents were asked to rate several factors to show which had most effect on limiting the use of their material. Lack of staff was identified as the most important factor, and respondents considered that having more staff would enable them to tackle the other important factors, first improving the documentation of the archives, which would in turn enable them to become more widely known (Table 38, Figure 26, Figure 27).


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