Discovering the nation’s newly accessioned collections
Every year archives across the UK and Ireland enrich their collections for researchers by actively taking in thousands of new records and developing existing collections.
Our Accessions to Repositories survey invites over 300 archive services to tell us what they have taken in over the last calendar year.
We share this information with researchers by:
- publishing an annual snapshot of collecting (nationalarchives.gov.uk/accessions)
- updating Discovery so that it continues to provide the latest information about the nation’s collections (discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk)
- distributing curated information by theme to a number of specialist journals and publications for wider circulation
Last year, my colleague Amy Greir wrote a series of blogs about Accessions to Repositories, highlighting some of the collections we came across during the 2014 survey.
We are now busy analysing returns from over 260 archives sent to us for 2015.
As the current survey editor, I have oversight of the information coming in and being processed by staff. It’s a fascinating role, which gives me an overview of collecting across the sector, and an opportunity to see the diversity of records created and being preserved for access locally and nationally for future generations.
Some collections reported this year will be available for research soon after accessioning, but for others it may take longer for access to be given. This can depend on local practice and the records themselves. The condition, nature of content, the format and whether the records have been catalogued are just some of the determining factors. So when planning a visit, it’s always best to consult an archive’s own online catalogue or to get in touch by consulting our Find an Archive tool.
Once the 2015 survey is published later this year, you can visit our web page for a list of over 3,000 records taken in by over 260 archives. Our thematic digests present records by subject matter, for example science, politics or events like the First World War. These can be really useful sources of information for researchers but also for archives that are interested in what is being collected by other services on particular themes.
As a researcher, you would probably expect the British Library, National Library of Wales and National Library of Scotland to collect significant material relating to literary history but last year’s survey showed relevant records also held by 62 other regional and specialist archives. These can been seen in our 2014 ‘Literary History’ digest.
This year, we are seeing some fascinating collections emerging on a variety of subjects, spanning from modern records right back to the medieval and early modern period, including a passport issued in 1595 by Elizabeth I to Sir Anthony Mildmay, held by the University of St Andrews, Special Collections.
Why do we conduct the survey?
A huge part of the survey is about providing researchers with new information about collections. Beyond this, it is one way we can enable archives to share information about their collections. Not all archives have their own online catalogues and sometimes, particularly for smaller archives, contributing to a service like Accessions or Discovery is the only way of widening knowledge about their collections.
For archives, the benefits of contributing include:
- sparking new interest in your collections through exposure to The National Archives online users via Discovery and the Accessions to Repositories survey
- potential to reach new research communities, as records information is published in academic and specialist journals
- demonstrable assurance for depositors that collections will be used and that information about them will be shared with interested audiences
- updating our knowledge about records, including the location of certain classes of records, for example public records and manorial documents
As well as the benefits for archives, Accessions to Repositories supports a variety of the services we undertake to lead the wider archives sector.
The survey gives us the chance to see where collecting is happening, how collecting policies are being used and to monitor the impact of our sale monitoring service, which notifies archives of collections up for sale that fit within their collecting remit.
This year, it will also enable us to ensure that funding can be provided to local authority Places of Deposit receiving public records from certain transferring bodies.
We are very grateful to all archives services that have contributed to the 2015 survey and always welcome feedback on the experience and process.