No need to go to an archive!

I’ve just been reading Taking Part: The National Survey of Culture, Leisure and Sport Annual Report 2005-2006. Well, i’ve been reading the conclusions and then reading the archive bits, as its rather long and i’m less interested in those taking part in active sport and gambling.

Anyway, it seems that ‘6 percent of all adults attended an archive at least once during the past twelve months.’ That’s about 2.4 million, which is a respectable number. Almost all of these had engaged in other cultural or sporting activities. With my Archives Hub bias I am immediately struck by the fact that this survey is about physical visits to archives and so misses out on satisfied users who have got the information that they needed from online resources.

I was a little surprised that the majority had visited (I can’t use the word ‘attended’ – it doesn’t sound right) just once or twice (80%). I would have thought a larger proportion would have visited several times in a year. I was pleased to see that though attendance by ethnicity showed that adults from white ethnic backgrounds had higher rates of attendance, there were still significant proportions from other ethnic groups visiting archives. The figures for attendance by qualification showed the majority of visitors had A-levels or above and the age range was pretty much as expected.

We are of course always keen to attract more people to use archives, but not so encouraging was the fact that the largest majority who had not visited one said they had ‘no need to go’. I think there will always be a significant proportion who are not, at least on the surface, interested in documented history, but having said that, through exhibitions and interactive events we might persuade some of these people that archives can be relevant to them, even if they are not interested in sitting in a reading room. There were 14% who said that visiting an archive had not occurred to them, so this is a potential group to tap into.

From the point of view of the Hub, the 14% who felt that they might visit an archive if there was better information on how to find material are a significant group, as our mission is really to enable users to find archive materials more easily. The survey collected data from 28,000 people, so 14% is pretty significant. However, we can’t do much about the 30% who would visit if they had more free time!