Archives – more than Kitty-in-boots

Today the news has been about the publication of a lost Beatrix Potter story – recently discovered in the V&A archives.

So today seemed like a good day to reflect on the wider landscape for UK archives – particularly as the team has recently been working towards Archive Service Accreditation.  We have our validation visit next Monday, 1st Feb – so please keep your fingers crossed for us!

Accreditation is the new UK wide standard scheme for the 2,500 or so archive services across the country.  The standard defines good practice and identifies agreed standards, thereby encouraging and supporting development.  The scheme offers a badge of external recognition and endorsement of their service.  It’s a bit like Customer Service Excellence, which we have held since 2008 and which shows that our customers are at the heart of our service provision.  And like Customer Service Excellence, Accreditation provides us with a tool to check where we are and make things better.  There are already 40 Accredited services nationally, and we hope to be joining them!

We’re one of a network of 2,500 archive services in the UK holding millions of archival collections and probably billions of individual archival items.  The National Archives published a summary of what’s been going on in our sector:

If you’re interested in finding other archive services, The National Archives maintains a directory where you can search by location for other services and find contact details, links to online catalogues and information about opening times.  Here’s our entry as an example:


When it comes to finding other archive collections, not just services, the picture is a bit different and much more tricky for researchers.  Sorry – we are working on it as a sector, but it’s a very long job.  The Archives Hub has a very useful “getting started” overview.

Some useful sources of information for your include:

  • The Archives Hub, a free service describing physical and digitised collections held in higher education, specialist, local authority, business and other research archives. It is updated every week with new content.  NB it’s not the place to start family history, as it doesn’t cover diocesan and parish records.  For that try..
  • The Society of Genealogists’ guide to starting your family history.
  • The National Archives is the place to go for 20 million+ descriptions of records of central government and English & Welsh law courts.  As well as descriptions of records on Discovery, there are some digitised images.  It also includes Access to Archives, a national aggregator of some content from other archive services across the UK.
    TNA also compiles and publishes an annual survey of accessions to repositories – additions to collections in around 200 collecting archive services in the previous year.  (You can find out about how we at Heritage Quay add to collections in this blog post).  The survey is searchable – although the functionality isn’t brilliant – and the National Archives compiles some useful summaries by subject.  Here’s an example from 2014 for sport.
  • AIM25 is an aggregator for archives held in the London area (not necessasrily about London). It is at collection-level only and covers over one hundred higher education institutions, learned societies, cultural organisations and livery companies and is updated regularly.
  • The Scottish Archive Network SCAN includes holdings from over 50 archive services in Scotland.
  • Archives Wales ANW provides short descriptions of archives held in Wales.
  • Irish Archives Resource is a portal covering the island of Ireland.
  • Archives Portal Europe APE aggregates descriptions of archives held across Europe.  We contribute to this via the Archives Hub.
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