Using data from the Taking Part survey to understand archives engagement

This is the first in a series of blogs about the Taking Part survey. It provides an introduction to what the survey is and what it collects about archives engagement.

What is the Taking Part survey?

The Taking Part survey has been run annually by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) since 2005 and is a “continuous face to face household survey of adults aged 16 and over and children aged 5 to 15 years old in England”. It collects data on engagement in arts, museums and galleries, archives, libraries, heritage and sport. This includes “frequency of participation, reasons for participating, barriers to participation and attitudes to the sectors”.

There are two questionnaires – one for adults (16+) and one for children (5-15). The most recent data available is for 2018-2019.

What does it collect about archives?

The adult questionnaire includes a section on archives. In 2018-2019 it asked:

In the last 12 months have you been to an archive centre or records office?
1. Yes
2. No
-1. Don’t know
INTERVIEWER NOTE: Archives are collections of documents that have been created by families, individuals, businesses or organisations and have been specially chosen to keep permanently. They can be written papers such as letters or diaries, maps, photographs or film or sound recordings. Archives are historical documents but do not have to be very old. Places that keep archives are usually called a record office or archive centre.
Registering a birth, death or marriage happens at a registry office, not at an archive centre/ record office.

If the respondents answers “Yes” they are asked some supplementary questions about the purpose of the visit, how often they visit and satisfaction.

The child questionnaire includes some archive questions including whether they have visited an archive in the past 12 months.

What about digital engagement?

The adult questionnaire asks a question about digital engagement. In 2018-2019 it asked:

May I ask, in the last 12 months, have you looked at a website or used an app related to any of the following?
1. Museums or galleries
2. Libraries
3. History or heritage
4. Arts (e.g music, theatre, dance, visual arts or literature)
5. Archive/record offices
6. Sport (e.g. local sports clubs or facilities, sports development charities)
7. None of these (EXCLUSIVE)

This is rather clumsily worded, but at present is the best indicator there is in the survey about digital engagement.

What other data does it collect?

It also collects demographic data, socio-economic data and wellbeing data (using the ONS four personal wellbeing measures).

A copy of the questionnaire and other documentation for 2018-2019 is available at the UK Data Archive. However, I have summarised all the archive related questions in this document.

What results do DCMS publish?

DCMS publish reports and statistical releases. This includes a release for archives for 2018-2019 which outlines:

  • Proportion who had been to an archive centre or records office in the last 12 months in their own time or as part of voluntary work.
  • Frequency of attendance.
  • Reason for attending.
  • Region level breakdowns.
  • Demographic breakdowns.
  • Proportion who had been to an archive centre or records office in the last 12 months for all purposes.
  • Purpose of the visit.

For example, in 2018-2019:

  • 3.9% of adults had “been to an archive or record centre in the last 12 months”.
  • 6% of adults had “visited an archive web site”.
  • 4.4% of 11-15 year olds had “visited an archive”.

Interestingly archives is the only sector, where a higher proportion of adults had visited an archive website than had visited an archive in person.

The statistical releases can be used to track changes since 2005. I have summarised the key archive engagement statistics for 2005/6-2018/19 in this spreadsheet and in the following figure.

The actual data sets are available on the UK Data Archive for non-commercial use.

What else can the data tell us?

As part of my MSc dissertation in Social Research and Evaluation at the University of Huddersfield I have been thinking about doing some analysis of the Taking Part data sets on archive engagement. For example this could include:

  • Understanding the characteristics of users and non-users (both adults and children) of the archives using socio-demographic data and other variables. I really like a study by Sin and Kim (2008) on public library users and non users in the United States which took this approach using logistic regression.
  • Understanding the characteristics of digital users and non-users including the relationship between in person use and digital use.
  • Understanding the relationship between using archives engagement and wellbeing. Data from Taking Part has already been used by studies to do this with libraries, museums, arts and sports (see below).

I might blog about these in the future.

Wellbeing studies that have used Taking Part survey data

Limitations of the data

There are some limitations to the data such as the poorly worded question on digital engagement. The National Archives has fed this back to DCMS (see below). The survey covers users in England (not engagement from elsewhere in the United Kingdom or abroad) – this also seems significant for digital engagement.

There is also a focus on visiting an “archive centre or record office”. This ignores engagement which takes place outside the building and those who may engage with archives without ever visiting an “archive centre or record office” (e.g. community archives). Interestingly, there is a question for public libraries on engagement outside of library buildings.

It is worth noting that the data for archive engagement is quite a small sample. For 2018-2019, there are 319 cases who have visited and archive and 510 cases who had used an archive website. It may be possible to use data from previous years or other data sets to make the sample larger and perhaps more representative. I need to think about this more!

Finally there is a philosophical question about whether taking a positivist approach (with a focus on quantitative methods) for this type of research is suitable. Would an interpretivist approach (with an focus on qualitative methods) be more suitable? I need to think about this a bit more too….!

The future of the survey

DCMS have recently undertaken consultation on the survey. They are “now analysing the responses” and will publish the findings in the future.

However, they are “always interested in hearing your views on the Taking Part survey”. So if you think there is something missing or poorly designed then please let them know!

2 thoughts on “Using data from the Taking Part survey to understand archives engagement

  1. kevinjbolton says:

    I have been asked on Twitter about the wellbeing statistics for archive engagement. These are not published in the DCMS reports or statistical releases, but available in the raw data held by the UK Data Archive. It would require some statistical analysis of the data to understand the relationships between archives engagement and wellbeing,

  2. Jack Kirby says:

    Good post, Kevin. There’s not nearly enough consistent data on archive users (or non-users) and their needs. Despite the relatively small sample size, it is statistically significant. I believe the quantitative data is useful, but needs interpretation through qualitative studies.

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