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Edinburgh City Archives First to Sample Survey!

Released on 05/08/2009

Vikki Kerr and Peter Clapham at Edinburgh City Archives are the first to begin their SCA- funded National Preservation Office Preservation Assessment Survey.  Over the next few weeks, in conjunction with NAS Conservation Department staff, they will analyse a sample of 395 items from their Murrayburn store to gather a representative picture of the accessibility and condition of the material in their collection.  With the help of Julia Foster from the National Preservation Office, Peter and Vikki counted the shelves in the store, and worked out for other material which is stored differently (such as plans, boxes and photographs) what the equivalent number of shelves was. 

From this, the shelf interval could be calculated, which is done by dividing the target sample number of 400 into the total number of shelves.  This magic number tells you how often you should pick an item to survey in terms of real shelves.  The attraction of this method is that it is relatively simple, and gives a representative sample from the archive which can be used to look at certain areas of shelves or particular types of item.

Once the relevant shelves have been identified and marked, the next step is to decide which item to pick to provide as representative a sample as possible.  As a rule, Julia says to take the fourth item on the shelf, and the fourth item from within a box or bundle.  Now the survey of the actual items can begin.

The form itself is simple to fill out, and assesses the accessibility of the item and its overall condition.  You can choose to enter the information directly into a database, as Vikki and Peter at Edinburgh City hope to do, or fill out paper copies and input the data later.  To make things easier, Julia can preset some data fields (such as the name of the repository and location) which cuts down the workload.  Once all of the items in the sample have been assessed in this way, the data is sent to Julia for analysis.  She produces a report from the data which presents the findings graphically, and has proved an invaluable tool for funding applications and more generally making the case for better support for archive and records services.

Linda Ramsay, Head of the National Archives of Scotland’s Conservation Department has continually lobbied for more investment in conservation in Scotland and is delighted that together the SCA and the National Archives of Scotland will help coordinate further surveys in archive services.  Having helped Perth and Kinross Council complete a survey, Linda has offered support to Edinburgh City Archives through the survey process and is keen to do the same for other archive services wishing to participate.  She says:  'Following on from the findings of An Archival Account of Scotland, the Preservation Assessment Survey is a vital tool in highlighting conservation  and preservation need across Scotland and showing what can be practically done with a small amount of investment  to improve the focus on essential  collection care and stewardship'. 

Vikki and Peter hope to carry out the survey at the beginning of August, and are aiming to complete it within a week, possible two.  This is one of the first steps towards building up a picture of conservation needs in Scotland, data which will make a compelling argument for investment both locally and nationally.