Archive blogs in the UK – a sample study

CA_State_Archives_BoxesDo Archives in the UK use social media and if they do in what way?  This sample study carried out in November looks at the state of blogs, Twitter, and Facebook usage by approximately 100 archives in the UK.

Most local archives in the UK are run by councils and as such their web presence is often no more than a few pages on a council website and on the National Archives website and catalogues.  There are a few exceptions, however, and other types of archives that are worth further studying.

In November I carried out a sample study of 113 archives websites. I looked for the presence of a blog, twitter feed and Facebook account and took note of other social media outlets that appear to be used. I excluded general council social media accounts as these could not be shown to be representative of the archive itself and was more likely to include information about council tax and waste collections. Here are some basic results:

Surveyed 113 archives (on 1 November 2013)

Blog 26
Twitter 39 (not incl. generic council account)
Facebook 43 (not incl. generic council account)

Other social media commonly used:


Twitter and Facebook were the most common outlets for archives. In 29 cases both social media tools were used suggesting that archives who do attempt to use social media do so on more than one application.  There were less archives using blogs, although some did have blog-like content on their own website news feed (but not updated enough or delivered in a way that could be counted as a blog). Flickr and YouTube were popular tools as well, although in many cases there were only a handful of resources put online.

The next set of statistics allows us to delve a little deeper into the detail. There are many types of archives in the UK. National archives will have access to a wider array of resources than local archives. Some are specific in content and application (i.e. ecclesiastical archives or University library archives).

Social Media usage by type of Archive

Type Total Blog Facebook Twitter
Church 2 1 (50%) 1 (50%) 1 (50%)
Local/regional 87 13 (15%) 31 (35%) 26 (30 %)
National 19 8 (42%) 10 (52%) 9 (47%)
University 6 5 (83%) 3 (50%) 4 (66%)

Of those surveyed the majority were local archives run under council funding. Of those only 15% had made use of a blog although 30-35% were using Twitter or/and Facebook. Out of the 19 national archives only 8 had a blog but about half used Twitter or/and Facebook.

These results suggest that there is some attempt to use social media in the archives sector but it is not widespread. In general less than half of the 113 archives surveyed made any use of social media, even less made significant use of it. Of course this does not tell us anything about how these social media tools are used or why. More research is therefore required.

Self-determined learning and social media

This post describes one exercise that can be used with students as part of a module to train them in how to use Twitter, and why they might find it a useful tool.  The idea is part of a heutagogical approach to learning as described by Lisa Marie Blaschke at the RIDE 2013 conference on 1 November 2013.  If you are interested in finding out more about Heutagogy I talk a little more about this concept on my Sixteenth Century Scholars blog. 

Senate House, University of Lodnon
Senate House, University of Lodnon

On Friday a few weeks back I attended the RIDE 2013 conference held at Senate House (University of London).  RIDE stands for research and innovation in distance education and e-learning, and was organised by the Centre for Distance Education/University of London International Programmes.  I was there primarily to learn more about current trends in learning and teaching especially in regards to online training and the use of social media.

Training students to use Twitter

One of the keynote speakers was Lisa Marie Blaschke who mentioned one way of using Twitter as an exercise as part of a heutagogical approach.  I have not really considered social media applications as potential training tools beyond the obvious collaborative wiki or forum discussion.  This seemed to me a potentially useful way to reveal to students the potential benefits of Twitter as a tool and resource, whilst also providing them with training in how to use it properly, and fitting it into a research topic that was of interest to them.  The following is approximately what this aspect of the module involved (as far as I understood it).

  1. Create an account – students are asked to create their own Twitter accounts and asked to follow a specially created Twitter account for the module.
  2. Students are to use the Twitter search functions to find and follow one expert in their field.  Their job through the term is to see and record what that person says on Twitter and to learn from them both in terms of the information they provide about their research subject, but also in terms of how Twitter is used.
  3. Experiences are shared between the students using Twitter (although not said here, I would imagine a carefully chosen hashtag being perfect for this)

This approach not only gives students the opportunity to see the potential of Twitter as a tool but it seamlessly slots into their own research interests and – for minimal work on their part (and that of the tutor) – gives them a ready-made forum for seeing what their classmates are finding out as well.  As a further benefit many of those that took the class in the past will still continue to follow and be followed by the module Twitter account allowing past students to help train the next generation just by their mere presence and, presumably, past students to continue to learn from their successors.

For more about the RIDE conference both past and present check out the Centre for Distance Education website.  

The Social Scholar – Julian Harrison on social media at the British Library


The Anti-Social Scholar (and how not to become one)

23 October 2013, 13:00 – 14:00

Event Type: Seminar


Julian Harrison (British Library)

Julian Harrison is Curator of Pre-1600 Historical Manuscripts at the British Library, and Co-Curator of the forthcoming Magna Carta exhibition (2015). He is one of the editors of the Medieval Manuscripts Blog, which is on course to receive in excess of 500,000 hits this year.

Speakers Abstract

Having a strong online presence is key to gaining recognition in the Digital Age. By focusing on the British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts Blog, we will discuss strategies for successful blogging, and for communicating to a global audience. We will introduce the Seven Golden Rules of Blogging, and will consider how to build and maintain a readership for academic blogs.


The Social Scholar is a new series of lunchtime seminars from the School of Advanced Study, looking into the theme of Social Media. Each session includes a 20 minute presentation from an expert already using social media in the Humanities followed by discussion and Q&A.  In these sessions we hope to learn together about how to better use social media in a professional capacity and what the difficulties and issues are.  The series will look at blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media services.   Tea and coffee are provided and you are welcome to bring your own lunch.

Venue : Room 246 (Senate House)

Senate House
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU

Blogging for Historians blog: Social media or not?

Next week Julian Harrison from the British Library will be talking about social media at the British Library at the School of Advanced Study lunchtime seminar series – The Social Scholar.  I’ve been involved in organising this event, and I’d like to share with you some of the reasons below about why I think this seminar series is a great idea.



In the last few years social media has really taken off as a thing that should be used in academia for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes it is used to promote activities – lectures, conferences, seminars – other times research projects.  Often individual academics use blogs to talk about aspects of their research that would either not see the light of day otherwise, or as a preliminary place to upload thoughts, ideas, and research before traditional publication. Twitter is used both to promote research and events and to find out more about what is going on – it’s an online networking site that, if used well, can pay dividends.

In short, micro-blogging sites such as Twitter and Facebook provide a new conduit for sharing information; blogs allow academics and higher education institutions to share, publically, what it is that they are doing.  Image based social media such as Flickr allows academics to share pictures essential to their work, whilst Pinterest and historyPin enable us to share notes and organise material found online. There is a whole world out there of social media tools – some better and more useful that others – but questions still remain for many of us – are these tools really as useful as they claim and in what way?  What can they do for me?

Whilst it is true that Social Media provides a fantastic opportunity to talk to people and to share knowledge, it is also true that it’s a bubble of its own making. There’s no point relying solely on social media to get your message across because you will only ever reach a small percentage of your desired audience. When you start to use social media regularly it is so very easy to forget that not everyone else is, nor are they always going to find what it is you are sharing very easily.

The adjective “If you build it they will come” doesn’t necessarily apply – produce a tweet on Twitter, for instance, and it’s gone within minutes (perhaps seconds) on most people’s timeline – how likely is it that they will see it? Write a blog post and even if people find it chances are they will only skim read.

So what’s the solution? Is social media all that it is cracked up to be? I don’t have an answer, although these are questions that play on my mind from time to time. This is why I’m looking forward to being part of The Social Scholar seminars put on by the School of Advanced Study.  I’m hoping that experts already using social media in their work can help me in my confusion and perhaps help you in yours.

The Social Scholar will be held once every month term-time between 1pm-2pm on a Wednesday. It’s free to all to attend and coffee/tea will be provided (please also feel free to bring your own lunch!). Each session will comprise of a 20 minute presentation from an expert using social media, followed by debate, discussion and questions. For full details see the programme on the SAS blog and elsewhere on this blog.

The first session will be held in Senate House room 246 on 23 October (1pm-2pm) with guest speaker Julian Harrison from the British Library talking on the subject of The Anti-Social Scholar (and how not to become one).  You can also follow us and join in on the conversation on Twitter through the hashtag #socialscholar.

The Social Scholar – new seminar series starts this month!

The Social ScholarA new lunchtime seminar series is launching at the University of London this month called The Social Scholar.  Run by the School of Advanced Study (SAS), it takes as its theme Social Media as a tool for Humanities researchers and event’s organisers.

Here’s a quick run-down of the programme this term.  Each seminar is on a Wednesday between 1pm-2pm (remember to also keep an eye out on Twitter with hashtag #socialscholar:

23 October         

Julian Harrison (British Library)

The Anti-Social Scholar (and how not to become one)


13 November

Mark Carrigan (Warwick)

Getting Started as a Research Blogger: Single Authored or Multi Authored Blogs?


4 December

Anne Alexander (CRASSH, University of Cambridge)

The ethics of social media publishing: a brief introduction for researchers

I have been part of the team at SAS working on this seminar programme. Over the last month or so I have been contacting potential speakers, booking rooms, and working out what online content we might be able to produce from the seminars.

The original idea wasn’t mine – in fact I came in only at the organising stage – but I think it’s a great idea for SAS to hold such an event – social media is increasingly becoming essential to much of the work that humanities researchers do, and yet there has been very little open forum or discussion about the pros and cons, the difficulties and issues, or even the uses that various social media as a set of tools can or should provide.

The Social Scholar will be held once every month term-time between 1pm-2pm on a Wednesday. It’s free to all to attend and coffee/tea will be provided (please also feel free to bring your own lunch!). Each session will comprise of a 20 minute presentation from an expert using social media, followed by debate, discussion and questions.

Although I will be posting regularly on Blogging for Historians about the seminar, its ‘online home’ will be the School of Advanced Study Blog, so do check it out. There’s already an interview up with myself about the seminar, and we hope to produce much more content from the seminars themselves as the term progresses.

Also keep an eye out for us on Twitter – hashtag #socialscholar

Storify – a method to store ‘bullet-points’ from conference?

Is Storify and Twitter enabling a new method for academics to record conferences and take notes?  It might seem so.  Conferences tend to have Twitter hashtags these days as a means of allowing the audience to tweet about the conference as it progresses.  If enough people do it, then the hashtag can actually recreate an aspect of the presentations in a bullet-pointed form.  Storify is one means to capture, archive and store those tweet for use later and for sharing with others.

Here are a few examples:

Social Media Knowledge Exchange conference Day 1    Day 2

Voluntary Action History Society conference Day 3

Food in History Anglo-American conference 2013 Day 1    Day 2     Day 3


For an example of how the Storify tweet collection can be annotated see the ‘Twitter example for SMKE’ story in which Sarah Jackson has commented with her opinions about a series of tweets.

And another one from the SMKE workshop held at the Institute of Historical Research in January 2013.  This list has been annotated to demonstrate the power of tweets at an event:


Storify doesn’t just allow you to create a collection of tweets.  It allows you to borrow from other social media (such as Facebook), websites and blogs.  You could create a digital archive of an event that draws in everything mentioned about it on the web.  You could do the same about a specific subject or anything you could imagine.  However, there are some limitations.  WordPress, for example, limits what you can do with Storify (see here).  It is possible to embed a Storify story on Tumblr (see here).

At the moment Storify is an interesting development which could be highly useful.  I was skeptical at first but I’m now beginning to see how it could be used and used well.  Only time will tell of course if it is taken up by academics but it might well be worth a look.