Archive Blogs in the UK – A follow-up survey

In November 2013 I carried out a sample survey of 114 archives in the UK, looking specifically at their social media services (see Archive Blogs in the UK – A Sample Survey for the results). I was particularly interested in the status and existence of blogs, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages, although I did also take note of other types of social media such as Flickr and YouTube. In November 2014 I did a follow up survey of the same 114 archives to see how things have progressed.

The first table below shows the amount of blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, Youtube channels, and Flickr channels the 114 archives had in November 2013 and 2014. It should be noted that these archives break down into four categories: National (18); Local (88); Church (2); and University (6).

Social Media used by archives

Social Media Type 2013 results 2014 results
Blogs 26 38
Twitter 39 46
Facebook 43 48
YouTube 12 14
Flickr 20 26


In most cases the use of social media by each individual archive remained much the same. The greatest variation in the results appears to have derived from the World War One Commemoration, as several local archives have started up a temporary blog which records soldier’s diaries or otherwise reveals information from their records concerning the war.

I did notice that the regularity of posts in some blogs has dropped slightly in general terms. Although it is hard to be certain of the reason for this, it would seem likely to be a natural settling in of the blog as it ceases to be a new thing that the archive does, and therefore it settles into a more manageable rhythm. In a few instances the blog has transferred from Blogger to WordPress, receiving a new look and feel in the process.

The second table (below) breaks down the results for blogs, Twitter, and Facebook by the archive category in an attempt to understand, in particular, variation between national and local archives. I have added some percentages to even out the results but obviously the large variation between categories in terms of their number make these numbers limited in terms of what they really tell us.

Social Media usage by type of Archive 2013

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%)

Social Media usage by type of Archive 2014

Type Total Blog Facebook Twitter
Church 2 1 (50%) 1 (50%) 1 (50%)
Local/regional 87 24 (27%) 35 (40%) 32 (36%)
National 19 9 (47%) 10 (52%) 10 (52%)
University 6 4 (66%) 2 (33%) 4 (66%)

Blogs: In general these figures suggest that there have been very little change. The only significant number change can be seen in the number of blogs owned by local/regional archives, which (as previously mentioned) seem to relate to the World War One Commemoration.

These include the following:

However, there are also some other variations in this pattern. Four of the blogs that do still exist do not seem to have been posted on within the last six months or contain a notice to explain that they are no longer active. This means that 8 out of the 38 blogs recorded in the survey for 2014 are either temporary or non-active as of November 2014.

Twitter: There are eight new Twitter feeds introduced by the archives in 2014. Excluding these, all pre-existing Twitter feeds appear to have increased their number of followers by an average of 33% over the course of the year. This figure of course incorporates a large variation in numbers. The British Library, the National Archives, and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Record Office have followers in the hundred thousands, whilst all other archives are in the hundreds or under 7,000.

Facebook: In the 2013 study 31 of the archives had a Facebook account. This year 4 new accounts were in operation but 1 account had ceased to exist (equalling a net increase of 3). In 2014, the total of Facebook accounts in use was 34. On average ‘likes’ of these pages increased by about 34% during the course of the year, although it should be again understood that there is a huge variation in numbers of followers between accounts (the British Library, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Record Office, and the National Archives had 1,000s of more followers than any of the other archives).


Last year I was aware of the severe limitations in the methodology that I was using and problems within the results related to the numbers in each archive category. These issues remain for the 2014 study. Both surveys were carried out in November of their respective years. In each instance the archive website was examined for signs of social media usage and data collected from clicking on the website access routes. Although this captures most of the data accurately, I believe that there are some occasions when an example of social media usage is not well-advertised on the website (or ignored altogether). There is, therefore, some possible inconsistency in the data collected.

In addition, in many cases archives that are categorised as local (i.e. record offices) have an online presence only through the council website and therefore consist of little more than a collection of static pages. In these instances there are often Twitter and Facebook accounts, but they are general to the council and not specific to the archive itself. These have been ignored for the purposes of this study.

The greatest problem with the survey is its limitation of size. Only 114 archives are included, most of which are local/regional centres. There are well over 2,500 archives across the UK. This means that the study focus is too narrow and needs to be expanded for it to be of use.

In 2015 I will be looking at a different approach. Firstly, the sample is too small to gather adequate results, but secondly, the method for gathering that data is not precise enough and is too time consuming (considering the inadequacies of the results).

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 SMKE Social Media Workshop: The growing importance of social media for Historians

Who here Tweets?  Who uses Facebook to catch up on the latest news from History-related institutions?  Who blogs or reads blog posts?  Do you use Flickr or  We live in a world increasingly saturated with social media both in our personal lives and professional.  At least we do if we choose to do.  It is still possible to avoid this upsurge in new technology, but what was once considered an additional luxury to the working day of a historian, is increasingly becoming more vital and important.  I think this, more than anything else, is what I took away from the SMKE Social Media Workshop held last week at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR).

The workshop began with three presentations: one by Laura Cowdrey from The National Archives; another from Julian Harrison from the British Library; and a third by Isabel Holowaty from the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.  All three discussed their approach to social media – especially blogs and twitter, but also various others such as Facebook; Pinterest (an online scrapbook); Historypin (photograph sharing platform where photographs are pinned to a map); Flickr (another photograph sharing tool); and Delicious (similar to Facebook but more centred around sharing content and links).

The workshop finished with breakout groups, where we were asked to discuss five questions about our views on social media.  There were six of us in Group A, including our earlier speaker, Julian Harrison.  Below is a rough summary of our various thoughts and ideas.

  1. Why do researchers need to develop a social media presence?

It was quickly suggested that this question could easily be turned on its head: do researchers actually need to develop a social media presence at all?  There is a lot of unnecessary information out there and maintaining an online presence takes time and effort which could be better served elsewhere.   Julian Harrison argued that maintaining a social media presence is increasingly becoming essential for career prospects and progression.  A blog or active twitter account can get you noticed, and enable you to spread the word about what it is you are doing.  Traditional journal articles take too long to come out and are read by relatively few, whilst conferences help, they are still limited to a single time and place.  Social Media enables researchers to inform others of their research instantly and delves into a large international audience.  An online presence for your research also provides you with a date-stamped proof of your research in case anyone thought to nab your ideas!

However, there is a balancing act to be had.  A few in the group explained that they had tried to maintain blogs, but found that they were increasingly spending time focusing on blog posts and not on the research questions and writing for their thesis.   The issue of priorities is a very real one and hosting a blog can become quite a chore.  Common consensus suggests that a blog needs regular posts (at least one a week), but for most researchers this is quite challenging.  Especially for postgraduates (but also true for those just establishing their career) is the difficulty of finding something worth talking about on a blog, that does not give away too much of the research, but is also watertight in its assertions.  A well-maintained blog may well be a good advertisement of an Historian’s research, but it could easily also become a negative thing if handled badly.

  1. How can you balance the personal and professional online?

It was quickly decided that social media provides the opportunity to write in a more informal and friendly manner, but that this has its limits.  There are occasions when a little personality can be seen as a good thing.  The Reviews in History e-mail subscription includes a brief paragraph at the beginning of every e-mail revealing a little bit of personal events going on in the life of the editor.  This was generally viewed positively amongst the group, who felt that it was important for a little bit of character to be injected when writing via social media.  It was suggested that two separate Twitter accounts should be set up – one personal and one professional.   Facebook was considered more challenging and there were no real answers as to how to deal with this.


  1. What are the best ways to build relationships/community online?

Knowing your audience and what they might want was considered very important.  Maintaining and posting regularly was also considered vital, otherwise people would think that the account is neglected.  The use of any social media whether that is a blog or Twitter feed, should try and keep within its remit otherwise followers might become annoyed and disinterested.  Ways to build relationships included re-tweeting other people’s posts on Twitter and commenting on other peoples Facebook pages when relevant.  Within all of this was a concern over the difficulty of maintaining various separate channels and of how to draw all of these together in one place or at least link them together in some way.

  1. How do you deal with negative feedback/interactions?

On this question there were two lines of thought.  One was to tackle negative feedback head-on by entering into a debate or pointing out your reasoning.  Another was to ignore it entirely (either moving on or even deleting the comment).  The decision comes down to what is worth fighting over.  Some people will act as trolls on social media, and it is probably never worth getting into a fight with them – simply ignore them or block them instead.  But where there is a genuine query or disagreement, this can actually fuel stimulating and interesting discussion that might be beneficial for both the commenter and the author of the original item.


  1. What are the best social media platforms for communicating historical research, and why?

Twitter and Facebook were considered popular and useful methods, although Facebook was found to be a difficult tool for communicating historical research.  Blogs were seen as the best method, although more time consuming.  Photographic tools such as Flickr and historypin were thought useful, but only if dealing with images as a principal part of the research. was mentioned as a highly useful networking tool and one that does have the ability to promote and discover interest in your field of research.  The group were divided pretty evenly between those who made use of and those that hadn’t or had only created a static, unused page.  It was generally agreed that more attempts to make use of other social media was desirable.

Our discussions ended with an interesting debate about copyright especially when related to images.  The British Library, it seems, provide any images presented over their social media systems under a Creative Commons licence, which allows reuse as long as it is not for commercial gain.  We also discussed briefly the potential problem that could occur if one of the third-party tools declined in use or collapsed.  Myspace was given as the principal example – is it possible to back up?