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).

Social Scholar: An introduction to writing blog posts (29 October 2014)

The Social Scholar

The Social Scholar seminar begins again this month and I will be talking at the first session about writing blog posts. Here is some of my thoughts on the matter.

If you search online you will very quickly find numerous articles offering advice about how to write a good, successful blog post. Many of these will be lists – 20 Quick Tips on Writing Great Blog Posts or 19 Headline Writing Tips for Blog Posts – or suggest that if you follow these ‘rules’ then you will quickly make money out of your post: Writing a Good Blog – For Dummies; How to Write a Blog Post: A Simple Formula etc.

As a general rule in academia we are not interested in making money from blog posts. That is not their primary purpose or even their secondary purpose. It’s simply not relevant. We are interested in attracting an audience – of course – but the advice pieces often do not help us to solve the balance problem that we often come across whenever we try and summarise complex material into a short gathering of paragraphs. How do we ensure that our point has been made and understood without losing the very audience we seek in the process?

I have been involved with blogs since 2010 (which doesn’t sound long, but then blogs have only really developed beyond their initial focus as personal online dairies since c. 2009) and I have spent time thinking about how to write posts and reading the advice scattered throughout the internet. Most of it isn’t very helpful for academics. The advice is directed towards business – towards pushing up sales – not toward scholarly impact and public engagement.

The advice talks about ‘rules’ but I’ve looked at successful and unsuccessful blogs from academic institutions, groups, and individuals, and the ‘rules’ often don’t apply. In short, a blog can take any form that you want it to take. It can have any voice you wish to give it. It can be thousands of words or a few hundred; it could be an image with a title, or a video. There is no right or wrong way to write a blog post.

And yet! The advice that does exist can be used by academics and research facilitation staff as a guide and as a means to more successfully put a point across. There are ways to write that aid skim reading (for almost all blog posts are skim read more than they are read in detail), there are ways to point out quickly what the topic is about, and there are ways to ensure that the blog post works for you just as much as it works for the intended audience.

I will therefore be offering suggestions at this month’s Social Scholar on how you might wish to write and structure a blog post. I won’t be suggesting ‘rules’, but I will be offering advice on structuring, length, and tone and much else besides.

I will be talking at the Social Scholar seminar on Wednesday 29 October 2014, 1pm-2pm in Senate House (University of London). For full details check out the event page or SAS Blogs.

Forthcoming event: Creating Impact: Using social networks to build knowledge networks

Dot - Image for Social Scholar sessionNext Tuesday is the last of this years’ Social Scholar seminars put on by the School of Advanced Study as lunchtime training sessions in using social media. As usual the seminar takes place in Senate House (University of London) at 1pm-2pm (Wednesday 18 June 2014). This week Dot Fallon (SAS) and Abhay Adhikari (indpendent digital stratagist) will be talking about the AHRC Science in Culture theme as a case study for creating impact and building networks using social meda.

As usual I interviewed both speakers to find out more about what they plan to talk about and learn more about their opinions of social media. When I asked them why social media is useful this is what they said:

Dot: Social media offers the opportunity to build an engaged network of researchers and share project information quickly and effectively. It’s also a great news source and an essential way of keeping up to date with current issues in the humanities.

Abhay: Social media is an excellent resource to create meaningful impact and build knowledge networks. Social tools can also help you discover new thinking, share ideas and opinions and raise your profile. And once you have clarity and purpose you can engage online communities to work with you or alongside you on interesting projects.

If you would like to read more of this interview then check it out on the SAS Blog here. If you would like to attend the Social Scholar event please RSVP via Eventbrite. Full details of the seminar can be found on the SAS events system.

Social Scholar seminar: Academic guide to social media and blogging

Claire Shaw (The Guardian)
Claire Shaw (The Guardian)

On Wednesday 9 April 2014 (1pm-2pm) we will be holding our next Social Scholar seminar (in room 243, Senate House). This week we will be looking at the Guardian newspapers’ Higher Education Network through the eyes of community journalist Claire Shaw (@clurshaw). For full details of this event check out the SAS Events web page or RSVP via Eventbrite to attend.

Claire Shaw has this to say about blogs:

New research shows that academics blog for their professionals peers, rather than for public outreach, and that blogging functions more like a global virtual common room. On the Higher Education Network, I think academics blog to both get feedback from their critical peers and inform a wider audience. What has become more apparent is the impact a blog can have on the individuals who work in higher education. A recent blog about there being a culture of acceptance around mental health issues in academic went viral (shared over 62k times on Facebook), and sparked debates worldwide. Our new Academics Anonymous series is a good example of why academics blog.

For the full interview check out the SAS Blog.

Abstract for the seminar: Academics are now urged to blog and use social media. Why? Because it’s believed to be a valuable part of the wider ecology of scholarship. It increases potential for public engagement, outreach opportunities and can be used as a way to measure research impact. More and more academics are harnessing the power of social media: over the past year and a half working on the Guardian Higher Education Network, I’ve seen our community of Twitter followers grow from 15k to 63k. In this session, I will provide a guide for academics on how to blog and use social media in the most effective way – and get your work noticed.

The Social Scholar seminar is FREE and open to all. Follow us on Twitter @SASNews using the hashtag #socialscholar. 

Social Scholar seminar: Myles Runham (BBC) – Online Learning: Developing Trends

Myles Runham (Head of BBC Online, BBC Academy)
Myles Runham (Head of BBC Online, BBC Academy)

The March session of The Social Scholar will be held in room 233 of Senate House (University of London) at 1pm on Wednesday 19 march.  The seminar is free and open to all. 

User expectations of what learning is and how it is offered and supported are changing dramatically and rapidly. Remaining relevant is the most significant challenge for organisations working in this new world. How might we respond to these challenges?

This month, for the Social Scholar, Myles Runham, Head of Online, BBC Academy will be talking with us about his experience of using social media. The BBC has long created online education and learning content but the promotional and discoverability side of this is less widely discussed. This seminar, therefore, offers us an opportunity to find out how the BBC uses social media, why they use it, and what benefits they expect to gain from it.


About the seminar

The Social Scholar is a 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.


Time: 19 March 2014, 13:00 – 14:00

Speaker: Myles Runham (Head of Online, BBC Academy)

Location: Room 233, Senate House (University of London)

For full details of the Social Scholar check out the SAS blog category for Social Scholar. Alternatively follow the Social Scholar on Twitter @SASNews using hashtag #socialscholar

Is blogging useful? Kajsa Hartig (Nordiska Museet) on blogs

Kajsa Hartig (Nordiska Museet)
Kajsa Hartig (Nordiska Museet)

The next Social Scholar seminar will take place at 1pm on 19 February 2014 in room 246 (Senate House, London). This month we will be looking at how two different museums use social media and how this might be of interest to academics, archivists, librarians and other related staff members and students.  As always the seminar is FREE and open to all. Click here for further details.

The second of our speakers is Kajsa Hartig, Digital Navigator at the Nordiska Museet in Stockholm. This is what she has to say about blogs.

Do you think blogging is a useful pursuit for academics and why?

Yes I do believe blogging is very useful. It is a repository for your ideas and thoughts, a place to share research and projects. Just by itself the blog is perhaps less useful, but by communicating it through other channels, i.e. Twitter, Facebook , forums etc. your content will reach a wider audience, more people will find your blog posts, read and comment. The blog is a part of a larger digital eco system that you need to master.

Blog about one overall topic, for example your area of research, but elaborate in blog posts covering smaller topics where you can deepen the thoughts and discussions. Create blog posts in response to someone else’s blog, comment on other people’s blogs. This will keep you a part of a larger online dialogue with in your area of interest.

Think about how you are portrayed through your blog, are people’s perception of you the one that you want them to have? A blog can be helpful in building a professional profile online, and in that sense also contribute to a growing career, regardless if you want to pursue a career within academia or move into the arts sector

A blog can also be an arena for trying out new ideas and getting feedback that might even set you off in another direction.

For the full interview with Kajsa Hartig visit the SAS Blog. You can also learn more about the Social Scholar on the SAS events system. The Social Scholar is a FREE event held by the School of Advanced Study every month. Please also follow on Twitter @SASNews hashtag #socialscholar.

Is blogging useful? Kathryn Box (Manchester Museum) on blogs

Kathryn Box (Manchester Museum)
Kathryn Box (Manchester Museum)

The next Social Scholar seminar will take place at 1pm on 19 February 2014 in room 246 (Senate House, London). This month we will be looking at how two different museums use social media and how this might be of interest to academics, archivists, librarians and other related staff members and students.  As always the seminar is FREE and open to all. Click here for further details.

One of our speakers is Kathryn Box, marketing officer at Manchester Museum. This is what she has to say about blogs.

Do you think blogging is a useful pursuit for academics and why?

There is no doubt that blogging is a useful pursuit for academics. There are numerous professional and personal reasons why it is beneficial, which indeed I could talk for hours about….

From my experience at Manchester Museum, the blogging curators get to ‘diary’ their day to day practice. Ultimately building up a record of activity and events, as well as thinking (and typing) about findings, research and theories. They get to join in debates and show off about the fantastic collection they get to explore. As most academics spend years writing their thesis, blogging is an instantaneous e-journal, which breaks down the barrier between the learner and academic. Students and peers get an amazing insight into a world which goes on behind the scenes at a museum, gaining a better understanding about how curators tick and how these big cultural institutions work.

This does indeed mean that in Marketing we are asking quite a lot from our curators, on top of their already heavy work load. However thinking about blogging as a part of your way of working and resource management, it can become a source of structure and excitement. Blogs can create a level playing field for teacher and learner (blogs can be seen to have ‘democratic potential’) and it is a great way for those quiet students at the back of the class to engage.

Over time blogs have become easier and easier to set up, but time is not wasted making sure it is user friendly and enticing to the reader.  It is important for academics to stay relevant to their audience and most importantly, are active. This means a bit more than publishing a post every week. Once you’ve written a post, encourage comments (this may be tweeting about your post, making a video, emailing your post to people). Then when you get comments: reply. Encourage feedback, be honest and question responses. This all helps in starting a real dialogue and discussion, which is pivotal to a successful (and of course, useful) blog.

For the full interview with Kathryn Box visit the SAS Blog. You can also learn more about the Social Scholar on the SAS events system. The Social Scholar is a FREE event held by the School of Advanced Study every month. Please also follow on Twitter @SASNews hashtag #socialscholar. 

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.  

Anne Alexander talks about social media and ethics research at this month’s Social Scholar seminar

Later this week Anne Alexander from the CRASSH Centre, University of Cambridge will be talking about social media and ethics research at the Social Scholar seminar.  It should prove to be an interesting and thought provoking session.  How can social media be used for research purposes?  What problems arise? 

In anticipation of the session I asked Anne if she thought that blogging was a useful pursuit for academics.  This was her answer.
Anne-Alexander-370newLike any other genre of social media publishing, blogging can be useful for academics, or it can be a waste of time. It can be a good mechanism to engage with scholarly or public debate, to ‘think aloud in public’, to establish a online presence for your work or to demonstrate that the public funding for your research career has been well-spent. Or it can eat up a lot of your time and effort to little effect. So I think the key thing probably is to ask yourself what you want to achieve by blogging in the first place, and at which stage in the research process you are going to concentrate your efforts.

I also think that blogging can be an effective tool to help build better networks. I’m designing a new course for graduate historians at Cambridge University, which uses the creation of a collective blog as a teaching platform to explore social media. We are calling it ‘an experiment in learning-by-doing’: like all experiments it will be interesting to see if it works.

Click here for further details about the Digital Historians course.  More details about Anne Alexander can be found on her CRASSH profile page.  For full details about the Social Scholar seminar check the SAS Blog Social Scholar section where you will find details of this and previous sessions, a more detailed interview with Anne about her session, and videos from the previous sessions.

Date: Wednesday 4 December 2013
Time: 1pm-2pm
Event: FREE Public Lunchtime Seminar
Title: The ethics of Social Media publishing: a brief introduction for researchers
Speaker: Anne Alexander (CRASSH, University of Cambridge)
Chair: Jules Winterton (Director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies)