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).

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. 

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)

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.

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.

Summary of the Blogging for Historians SMKE 2013 presentation

Last week I presented the Blogging for Historians project to the Social Media Knowledge Exchange (SMKE) conference.  I was the first one up on the second day (the only thing keeping the audience and myself from the coffee).  A video from this will be made available soon from SMKE, but in the meantime I thought I would share with you a few items from the talk.

1. Slide Show and video

Some of these slides won’t mean much without the context.  I’d rather not upload the text from my talk here, simply because it is not yet in a format that is legible to anyone but myself, however I would like to talk you through some of it.

Slide two shows the History SPOT blog (my first ever blog).  I began my talk with this blog as I wanted to point out the problems that can occur and stay with a blog if it is not carefully planned from the very beginning.  To this day the url and the name of the blog (at least on a superficial level) remain generic and unexciting (see the arrows).  This was in part because I didn’t know at the time exactly what the blog would be about or what the name of the project would eventually become.  The History SPOT blog has been a success, but the legacy of not knowing the importance of the name, especially for the url, remains with it.

The third slide shows a screenshot of this blog (Blogging for Historians) – an example – I hope – of how far I’ve come in choosing good names (or at least adequate ones).  Slide four shows the outputs for this project followed by slide five in which I have outlined the principal types of blogs that I have found being used by academics and practitioners in the History profession.

Slide six is where I introduced all of the blogs and bloggers who were interviewed for the project.  Here I broke them down into the categories mentioned in the previous slide.  I explained that my selection of bloggers was based on trying to get a wide range of types so that I would get a good understanding from each person I interviewed of best practice, positives and negatives of blogging, and a range of reasons why a blog has been setup in the first place.

The slides that follow highlight two aspects of the interviews:

1) why was the blog set up (it’s reason for existence)

2) how is the blog managed

I went through each in some detail then (as you can see in slide 13) summarised some of the other questions and answers.    I then showed a video that is a rough cut taken from the interviews on the question of what makes a good blog post.  You can watch this here:

What makes a good blog post? from History SPOT on Vimeo.

I really enjoyed making this video, although I am the first to admit that it is a little rough around the edges.  I think it’s useful.  Each of the interviews are 20-30 minutes long – not many people will listen all the way through, if at all I suspect.  This video is only a few minutes in length and focuses on just one aspect of blogging but from various different views.  I’m hoping to make up more of these in the future from the interviews already conducted (perhaps adding some more illuminating video aspects along the way).

Back to the slide show – slide 15 through to 18.  In the talk I now moved on to one part of the project that I felt didn’t work very well – the online survey.  I would like to thank all of you who did take part in the survey.  Your views were very valuable and useful.  However, I only received a little over 120 responses; not enough to truly gain a clear understanding of peoples views and opinions.  This is certainly part of the project that I will need to think about more carefully in the future.

The final slides take a look at the upcoming toolkit or guide to blogging, that forms the final part of this phase of the Blogging for Historians project.  Here I have just outlined the principal parts of the guide and given an example from the section looking at blog platforms.  There will be more about this (and the toolkit itself) on this blog very soon.

I finished my talk by looking toward the future.  I’m hoping to conduct more interviews, although for now these will most likely be e-mail based.  I’m also hoping to create more videos by breaking up the interview audio into smaller chunks.  I will also, of course, continue to add to the Blogging for Historians blog and build up a stronger and hopefully useful resource for anyone considering blogging for the first time (or indeed anyone wishing to learn more about blogs who already has one).

2. Twitter feed

Throughout all the presentations over the two day conference many people in the room twittered online.  In this regard I’m still in the pen and paper age, but I might well give it a go at a future conference as the result (which has been stored by SMKE on Storify) is quite interesting and represents well the outline of the two days.

Day 1 SMKE 2013 storify

Day 2 SMKE 2013 storify

I have also created a storify of tweets that occurred during my presentation: Blogging for Historians presentation tweets

3. Six responses to the Social Media Knowledge Exchange conference

As a light epilogue to the two day event a few of us were asked to comment on the conference and projects which has now been made up on a short video on youtube.  Just bare in mind that this was recorded over lunch and we had only a few seconds to compose something in our head before finding ourselves in front of the camera.

This can be found on the SMKE website video responses to SMKE 2013 page or viewed below:

Social Media conference (SMKE) 2013

The CRASSH centre, University of Cambridge
The CRASSH centre, University of Cambridge

For the last two days I was at the SMKE Social Media conference (Social Media Knowledge Exchange).  It’s been really great few days, with plenty of interesting ideas raised, concerns and thoughts expressed, and meeting lots of people with interesting areas of research and interests.  My deepest thanks go out to the SMKE organisers, especially our hosts the CRASSH centre at Cambridge.  Anne Alexander especially deserves mention for coordinating everything so well.

A large element of the conference was the SMKE scholar projects that have been funded over the last year.  We had everything from research into computer games and virtual realities, to social media as a tool for protest and organisation.  Questions of legitimacy and verification were raised, concerns over ethics and copyright discussed, and thoughts about the benefits and risks of social media mulled over.

As a whole these sessions proved to be much more than showcasing projects, but thought provoking talks that showed off the various benefits and weaknesses of social media and gave a hint as to future ways forward.

First thing on the second day (Wednesday) it was my turn to talk about the Blogging for Historians project.  I went through some of the things that were said by the bloggers who I have interviewed for this project, and discussed a little bit about my findings.  It was interesting that it was the comment about word length and the style of writing for a blog that provoked the most interest and discussion.  How long should a blog post be?  Should we be suggesting a minimum or maximum?  Is length really all that important or is it the style of the post that really matters?  What draws people in and what sends them away?  I’ll be thinking about this and other things as I finalise the toolkit for this project and I will try and post here about some of those musings as they begin to take form.

I’m told that the SMKE website will soon display lots of content about these and the other presentations, but for now here’s a link to the conference programme and to the Storify collection of Twitter posts (day one and day two) that they have gathered together.  There was a lot of twittering, which is perhaps not that unexpected considering the topic of the conference but it surprised me just how much these 150 character long pieces managed to capture a good fraction of the conference for posterity.