Image above: Original copy of the statutes of Winchester College. Image credit: Hampshire Record Office (ref: 68M74)

There are hundreds of archives across the UK that actively collect new material every year. These new accessions vary hugely in scope and content, from born-digital government records to medieval manuscripts. The Accessions to Repositories Survey aims to provide a unique perspective into the collections and collecting practices of archives across the UK.

240 archives contributed to the survey about 2019, reporting more than 14,000 new collections. We have been gathering survey data in a consistent format that allows further analysis since 2016. With only 4 years’ worth of analysis, it is not yet feasible to draw definitive conclusions but it is possible to start teasing out patterns in collecting practices and beginning a preliminary examination of the diversity in these collections. We can also look at how much has changed, and how much has remained stable, over the last few years.

Analysing accessions data can provide a better view of the type of material archives are choosing to collect and, looking at the language used to describe these records, can also offer insight into how this material is being represented and interpreted. This also helps us estimate the diversity of collections and suggest where collections are representative or where a more diverse approach might have been missed.

A number of items purchased at auction appear in the 2019 accessions survey, including a letter from the mathematician and writer Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, to Mrs Tynte. The letter discusses the educational future of a musical prodigy, probably the harpist John Thomas, and was acquired by the National Library of Wales.

Manorial documents also appear among the items obtained by sale, such as the Manor of Thorney Hall court book, accessioned by Suffolk archives. The court book, which dates from 1709, was written in Latin prior to 1733, after which the main language became English. Another manorial example comes from The Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, which purchased maps of the manor and parish of Thistleton, dating from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries.

A move to new ways of working for the 2020 survey will involve fewer manual and more automated processes to allow for more efficient handling of data and better analysis. The template used to gather accessions data will be critical to this new way of working. We therefore ask repositories wishing to participate to ensure they use the template provided and read the relevant guidance. If you are interested in contributing to future Accessions to Repositories surveys, please visit our main accessions webpage. Thank you to all of the archives that contributed to the 2019 Accessions to Repositories Survey, including those who kindly provided images for use in this report.

Continue to Part 2: Collecting trends

Continue to Part 3: New in archives