UKDA awarded Place of Deposit status from TNA

Article dated: 5 April 2005

The UKDA, responsible for archiving government records since 1967, became a designated Place of Deposit for public records for The National Archives on 1 January 2005.

As many users of ESDS will know, the UKDA holds on behalf of ESDS many government surveys. Some of these data collections provide a continuous longterm view of social patterns and economic behaviour dating back some 30 years. For example the Family Resources Survey covers the period from 1961, the General Household Survey and the National Travel Survey from 1971 and the National Food Survey from 1974. In all these cases the UKDA also now holds the only preservation copies of the data in the country. Even the originating government department no longer holds a copy of the older data files. These long-term data collections not only provide an important resource for social science research and teaching, but also serve as a vital historical record of the nation.

Subsequently, over the course of last year the UKDA entered into a series of discussions with The National Archives (TNA) concerning the custodianship and long-term preservation of these important government records. The Public Records Act (1958) sets out the process by which records generated by central government departments are selected and scheduled for permanent preservation. Once selected, such records are designated as Public Records and take on a specific legal status concerning both their access and preservation. Under the 1958 Act public records may be deposited in places other than TNA by agreement between the Lord Chancellor and the relevant authority. Thus, in effect TNA can grant powers to other repositories to hold public records on their behalf.

During the summer of 2004 an intensive site inspection by TNA took place checking that the UKDA conforms to various British Standards (most notably BS 5454) concerning archival procedures, records management, security, access and preservation. The inspection was passed with flying colours, strongly endorsing the work of UKDA, and indeed seeing it as setting standards for others to follow. To quote from the TNA report:

“The facilities which you provide for the preservation of digital public records are excellent, as are the arrangements by which you enable research access to those records. In the 30 years since UKDA was established the organisation has clearly amassed considerable expertise in all aspects of this work, and I was impressed by your thorough and sympathetic approach to archives and research management.” The TNA also reported that “arrangements for archival preservation and access are of a very high order, and will no doubt stand as a benchmark for other similar services in the near future”.

The award to the UKDA will have no direct impact on the service provided to ESDS, but importantly it does strengthen the relation between UKDA and government departments and will help to ensure the continued flow of high quality government data for ESDS users. For those datasets which are designated public records - mainly government datasets held by the UKDA that are over 30 years old - the new status will also allow unrestricted access.