UKDA celebrates 40 years

Article dated: 4 July 2007

The UK Data Archive is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a special reception in the House of Commons, a workshop and open day at the University of Essex and a suite of Anniversary web pages. The reception will also see the launch of a new booklet, Across the decades: 40 years of data archiving. The booklet reviews the history and achievements of the UKDA and the challenges it has overcome.

Amongst those attending the celebration are Leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Ashton; Vice-Chancellor of the University of Essex, Professor Sir Ivor Crewe; and Chairman of the Economic and Social Research Council, Professor Ian Diamond.

The UKDA is now an internationally renowned centre of expertise in data acquisition and is curator of the UK’s largest collection of digital data in the social sciences and humanities.

But as the booklet highlights, the development of the Archive has not always gone smoothly and in the early years even its strongest supporters could scarcely have imagined how successful it would become.

The first major challenge for the Archive was acquiring useful data to store - a process that proved much more difficult than expected. Three years after it was established, the Archive had only acquired a small random collection of surveys and there were only a handful of users.

The breakthrough came in the 1970s with the acquisition of data collected in large government surveys including the General Household Survey, the Labour Force Survey, and the Family Expenditure Survey.

Since then, the Archive’s holdings have grown from strength to strength and its data are in high demand both nationally and internationally.

The Archive has also risen to the challenge presented by the massive changes in technology from 1967, when data were still stored and transferred on paper tape or cards punched with holes, to the present day with an online catalogue providing access to datasets at the click of a mouse.

The current director of the UKDA, Professor Kevin Schürer, explained how the Archive will continue to evolve to meet user demands: "Until recently, most users were interested in survey data but times are changing. Images and web sites are already being archived for future use and the challenge now is to prepare for the future generations of data such as podcasts, blogs, and CCTV."

In his introduction to the anniversary booklet Professor Ian Diamond praises the UKDA for remaining at the cutting edge of developments and concludes that: "Forty years on, the Archive is a credit to all the directors and staff of the Archive and to the University of Essex for their support in hosting the Archive".

screenshot of the Across the decades web siteThe UKDA has also produced a set of web pages which includes the information in the booklet as well as extra items. Readers with memories of the Archive they would like to share on these pages can email feedback with comments or suggestions.