Using the Archival Census Data in the Repository

Terry Abraham
University of Idaho

A paper presented at the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting, Chicago, August 29, 1986


Over 550 archival repositories in the United States responded to the SAA Taskforce on Institutional Evaluation conducted in 1985. This is the first comprehensive survey of repositories and extends the efforts of previous questionnaire pushers, such as NHPRC, Phil Mason, Robert Warner, Ruth Helmuth, Nick Burckel, and Frank Cook.

There are many uses of the survey data for the profession, for the Society, and for those considering public policy for archives. But for each of us in our separate and widespread offices, there is but one predominant concern; how can I use this data? Because of my interest in using the census data for my informational and promotional needs, I was asked to share some of these techniques with you. I must warn you, however, that I am not a statistician, and my use of these numbers is more literary than mathematical.

As background, let me tell you about my repository.

The University of Idaho, established in 1889--we are three years short of our centennial celebration--"is a publically supported comprehensive land-grant institution with principal responsibility for performing research and granting Ph.D. degrees in Idaho." Located in a small farm-based community in northern Idaho, 300 miles from the state capital and far from other urban centers, the U of I has over 600 faculty, over 8000 students, and the largest library in the state with slightly more than 1.5 million volumes.

Within the library, the Department of Special Collections and Archives contains the University Archives and the Manuscript Collections, as well as a major regional subject collection and a variety of other special collections. You will be introduced to the numbers relating to this unit in the tables that follow, as I am, for purposes of comparison, going to reveal all (or at least much more than most of you want to know) about Special Collections and Archives at the University of Idaho.

But first, let us look at the scope of the census data to identify the points of comparison. Since information was collected on type of repository and regional location it is possible to be very specific in the comparison. 36% of the census respondents are college and university repositories. 6.2% of the respondents are from the mountain states and another 10.4% represent the Pacific states; Idaho is skewed in its relationship to its region and resonates more with Pacific than Mountain in some instances. Combining Pacific and Mountain regions into one Western region is fairly easy, however.

Of the public C&U repositories represented in the census 54% of their parent institutions were founded in the latter half of the nineteenth century while their archival respositories (nearly 70% of them) were not founded until after 1961, half a century or more later (the UofI also had a sixty year delay). There are 11 public C&U respondents in the Mountain states region but no private C&U respondents. About 66% of the public C&U have no records management responsibility, as is true at the U of I, but 73% report non-archival responsibilities, such as a museum, oral history program, or library. I did not ask for the report on this but I expect that number is high compared to other kinds of archival repositories. Of the public C&U archives across the U.S. 66% (the same 66%?) report that they do not have a separate budget, while 70% report available resources at $10,000 to $150,000 dollars and 40% report a budget greater than $100,000. Incidentally, nearly 20% report that part of their income comes from fees.

None of the 114 reporting public C&U repositories are charged rent or overhead for their facilities.

More than 50% of these have one or less professional staff; only 20% have more than three. Most have some number of non-professional staff although 19% do not. 64% do not report any volunteer staff.

Average professional salaries in 41% of the public C&U repositories range from $22,500 to $30,000; but 6.8% report salaries average less than $15,000. A greater percentage (16.4%) report their average salary is greater than $30,000.

69% have in-house fire detection, 60% do not have fire suppression, 78% have temperature control, 55% have humidity control, 89% have closed stacks, 50% have burglar alarms, 88% have handicapped access.

Nearly 70% have an acquisition policy, 93.5% keep permanent acquisition records; 75% or more do no records surveys or scheduling. While nearly 50% receive up to 1000 feet of records annually, 42% reported that they had no data on that question. Similar figures appeared when asked about volume of material arranged, described, transferred or destroyed. The U of I was among those that had no data on these amounts, a situation since corrected.

Most (70%) of the public C&U archives have less than 5,000 feet of holdings; 63% report collection level description for more than 80% of that. 27% have an unpublished guide and 21% a published guide. 74.5% report using a card catalog as one of the descriptive formats and (Rich Berner--a former UI reference librarian--would breathe a sigh of relief) 80.2% use the inventory format. Also, nearly 60% use some kind of indexes and lists to provide access. Less than a quarter, however, provide specialized subject guides or in-house data-bases; while only 11% use a network database.

While 11% report seeing less than 20 people per year, most (57%) see more than 351; 30% report daily visits for the year in the 500-1500 range.

Students predominate among users, as might be expected; 65% of the public C&U repositories report that students are more than 20% (up to 100%) of their clientele.

That gives us an overview of the state of public college and university archival repositories in this country, data with which we can compare our own institutions. It is good for me to see that the University of Idaho is, in most cases, on the side of the majority in these comparisons. Now let us look at some specific cases:

TABLE I
STAFF All Public C&U AVERAGES Western Public C&U AVERAGES Mountain Public C&U AVERAGES UofI
Professional FTE 2.0 2.6 2.2 1.7
Non-profess'l FTE 2.0 3.8 3.4 4.2
Student FTE 0.3 2.3 2.4 1.8
Volunteers FTE 1.0 2.9 2.5 1.8
TOTAL (calc'd) 5.3 11.6 10.5 9.5
TOTAL (Survey) 4.3 5.6 5.4 5.1
Salaries/Prof. 24,975 23,919 27,074 29,219

TABLE ONE compares the University of Idaho with the average of all public C&U repositories responding to the survey, plus those in the western region (Mountain and Pacific) and in the Mountain region alone. The last provides a closer comparison to my nearer neighbors in the resource-based mountain states.

The UofI, according to my interpretation of these numbers, is about right for professional staff, in fact somewhat better than most institutions in the mountain states; but is way behind in terms of support staff, students and volunteers. In fact, it might be suggested that the UofI was topheavy in comparison with other institutions, but I prefer to think of it as more a function of staff shortages at the lower levels.

The average salaries of professionals as revealed by this survey are quite interesting; the UofI is quite comparable to other public C&U archives but not in comparison with what appears to be a level of higher pay in the Pacific and Mountain states. It is not for nothing that we refer to Idaho as the Mississippi of the West in terms of support for higher education.

Did I use this data in discussions with my administration? You bet.

TABLE II
SPACE UofI All Public C&U AVERAGES Western Public C&U AVERAGES Mountain Public C&U AVERAGES
Sq Ft Total 13,140 9,375 9,508 10,927
Stack Sq Ft 9,490 4,980 6,436 10,859
PERCENT STACKS 72.2 53.1 67.7 99.4
Collections Ft 3,000 15,508 7,460 11,229
Mss Ft 2,540 3,074 6,128 9,854
Archives Ft 460 1,184 110 140
TOTAL (calc'd) 3,000 4,258 6,238 9,994
Vol. rec'd 408 442 844 986
Vol. arr'd n/a 205 306 263
Vol. desc'd n/a 188 335 372

Looking at space configurations (TABLE II) we see that compared to other public C&U archives, the U of I has spacious facilities, above average in size. Notice the pattern that as we move from the U.S. as whole to the Pacific Region and then the Mountain states that we see the percentage devoted to offices, reading rooms, work areas, etc. diminish to less than 1%. Does that mean something, I don't know.

In the next section, we see that the U of I, which has more than average square footage has way less than average shelf feet of collections. Might this be related to the fact that over 1000 c.f. of unprocessed material is not on shelves, but is piled on the floor. That is what I would suggest, at any rate when I ask for new shelves.

The third section shows that, in proportion to other institutions, the U of I is receiving a quantity of material much closer to the national average than to the rate (about twice as much) of western and mountain repositories. The numbers for volume arranged and described were not compiled at the U of I until just recently so a comparison is not possible there. The pattern between the three regions is somewhat interesting however.

TABLE III
USE All Public C&U AVERAGES Western Public C&U AVERAGES Mountain Public C&U AVERAGES UofI
Daily visits # 1,500 1,006 478 661
Annual # users n/a 1,008 1,427 1,521 (1,083)
Faculty % 15.0 18.8 24.6 25.3
Student % 55.0 37.4 43.7 45.1
Public % 25.0 14.6 11.7 13.3
Total % 95.0 70.8 80.0 83.7

Table III provides another measure for the repository, that of use. The U of I reported an estimated 1500 daily visits in 1984/85 but later number collecting demonstrated that number was probably high by almost a third, which explains the parenthetical notation. Even so, the contrast is striking. On the average, the U of I does twice the business of its compatriots in the region but about the same as the national average. The number of users annually, a statistic not gathered at the U of I, indicates a reversal of this pattern and a change in emphasis that appears to stagger interpretation. On the average a western repository has 478 visitors, but, on the average, this represents 1427 individuals.

Categorization of users reflects a problem in methodology to be addressed below, but suffice it to say that the U of I is not closely comparable to the geographical breakdowns.

In summary then, the University of Idaho appears to be close to the national average on professional salaries, size of the manuscript collection and volume received every year; below average in terms of staff (including students and volunteers), and size of collections; and above average in total space and stack areas. Interpreting this, we can point out to those we might wish to impress with our good works that we are a nationally comparable repository, with proportionally higher use of a smaller collection with a smaller staff. Our lower than average quantity of incoming records is undoubtedly a result.

This interpretation rests on the evidence provided by a statistical breakdown of responses to a widely distributed questionnaire, one that was fashioned to encompass all the varieties of archival agencies in this country. However, my interests are in only those numbers which provide some amount of comparison with my institution for it is there that I have to rest my claim of validity.

The validity of this data for comparison is, I would suggest, flawed for college and university archives because -- as was indicated before -- 73% have responsibilities other than archival. This is true at the University of Idaho as well. Rare books, historical photographs, maps, university publications, theses, etc. all affect the distribution of these numbers. Yes, I do have 13,000 sg. ft. of space and nearly 9,500 sq. ft. is devoted to archival storage. But another 1,900 sq. ft. is devoted to non-archival holdings. My reading room/office/work area (essentially one room) of nearly a thousand square feet is also used by some unknown percentage for books, etc. The over 1,000 people who make use of the collections use books, photographs, manuscripts and archives; sometimes just one, sometimes all sorts. My own time is probably spent 60% on books and 40% on archives yet for purposes of this survey I am a full-time professional archivist. I am not able to distinguish such differences in my statistics nor in the statistics of other institutions represented in this survey. In this sense, I have doubts about the validity of these numbers. They are a useful and productive beginning but they overlook, it seems to me, one of the facts of life for the small -- and some not so small -- university archives and manuscript repository.

Other more specific problems: I was bothered by the survey's split of users into staff of parent institution, genealogists, scholars, students, general public and other. First, I think these are invalid distinctions--remember, no definition was provided for these terms--in that at a C&U archives the staff of the parent institution is either administrative clericals, not a high user group, or faculty. But faculty would generally be considered scholars at another institution. Students may or may not be scholars depending on the depth of their research project. Genealogical research could even be scholarly, I would assert.

The problem lies in attempting to classify users by interpreting their research; if instead the classification was by position, such as faculty, student, staff, public, then there would be less room for subjectivity and more room for comparison.

The reason this is a particular problem for me is that my data-gathering device does not ask for an analysis of the user's research or skill level but merely affiliation. So comparison, as is apparent in TABLE III, is very difficult. In fact, the numbers there reflect my juggling of the census data to fit my categories.

Another problem that occurs in this analysis is in the size of the sample. The 1978 NHPRC directory identifies approximately 320 college and university archives and about 600 university libraries with archival responsibilities. The census has responses from about half that number. This leads to a comparison base of only eight to ten institutions in the mountain states region. In addition, other anomalies creep in. In TABLE I the average salary in the western region is undoubtedly skewed by the fact that, for some unknown reason, none of the Pacific region respondents reported an average salary in the range $22,500-$30,000; there were four at less than $22,500 and three at greater than $30,000, but none in that comparable heartland.

Some of these problems are undoubtedly a question of interpretation of the survey questions, for instance, nearly 40% of the public C&U archives report no genealogists use their collections and 27% report their use at less than 5% of the total.

In the first two tables there are some strange numbers produced when the spreadsheet calculates totals. In Table I this is a function of including different categories in the total but I do not see any reason to exclude volunteers and others from the staff total, as long as they are identified as volunteers. In Table II it totals averages (which is not a good thing to do) and compares that with average totals.

Two other areas in which I would suggest improvements in the census survey: the questionnaire asked about total space and archival storage, but does not ask about office space, reading rooms, sorting and processing areas. In addition, while volume arranged is distinguished from volume described (to me, in our small shop, this is a meaningless question since we do not stop to measure until the end of both processes) there is no measurement of volume processed/unprocessed; nor did any of the numbers in that group distinguish between archives and manuscripts, a particular concern in those C&U shops which house both historical manuscripts and university archives.

In closing I will share with you some of the forms which we use to collect statistical data and some of the formats for reporting that data internally.

IV. User Registration

This form is filled out by each user each day they use the resources of the collection. From this form we compile numbers which give number of daily visits, the makeup of our clientele by affiliation, and--to a certain extent--the use they make of the collection. See the following use statistics report. We do not have a separate once-a-year registration form which would give the total number of individual users per year.

V. Use Statistics

This tabulation presents a month by month breakdown of our users tallied by classification. It, of course, demonstrates the obvious: use by faculty drops off during May at the end of the school year, while July and August show a lack of students using the collection. December and January are low periods of use because of the semester break and the holidays which fall at that time.

VI. Processing Statistics

Our processing statistics form was devised, in part, as a result of the survey questionnaire. It, like these other tables, is maintained in a spreadsheet which has spaces for future numbers. Statistics are gathered at the end of the calendar year and the end of the fiscal year so lumping any two together will properly answer those who desire data one way or the other. Unfortunately, we had not collected data at the end of 1984 so we lack that figure. In the future, however, this will be quite useful to us. It is clear that the primary concentration of our one f.t.e. manuscript processor over these years has been in manuscripts rather than archives. Our upcoming centennial has prompted us to divert our efforts on behalf of those researching the University's history. As a result, I expect our acquisitions level and our use level to increase; this should be demonstrated quite clearly on these tables after the event.


Return to Selected Papers and Presentations

census.htm / January 1996 / tabraham@uidaho.edu