ARA publishes first research into capital investment in archives

'Significant and broad range of benefits' 

The last 20 years has seen significant capital investment in the UK’s archives and the opening of number of new archive buildings.


Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan The first research on the benefits of this investment has been published. Funded by the Archives and Records Association (UK and Ireland) and undertaken by Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan, Research into the Benefits of Capital Investment in Archives details a significant and broad range of benefits from the multi-million pound investment.


Users benefitted the most but the benefits to the safety and longevity of the collections were also profound. In all examples studied, the new archive facilities resulted in increased demand and user interest; in the most successful case documented, public usage rose by more than a factor of nine.

The research had three stages: an online survey distributed across the UK to practising archive professionals; in-depth interviews with four case studies (the History of Advertising Trust Norfolk, The Highland Archive Centre Inverness, Hull History Centre, the National Railway Museum Search Engine, York); and a Focus Group with representatives of stakeholder groups within the archives sector


The author coins the phrase ‘Euphoric Intangible’ to describe the emotional impact of a successful capital project on a wide range of stakeholders. At best, new build delivered immense pride for the local community. And the effect on the archive’s staff had a clear pattern; Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan says: ‘staff of services which received investment gained confidence and continued to achieve, taking on stretching targets and new activities’.


As part of her research, Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan has devised the ‘Staff/Space/Collections Dependency Model’: ‘At the heart of a good service are three elements: a relevant collection; appropriate types and levels of staff; and appropriately designed and sufficient space. These three resources come together – in the best cases – to maximise benefit to all stakeholders. The provision of good space is a fundamental asset of a successful service’. 


An Executive Summary of Research into the Benefits of Capital Investment in Archives is available here.

pdf Executive summary of report on capital investment in archives

doc Executive summary of report on capital investment in archives

The Full Report is available here.

pdf Report on capital investment in archives - Final Version 


Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan will be delivering a series of presentations about her research across the UK.