Insights from TownsWeb Archiving’s UK Digital Heritage Survey 2017

Posted on December 5th, 2017 by Ryan Kyle


During October TownsWeb Archiving ran our first UK Digital Heritage Survey, aimed at building a picture of what proportion of UK archives, museums and libraries were publishing their collections online.

The digital heritage survey also aimed to gain an idea of which tools and collections management/ publishing platforms cultural heritage institutions were utilising to open up access to their collections online, and what barriers they are facing.

Over 170 UK institutions took part in the survey; ranging from local history centres and business archives, to rare book libraries and national museums. Below we’ve shared some of the key insights and analysis from the rich survey data collected.

Almost 60% of UK cultural heritage institutions have digital collections available online

At a broad level, our research showed that 101 (59.8%) of the institutions surveyed had at least some of their heritage collections published and accessible online.

Digging a little deeper, by institution type, libraries were higher than the broad average – with 82% of the libraries surveyed having some digital collections available online. Archives were close to the average, with 56% of archives having collections accessible online, and museums were slightly behind the average at 47%.

It is also interesting to note that museums had the largest proportion of their collections online however; with 17% of museum respondents stating that they had published over half or the majority of their digital collections online. By contrast, 13% of archives surveyed responded that half or the majority of their digital holdings were available online.

Chart below: A full breakdown of the level of collections accessible online, segmented by institution type.


72% of institutions planning to make more collections accessible online in next 12 months

As might be expected the intention among respondents to publish more digital heritage collections online was strong; with 72% of the institutions surveyed planning to make more collections accessible via the web in the next year.

Particularly encouraging is that, of the institutions that currently have no collections accessible online, over half (54%) are planning to publish their first digital material online in the next 12 months.

Furthermore, on the opposite side of the spectrum, of the institutions surveyed that have over half of their digital collections published online; 95% said they plan to add more in the next year. At best, this intent to continue making more collections accessible online could be interpreted as a sign that they are seeing positive results/engagement with the collections currently available.

Chart below: A full breakdown of the UK heritage institutions planning to publish digital collections online in the next 12 months, segmented by institution type.


Revenue generation from digital heritage collections an important factor

Anecdotally, for many of the institutions that we partner with that are planning to publish their collections online, facilities for generating revenue from the collections are of growing importance. Whether this be via charging for digital access, downloads, or physical print copies of records/images.

The survey data bears this out, with 32% of institutions stating that revenue generation is “Important” or “Vital”.

40% have no system for publishing their collections online

Of the respondents surveyed, 68 (40%) had no dedicated system for publishing their digital heritage collections online. And 76% of this segment had no collections published online at all. This underlines the, perhaps obvious, point that appropriate software infrastructure is vital to opening up access to digital heritage online.

Key barriers to opening up access to collections online

Perhaps unsurprisingly, amongst survey respondents with no collections currently available online, lack of funding for, and the cost of purchasing, a system to publish them online was the barrier most frequently identified by survey respondents.

Another important barrier identified by institutions as preventing them publishing their digital collections online were the limitations of their existing institutional website and limited compatibility of publishing systems with their current cataloguing system or collections management system.


Overall our Digital Heritage Survey data seems to indicate that planning and the drive to open up access to heritage collections online is strong, and remains robust across archives, museums and libraries even in the face of significant barriers.

This entry was posted in Archives, Digital access, Digital collections, Libraries, Museums, Open GLAM, Research report, Revenue generation