Acquisition of data
According to an article published in The Times on New Year's Day, 1967, Britain was "losing to America a steady stream
of vital information essential for social survey work" because, unlike the USA, Britain had nowhere to store the
Indeed, the results of an earlier feasibility study provided convincing evidence that there was a large
amount of data just ready and waiting for an archive to hold them. But, when the Archive was established, most of
the potential depositors identified in the study found reasons not to hand over their data. Some claimed to be
still working on them, others had developed an almost parental attachment to them, but most seriously, there
appeared to be legal obstacles to acquiring the large datasets collected in government social surveys.
Three years after it was established, the Archive only held a small random collection of surveys.
Fortunately, the seventies saw a change in policy for the government departments based, according to
Ivor Crewe, less on any concern for the Archive's goals, and more on convenience. Severe job cuts had
increased civil servants' work-load, Crewe explains, "so the business of getting a dataset to some
academic let alone a student, was not a priority for them".
Since then, the quantity and diversity of data stored in the Archive have gone from strength
to strength. This is due, in no small part, to the activities of the ESRC - not only for
maintaining their faith (and funding) but also for supporting the creation of large datasets
such as the British Household Panel Survey (a study that consistently features in the top five
of the users' hit parade).
Forty years on, the quality of the Archive's data results in high demand both nationally and
internationally, and it seems more than appropriate that international demand is dominated by researchers from the USA.
Further information on acquisition of data
over the last 40 years.