ACROSS THE DECADES - 40 years of data archiving

The family of services

family of services image

A significant development over the 40-year history of the Archive has been the transition from an organisation running a single service to one managing a family of services. The Archive started as a department holding one grant from the SSRC in support of the Data Bank. Despite name changes, this essentially remained the situation for much of the first two decades. The change really got underway in the mid-1980s when, under the directorship of Howard Newby, the Archive began to attract project funding for other activities, most notably the Domesday Project and the Rural Areas Database. This process has continued and extended through the 1990s up to the present, in particular with a string of successful European Commission-funded projects (NESSTAR, FASTER, LIMBER and others), most of which have been orientated toward research and development work and the advancement of technical solutions.

In the last decade, however, in addition to separately funded, usually short term projects, the Archive has developed a number of discrete, yet interlinked, services. The first of these was the History Data Service, which started life in 1992. In 2001, Qualidata, a project originally located in the Department of Sociology at Essex, moved over to the Archive, later to become ESDS Qualidata. The following year the Census Registration Service was formed as part of the ESRC/JISC census programme, and in 2003 the new distributed Economic and Social Data Service was launched in partnership with Manchester. The latest additions to the expanding portfolio of services have been the data support service for the Rural Economy and Land Use programme (2005) and the Nesstar support service (2007).

Thus the Archive is now a family of services - each with separate funding streams, accountability, objectives and deliverables - but linked by a single mission - the support of high quality research, through the discovery, delivery and preservation of data.

History service

History Data Service

In January 1992 the History Data Unit, funded initially by the British Academy, the Leverhulme trust and eventually jointly by the AHRC and JISC was established as a specialist unit within the Archive. Three years later, the Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS) was set up as a distributed organisation comprising a managing executive and five service providers, with the Archive hosting the service for history. At this time the History Data Unit was renamed the History Data Service and formally became a part of the AHDS. In October 2003 AHDS 'service providers' became 'subject centres' and all the subject centres of the AHDS were renamed, with History Data Service (HDS) becoming AHDS History. The funding situation for AHDS History is now uncertain, but the Archive retains a commitment to providing curation and preservation services for the historical community.

Census service

Census Registration Service

The Census Registration Service (CRS) project to provide a one-stop census access and registration service for UK higher and further education began in 2001. The service, launched in 2002, provided an integrated, seamless, user-friendly, one-stop registration system for access to all the varied census resources from the 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001 decennial censuses. Registration for the various census products and materials was provided using a flexible online web-based user interface, whilst still maintaining the access controls and authentication required by the participating census offices. In 2004, the service was rolled out to include a one-stop registration service for ESDS, allowing registered users access to all ESDS data services through the one-stop Athens Single Sign On. Development of the CRS is continuing, with the imminent arrival of which, whilst continuing to provide a seamless point of access to census data, will also offer many other services such as centralised searching across all census resources, help and support for users, census guides, workshops and online training materials.

Rural Economy and Land Use Programme Data Support Service

Rural Economy and Land Use Programme

The Rural Economy and Land Use Programme Data Support Service (RELU-DSS) provides a one-stop shop for RELU researchers and staff to gain information and guidance on issues surrounding data sharing and preservation, and information about third party data sources. Equally, the RELU-DSS provides information and recommendations to the RELU management bodies on key data management issues that relate to RELU projects.

The work of the RELU-DSS provides the relevant ESRC and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) data centres (the Archive and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) respectively) with sufficient information to enable planning for management, longer-term preservation and maximised re-use value of RELU datasets.

A co-ordinated service has been established between the Archive and the CEH, with the lead being taken by the Archive. The Archive provides the first point of email and telephone contact and hosts the RELU-DSS information portal. The RELU-DSS provides reactive and proactive advice on data management to award holders and applicants and offers expert guidance to the RELU programme on data management issues for RELU projects.



The ESRC Qualitative Data Archival Resource Centre - Qualidata - was set up in the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex in October 1994 to facilitate and document the archiving of qualitative data arising from research, whilst also drawing the academic communities' attention to its existence and potential. In 2001, Qualidata staff joined the Archive, consolidating the vision of a strategy to set up a specialist qualitative unit within the Archive. Initial action focused on merging the acquisitions sections of the two centres and then incorporating Qualidata catalogue records into the Archive catalogue. In 2003 Qualidata became ESDS Qualidata, one of the specialist services of ESDS.

Economic and Social Data Service

Economic and Social Data Service

The Economic and Social Data Service is a national data archiving and dissemination service which came into operation in January 2003. The service is a jointly-funded initiative sponsored by the ESRC and the JISC. The ESDS is a distributed service, based on a collaboration between four key centres of expertise: UK Data Archive (UKDA), University of Essex; Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) , University of Essex; Manchester Information and Associated Services (MIMAS), University of Manchester; Cathie Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research (CCSR), University of Manchester. These centres work collaboratively to provide preservation, dissemination, user support and training for an extensive range of key economic and social data, both quantitative and qualitative, spanning many disciplines and themes. The ESDS provides an integrated service offering enhanced support for the secondary use of data across the research, learning and teaching communities.