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Headlines Published on 23 September 2004

Title We’re not convinced by new media, researchers claim

We don’t use them much and certainly under-appreciate how they can help in researching today’s topics, but studies show that we trust good old-fashioned library and museum archives above newer sources of information, such as television and the internet. But shedding the dowdy, dusty image of these resources is proving a tough task.

Long live the archives and libraries! © Image: PhotoDisc
Long live the archives and libraries!
© Image: PhotoDisc
Accurate information helps people make vital choices on how to live their lives. It feeds scientific development and is the lifeblood of modern societies. But questions loom as to how reliable some of the more popular sources of information are. A study funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) in Britain reveals that many of us think archives are more trustworthy than, for example, television, tabloid newspapers and the internet, even though only 11% of us actually use them to learn about current social issues.

Professor Bob Usherwood and his team from Sheffield University spent two years exploring our perceptions of archives, libraries and museums. Foremost, they wanted to know how we use these resources for information on the burning issues of the day. The study offers valuable insight in the wake of the Gilligan – Iraqi weapons of mass destruction – affair, which mired one of the most respected sources of news and information, the BBC, in controversy this year.

“With the growth of technology, it is becoming increasingly easy for people to obtain information without leaving their homes or offices,” explains Usherwood. “But the research has shown that, in spite of this, people still need and value access to the traditional repositories of public knowledge; archives, museums and libraries, [when] it comes to obtaining reliable information, and a deeper understanding of the world around them.”

Vital learning
The findings were published by the AHRB to coincide with Archives Awareness Month, which is designed to give these “repositories of public knowledge” an image makeover. Despite their apparent respectability, libraries and museums are struggling to shed their old-fashioned image. And because people no longer venture out to visit them, they are unaware of the changes taking place in the service levels provided by archive centres.

Most of the 1 000 people surveyed agree that libraries and museums make an important contribution to preserving our heritage, and encouraging educational and societal development. Respondents to the study also suggest that there is a moral need to preserve these institutions, whether we currently use them or not. More detailed information on the perception of these services was obtained through meetings with focus groups throughout the UK.

The AHRB was created in 1998 to fund research and postgraduate study in British universities, as well as museums, galleries and collections that are based in – or attached to – higher education institutions in England. It says a full report of the study will be made available by the end of the year and should provide the basis for informed decision-making about the future of these key institutions of learning. Indeed, cultural heritage preservation is also an important priority under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), and is the subject of a new publication, called ‘Cultural heritage: new technologies for the future of our past’, produced by the Research DG.

Source:  AHRB

Research Contacts page

More information:

  • AHRB
  • Professor Bob Usherwood (Sheffield University)
  • City of tomorrow and cultural heritage (FP5)
  • Sustainable development, global change and ecosystems priority (FP6)
  • Digicult (EU information society technologies research)

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