Parsing the State of State Records Report: Summary of Collections Part 3

Jan 31, 2020

Parsing the State of State Records Report: Summary of Collections Part 3

By Veronica Martzahl

For our final post on collections, we are looking at the non-permanent holdings of State Records Centers. I was particularly excited to take a look at the numbers in this category because the Massachusetts Archives had just started the process of closing our State Records Center as the FY2016 survey was being collected. I was interested to document the progress we had made. I also thought that I might be able to confirm what I was hearing anecdotally: that state archives were getting out of the records center business in favor of more economical third-party vendor options.

As it turned, the numbers were more complex than I anticipated. Previous surveys including reporting of security microfilm, and the exclusion of this category impacted the total holdings. Additionally, the reduction of holdings for some institutions were offset by the inclusion of other records centers that had not reported previously. For the FY2016 survey, institutions reported their holdings in state, local, and non-governmental records categories and the total volume was calculated based on those numbers. For FY2018, respondents were asked for the individual numbers and a total volume. But given the option to just provide a total volume, some respondents didn’t break out the individual categories.

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I thought at least I could do direct survey-to-survey comparisons for specific institutions and I could definitely look at Massachusetts since I knew those numbers personally. Sadly, I found myself foiled by the fickle nature of survey response gathering. I anticipated a huge decline in the Massachusetts records center holdings between the FY16 and FY18 surveys since we had returned several huge non-permanent records series to agencies or assisted them in transferring them to vendor sites. At the time of the FY16 survey, we had 125,211 cubic feet in holdings, but when I looked at the actual survey report we were listed as having 25,211 cubic feet! Somewhere in data translation we had lost a very important “1.” So rather than a 63.3% decrease to 45,959 cubic feet it looks like we had an 82.3% increase. I highlight this example to demonstrate how easy it is for data to be skewed and to say “thank you” to people who have read the current report and pointed out discrepancies in the data for their states.

There are so many factors in play with our reporting and there are lots of opportunities for data to get mixed up in translating it from the survey forms to the report tables. It is only through careful vetting and review that we will reach the point where CoSA has solid, longitudinal data to support detailed analysis.  Whenever possible, the online published report is being updated with corrected data and I am definitely tracking the changes as well as planning starts for the FY2020 survey.


Category: General News

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