Record office visitor numbers have plummeted, figures show
- Credit: Nick Butcher
The number of visitors to Suffolk's three record offices has plummeted to just half what they were a decade ago, new figures have shown.
Figures released under Freedom of Information laws revealed that the total visitor numbers at the record offices in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft was just 16,335 in the year 2016/17 – well below the 31,678 total numbers in 2007/08.
All three record offices had around half of the visitor numbers than a decade earlier.
In Lowestoft, just 2,331 visitors – the equivalent of around nine per day – visited in 2016/17.
But bosses at Suffolk County Council have said it is not a case that archives are being used less but records being accessed digitally more frequently.
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Tony Goldson, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for health, said: 'While physical visits to record offices across the country – not just Suffolk – have fallen, more people are now able to find what they are looking for online.
'Some are ordering a digital copy for use instead of visiting.
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'We are also seeing more people access our services online. In 2016/17, there were 363,101 page views of the new Suffolk Record Office website and in 2017/18 there 581,687 – a 63pc increase.
'Academics used to spend days at a time in our searchrooms working their way through original sources, but now they can research in a more targeted way, ordering material to be scanned through before taking photos of the materials to be studied at home.'
Requests for original archives from the three record offices has reduced, but at a much steadier rate than visitor numbers.
Uncertainty remains over Lowestoft's record office in Clapham Road South as damp and flooding hazards mean it is not considered sustainable.
The office runs at a cost of around £152,000 a year, according to the data, which is considered to be 'inefficient'.
A public consultation is happening this Spring, while the £20m scheme to build The Hold near Ipswich Waterfront, which will replace the Ipswich archives in Gatacre Road, has been given the go-ahead.
Some of the records in Bury St Edmunds will also be moved.
A petition by Save Our Record Office has already gained 5,000 signatures calling for the Lowestoft office to remain.
Mr Goldson added: 'More of those who visit our record offices now are carrying out local history projects on buildings, streets, their community, local landscape, an interesting story etc rather than family history and are therefore still using original archives.
'We are hopeful that Suffolk's new heritage building, The Hold, and its associated activity plan of events, exhibitions and workshops along with other developments will encourage and empower a more diverse range of people to engage with the marvellous archive we have here in Suffolk.'