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Documentation backlogs have probably always existed in museums, libraries and archives. In previous decades these may have been less evident due to slower rates of acquisition and, in some areas, less complex systems for recording acquisition and producing catalogues. This is not the case today; the SEMLAC collections care survey of 20032 indicated that 59% of respondents had backlogs, with estimates of the backlogs ranging from 1% of the collection to backlogs requiring 20 years’ work to document. The survey confirmed that ‘backlogs’ are still prevalent throughout museums, libraries and archives in the South East, and that there is a multitude of ways of quantifying them.
As documentation backlogs were perceived to be an issue for each domain, an outline project concept was included in the Year 1 Work Plan of SEMLAC to audit the problem across the sector and to explore strategic solutions. This study was therefore commissioned to conduct a sampled appraisal of cataloguing backlogs and procedures in the museums, libraries and archives sector in the South East. It relates to Full Disclosure, a national initiative which aims to ‘unlock’ information held in museums, libraries and archives through retrospective catalogue conversion and retrospective cataloguing. The study will show that there are many specific reasons for backlogs having developed and many reasons for organisations making less progress than they would like with their removal. The study highlights some initiatives to tackle backlogs, and provides some possible approaches to quantifying and removing them.