What is the value of a corporate archive?

LoCHe is about corporate archives, over the last few months we have spoken to numerous people, from business representatives to leading archivists in the country, about corporate archives and the first tentative results are becoming clear. One big issue we wanted to know more about was the value of corporate archives. Some companies are acutely aware of the importance of their own heritage, they use their history to engage the public, to explain their corporate values to new employees and shareholders and in general see it as an important part of their company culture.

Other companies do not share that interest, despite histories going back to Victorian times their archive policy is basically about ‘skipping old stuff’ – which we simply call ‘skipping’ putting it in a bin and clearing space. Others have archives stashed away in back-rooms without any real management of the material, these can be described as ‘orphaned’ archives.

And yet there are plenty of people with an interest in this material. Genealogy (discovering your family roots) is an incredibly popular pastime and many genealogists are interested in where their forebears used to work, what that work actually involved and so on. Within companies that skip or orphan their archives there is also plenty of reason to remain on top of things. We heard examples of historic legal claims being made about affairs at an organisation, potentially resulting in huge damages claims or at the least awkward news stories – having a well managed archive and records management can prevent or even pre-empt this sort of situation.

It is easy to understand why companies do not think it is worth archiving appropriately, it is seen as an unnecessary overhead and CEOs are frequently looking to cut costs – an archive is an easy target. But there is another side to that coin as well, those same CEOs continue to spend large amounts of money on complex digital solutions, often triggered by the realisation that ‘born digital’ documentation needs active management (If you e-mail, create a Word document, a CAD drawings etc. you will be creating born digital documentation) and all that digital material needs active management, what better than investing hundreds of thousands in a fancy new digital system to manage that, right?

Well, what about a records manager? A specialist who can do a lot more with the existing IT infrastructure than many CEOs and indeed IT-managers might think possible, highly trained, skilled and capable of finding new uses for records and archives for a relatively low annual wage;┬ámaybe this notion of people doing certain jobs isn’t that daft after all?

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