Business Archives in North America
Invest in your future: Understand your past
Putting the Past to Work
Understanding the Business Archives' Distinct Role
Building a Business Archives
North American businesses generate more information than any other sector of
the United States and Canadian economies. Sometimes this information appears on
paper, sometimes on a computer disk or tape recording, sometimes in a
photographic image. Part of this information constitutes a unique corporate
asset that documents a company's origins, growth, products and services.
Determining which part has value is the role of the corporate archivist.
The corporate archivist selects and preserves the key documents that
reconstruct a company's history, products or services, and development. The
result is a unique corporate asset--information and documentation that can be
used for important legal, marketing, communications and financial decisions. A
business archives can give managers perspective and the ability to make
decisions today confident that they understand the historical context.
Today, senior managers in an increasing number of companies
recognize that preservation of corporate archives constitutes an important
investment in their future. In addition to a growing number of publicly held
companies, a variety of smaller businesses, health-care, research and non-profit
organizations have added archives to their operations.
Not so long ago, most companies had good corporate memories. Today, most do not.
Employees rarely spend their entire careers with one company. While with an
organization, talented managers seldom stay put, but move around often in order
to gain new skills. New dynamics related to global markets, doing business in
diverse cultures and traditions are healthy, but they can weaken corporate
memory and forgetfulness tempts big risks.
Systematic preservation of corporate memory and documentation becomes all the
more vital in such business environments. A business archives creates a reliable
internal information system. It manages the information and significant records
concerning a company's key strengths--and its weaknesses. Without the ability to
select and retrieve archival materials and information, a company forfeits
access to its own history lessons. With an archives, that same company gains the
advantage of remembering what others forget.
Archives-supported business activities:
- Public relations and advertising
- Investor relations
- Policy development and evaluation
- Government and regulatory affairs
- Trademark protection and licensing
- Litigation support
- Orientation and training
- Employee communications
- Case studies and corporate histories
- Corporate, customer and product anniversary celebrations
Understanding the Business Archives—Distinct
Companies today struggle with a flood of information. A business archives is
highly selective in the data and the documents that it collects. Less than three
percent of all company records (electronic, hard copy or visual images) is
appropriate for retention in a business archives. It complements records
management or information management systems by assuring the preservation of
documents of long-term management, legal, fiscal, communications and marketing
A business archivist seeks out documentation, regardless of its format,
concerning a company's founders, corporate and capital structure, financial
performance, management culture, major achievements and public image,
acquisitions and strategic alliances, interaction with regulatory agencies,
trademarks, and technical and management innovations. The archivist organizes
the selected information and materials and ensures that they are accessible.
Through document retrieval and information research, the archivist in turn
serves corporate officers, managers, legal counsel, media coordinators, and
other key personnel.
Building a Business Archives
To build a business archives company management should address these key issues:
of qualified personnel: How a business archives is staffed depends on
the collection's size and use within the company. A Fortune 500 company with
a well-established archival program typically has two or three professional
archivists, and a professional-in-training or one clerical person. However, it
is not the number of archivists, but the professional's qualifications that
ensure a successful archival program. A full-time or consulting archivist's
credentials generally includes a master's degree, course work in archives
administration, service as an intern in another archives, active membership in
a professional association, and certification by the Academy of Certified
Archivists. It is important that any initial effort produce a comprehensive
archives plan that includes a mission statement, cost projections, a records
survey, space and staffing needs, a work plan and disaster recovery program.
Before hiring or contracting with an archivist, contact the Society of American
Archivists or a business archives in your area for information.
Defining the collection: In terms of records collection, the archives may have a
broad or narrow focus depending on its mandate and the company needs. In
addition to providing research support, and selecting and retaining important
records, an archives may need materials of use in the preparation of case
studies, conducting and collecting oral history interviews, developing of
exhibits and publications, and visually representing the company's history and
Allocation of space and equipment: Depending on the projecting size of the
collection, an archives should have sufficient storage areas, where temperature
and humidity can be controlled.
Determining access: Most business archives retain some proprietary records that
carry a ørestricted accessÓ designation. One of the archivist's most important
jobs is to ensure that all access restrictions are scrupulously observed. If
certain portions of the collection are to be accessible for scholarly research,
they can be earmarked as øopen,Ó and space should be allocated for outside
Communication of the archives' purpose: A corporate statement of purpose for the
archives is essential for company employees to understand that there are
specific business benefits, and that the collection of archival material is an
active ongoing process designed to assist corporate planning and growth.
For more information on business archives contact:
The Society of American Archivists
527 South Wells Street
Chicago, IL 60607