We have put together a list of replies to often asked queries about the Business Archives Council. The list has been separated into categories. If you should find that your question has not been answered here, please contact us.
I have been asked by my company to set up a records management programme and devise a retention schedule for important records. Do you have any general guidelines for the retention of business documents?
The Business Archives Council itself does not produce guidelines to hand out to companies which list types of documents produced and how long they should be kept for.
Obviously some records are common throughout all businesses and retention periods for these will be the same across the board but it is important to bear in mind that each type of company will also produce records which are very specific to that business and so any retention schedule has to be tailored to take this into consideration.
The Council often recommends the following publication as an excellent guide: The ICSA Guide to Document Retention by Andrew C. Hamer (ICSA Publishing Ltd, 2011 third edition). This can be purchased from the Institute itself.
There is more information about records management on the Managing Business Archives website. Take a look at at the Sustaining the Archive - Modern Records Management section.
Could the Council recommended any storage facilities for our business records?
Businesses today quickly realise that office space is at a premium and as a way to maximise the space they have they will often decide to store both modern and historical records off site. Some larger companies may already have contracts with records storage firms who guarantee safe, cost effective storage in a warehouse and quick retrieval time for documents as and when they are needed.
For those which do not already have such an arrangement there are a few things to consider first when looking for an appropriate facility, whether you intend to hire a company to store the records for you or whether you prefer to rent a self-storage unit and manage the records yourself. The Council does not have a ready-made list of “archivally approved” storage facilities as it is up to the individual company to ensure that their own needs are met within their own price range. However, there are some basic things which should be thought about before deciding where to place your documents. When you consider the damage that could be done to your business if vital records are lost or damaged simply because you did not have the time to provide proper storage for them then it is definitely worth investing some time and money in records storage!
Make sure, if possible, that you have an opportunity to physically see where the records we be stored.
- Consider the location of the store
- Is it within easy distance from your offices to retrieve documents quickly and efficiently?
- Is it situated near any major power lines, gas works, rivers etc. which would increase the chance of the records being damaged in the event of an accident or natural disaster nearby?
- When you go to look at the space check that it is secure, from both theft, acts of vandalism and natural disasters.
- Does it have CCTV cameras around to monitor comings and goings?
- Is there a speedy and automatic link up to the police and fire brigade?
- Is there always somebody in attendance who could deal with these situations and notify authorities?
- Does you individual area have sufficient locks to prevent others getting in?
- How many other companies are storing things nearby which might mean they have access to the same area as you?
- Are the doors to your space fireproof?
- Is there a sprinkler system in operation in your space?
- Are there any main water or heating pipes running through your space which would increase the chance of creating a flood if they burst?
- Does it meet PD5454's standards?
- PD5454:2012 is guide for the storage and display of records. The basic principles of it should allow records to survive as long as possible. The main tenets of the standard involve ensuring that the records are maintained at the correct humidity and temperature relevant to their media; that they are stored in the correct preservation materials, such as acid free boxes and that they are stored away from danger of fire, flood and theft, for example at least 2 inches above floor level to minimise risk of flood damage and to allow air to circulate.
- Although this guide is the main one professional archivists and records managers adhere to and may appear technical in parts much of what it says is common sense. A copy of PD5454:2012 can be obtained from the British Standards Institute.
- Other things to consider.
- Does the cost of the storage space also include insurance for the records which will be stored within it?
- How many people will have access to the space? Who will be responsible for keeping keys, code words and details of the storage facility?
The Managing Business Archives website has a section on Setting up an in-house Archive, which gives further details on how to store records.
- Consider the location of the store
Could the Council advise me on where I can purchase "archive friendly" preservation packaging equipment for the records of my company which have been selected for permanent preservation?
There are several companies which specialise in providing items for archivists and conservators to enable them to conserve, preserve and restore documents correctly. Below is a selection of the most commonly used ones by the Council which can be contacted and asked for a supplies catalogue.
Atlantis European Ltd. (also called Atlantis Arts Supplies)
Tel: 020 7377 8855
7-9 Plumber's Row
Conservation by Design
5 Singer Way
Woburn Road Industrial Estate
Tel: 01234 853 555
Units 1, 2 & 4, Pony Road
Horspath Industrial Estate
Tel: 01865 747755
Tel: 01379 647 400
I need to dispose of my records urgently because they are taking up valuable space/I have just found some old records in the attic of our offices. I have no idea whether anyone will be interested in them, where can I deposit them or shall I just destroy them?
NO! STOP! Do not throw them away. Many businesses who discover old historical records belonging to their company do not realise what a valuable research resource they can be. Whatever the trade or concern of a business there is likely to be a group of people interested in the archive material for their own research, whether they are interested in that particular trade, are trying to trace a member of their family who worked for that company or are studying the economy of the area it was based in. Somebody somewhere will get great pleasure and interest from your old records which you may think are too old and dusty to be of concern to anybody else.
Most archive repositories maintain policies of free public access. Any deposit of records can be made either as a gift or as a long-term loan, although most prefer the records to be gifted for simplicity's sake, avoiding ownership and copyright issues further down the line. The chances of a repository accepting a collection would be reduced considerably if certain choice items had previously been cherry picked by the company. In the lack of a comprehensive collection being offered repositories often have to be tempted to accept a collection in their already overflowing store rooms by the hope of exceptionally interesting and/or rare items. They have to believe that it will add another dimension to existing collections and will provide an interest for researchers. Withholding items which are of interest and intellectual value to the company when the rest is being offered for deposit would also increase the likelihood that external researchers would contact the company itself for information they cannot find at the repository where the records have been placed. This would increase the strain on a company's time and resources.
Once the records have been gifted you can rest assured that they will be looked after, maintained in archival standard conditions and listed at a later stage so they can be accessed by others. Most record repositories will reserve the right to weed the material they accept, and most impose a financial penalty if the material is permanently withdrawn at a later stage. This reflects the money they have spent on housing the archives in appropriate conditions in archive standard packaging and any conservation work which may have been done. Repositories are generally sympathetic if depositors wish to withdraw their records temporarily for short periods (for exhibition etc.) and obviously the records would be available for research purposes. In some cases the company can continue to add archive material as and when it has been selected for permanent retention, although there is a limit of space in most repositories. All such details must be agreed in a contract before the items are deposited.
I have electronic records with archival value and I'm not sure what to do with them?
The National Archives provides advice on the presevation of electronic records. Find out more on their website.
How do I digitise my photographic collection?
The Archives and Records Association has a list of useful suppliers for digitisation projects. Visit their website.