Managing Business Archives: A Global Perspective
In a break with tradition, the 2006 BAC conference was held in Edinburgh, and jointly organised with the BAC Scotland, the Business Records Group of the Society of Archivists, and the Section on Business and Labour Archives of the International Council on Archives. With its theme ‘Managing Business Archives: A Global Perspective’, it brought together an impressive array of archivists and records managers from 8 countries and 3 continents to discuss issues of common concern, with nearly 90 delegates attending.
The conference kicked off with a session on managing archives and heritage overseas. The speakers were, from Hong Kong, Helen Swinnerton who manages HSBC’s Asia Pacific Archives; from France Didier Bondue, Director of St Gobain Archives; from the USA Becky Haglund Tousey, Archives Manager at Kraft
Foods; and from Scotland, Jennifer Birnie archivist at Diageo. It was interesting to learn about the different challenges faced by this diverse collection of organisations, but what emerged from each of the talks, and the subsequent discussion, was the importance of business archives to the parent organisation, and the need to reinforce the enduring business value of the archive to the company, not just its historical value.
The next two talks focussed on a universal issue: the preservation of digital records. Peter Emmerson, of Emmerson Consulting, opened his paper with some stunning statistics. A survey carried out in 2004 revealed that 47% of the businesses surveyed did not include electronic records in their retention schedules, 59% had no email retention policy and a massive 70% had no migration policy. He went on to argue that the problem was organisational inertia - that the problem was so big that no one felt they could do anything about it. In future he felt record survival would be skewed towards those sectors that were currently tackling digital preservation, such as the oil and pharmaceutical industries. Seamus Ross, of Glasgow University followed with a talk on various Europe-wide initiatives set up to look at the issue of digital preservation, with particular emphasis on Digital Preservation Europe (www.epranet.org), which helped to reassure delegates that information and tool kits were available to help them formulate a strategy for dealing with digital records. The discussion following the session found both speakers agreeing that accidental survivals of archives would be less likely in a digital world.
The afternoon began with a look at the different national approaches to the preservation of business records. Both Christian Jansen of the Danish National Archive and Matti Lakio from the Central Archives of Finnish Business described a centralised and strategic approach to the process of collecting business records in their countries. The Danish National Business Archive
is part of the State Archives of Denmark, has 22 staff and welcomed 6000 visitors in 2005. As part of its work, it initiates programmes of archive collection for particular sectors of industry – for instance, in 2004/5 it undertook an acquisition programme for the tourist industry. The Central Archives for Finnish Business Records was founded in the 1980s by a partnership of academic and business organisations including the confederation of Finnish Industries and receives approximately 1000 metres of new records each year. Karl-Peter Ellerbrook of the Westphalian Business Archive outlined the system of regional business archives in Germany. The first such repository was established in Cologne in 1906 and there is now a network of 6 such archives with the newest founded in 1993. These regional repositories often feature an enviable alliance of archives and businesses: the locals chambers of commerce are usually involved in their foundation and ongoing operations. Robert Brown, the Business Records Development Officer at The National Archives in Kew, described the UK structures for collecting and keeping business archives as more hybrid and pragmatic, but with strengths that can be built on especially within the work of the business archive strategy.
The afternoon finished with three very impressive presentations on new projects to get archives out of the mobile racking and onto the desks and computer screens of new users. Clare Wood from The Sainsbury Archive explained how the company archive had found a new home and new audiences in a fruitful partnership with The Museum of London; David Carter from Prudential plc described how the archives team had created and promoted their virtual archive, and Sian Wynn-Jones from BT outlined how rethinking the stewardship of BT’s heritage had enabled the archives to widen access to telecommunications history whilst ensuring that their initiatives fitted perfectly within the corporate social responsibility programme of their parent company.
The conference was held at the conference centre of the impressive new business campus of The Royal Bank of Scotland just outside Edinburgh at Gogarburn. Our thanks must go to all the organisers, to the Royal Bank of Scotland and to Alison Turton in particular, for putting together such an entertaining, lively and informative programme.