Thursday, 24 November 2016

Business Archives Council Annual Conference 2016

This week I attended my first ever Business Archives Council event, their annual confernece.  This one was focussed on branching out and diversifying the service of business archives.  I have been meaning to engage with this group for some time as I am keen to hear more about how archives outside of the performing arts sector capitalise on their holdings and their annual conference sounded like as good an excuse as any!

I could write out my summary of all the speakers but that would take a long time and I'd rather think about the take aways from the day that I found really valuable.

The conference was held at the HSBC building in
Canary Wharf, very different to a day at the office!
Firstly, it was really lovely being at an event where everyone was so passionate about the place they worked in.  All of the delegates I spoke to where enthusiastic about their business and were great representatives of their brands.  I felt like I was among likeminded people as I love what the National Theatre does and hope that I am a good advocate for them.

Jeff James giving the key note
For business archives, a big selling point is the importance of transparency.  Jeff James, Chief Executive and The Keeper of The National Archives spoke about the confidence inspired in people by the transparency of archives, which can be accessed forever but can also be used in new, creative and innovative ways.
The History Wall in HSBC foyer, built in 2002 by Thomas Heatherwick
I learned that some archives have a lot more money at their disposal than others!  HSBC's 150th anniversary project was exciting to hear about via Helen Swinnerton, Senior Archives Manager for Asia-Pacific, who was calling in form Hong Kong.  I was particularly interested in their immersive dining experience, designed to tell the story of the journey of the bank from its founding through to present day, to an audience of important people from London and Hong Kong.  They used interpretative dance and projection to tell this story through the performing arts.  I should always remember that archives are a means of telling stories, which is the mission statement of the National Theatre itself.

More of the wall
Academic partners and researchers can be interested in your archives even if you don't expect them to be.  Sophie Clapp, Archive Manager of Boots undertook a bit of an academic audit to see what research potential there was in their collections and it turned out that there was a lot.  So they have secured collaborative doctoral awards and are working well with a variety of universities in the East Midlands.
I liked the wall
My favourite presentation was given by a non archivist, Sam Roberts, Ghostsigns, who partnered with the History of Advertising Trust to crowd source photographs of ghost signs across the UK and Ireland.  What I loved about his presentation was the simplicity of his project, which was born out of his passion for the subject.  It shows how much documentation and attention to detail can be achieved when someone has that enthusiasm for a subject.

Apparently cleaning it is a nightmare
I was really struck by Jake Berger's BBC Reminiscence presentation about creating memory packs of generic events, to be used with dementia patients.  Jake gave us a demo of the website that they have been piloting and it was wonderful to see how an archive can be used to spark conversations and much needed personal contact with patients.  The BBC are striving to serve their whole audience, not just the mainstream, they are reaching out to those on the margins of society and it was a heartwarming project to learn about.  They are moving forward with the project, building in feedback from patients and carers to make it better and it is all on an open source platform so other countries can populate it with more culturally relevant material for them.

I have no more wall facts
A theme through many of the presentations was the amazing potential that modern technology holds to help us to open up our archive to a much wider audience in increasingly diverse ways.  I am always slightly apprehensive of new technology because my mind instantly jumps to 'how will we archive it?' but I need to be more experimental and open minded and who knows where it could lead!

I did find it interesting how many people didn't realise that performing arts institutions have business archives.  The focus of our archive is mostly on researchers and providing a good public service for them but we are also a business archive and so we have to sit in this middle ground between being solely for the purpose of serving the business and its employees and being  public service - which I suppose means that we are already diversifying our service and reaching a broader audience than some business archives are currently!

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