Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Business Archives Council Conference

Yesterday was the annual Business Archives Council conference, held at the Harper Collins offices in the News Building. The location was fabulous, with stunning views of London on three sides of the conference venue - it definitely felt like I was more in the corporate world than usual!

I usually really enjoy business archives events as they are a chance to get out of the theatre bubble and network with people working in other businesses. Archivists who represent businesses are typically very enthusiastic about their jobs and passionate about their brand and a joy to speak to!

View from the conference venue over the whole of London

There were many types of business archives represented from the Wellcome to GSK to John Lewis and many themes cropped up throughout the day. I have a few takeaways to consider and thought I'd list them out here with some context:

- the presentation from the Wellcome touched on using techniques and vocabulary form other sectors to help with their library transformation. They are considering what the minimum viable product is for archival description - what needs to be included to meet researchers' expectations? This is an unusual way to look at the issue but one that would ensure satisfaction for the researcher while allowing for accurate resource allocation to the project

- the Wellcome are now collecting in a format agnostic way - makes a lot of sense and I feel like this needs to become more common - we need to be breaking down the distinction between paper and digital while appraising 

- the Wellcome staff also touched on a topic close to my heart - the routes into the profession. They are beginning to mix their teams far more with librarians, archivists and documentation officers all working alongside. They encouraged us to focus on people's backgrounds and experience rather than their qualification in order to match the breadth of skills required to be an archivist these days

- Elizabeth Lomas of UCL talked about the need to weigh up the benefits of digital assets with duplication and sharing and the negatives such as hacking and corruption. Will there ever be an original record in the digital world?

- Mary Rutherford from GSK talked about how materials have gone from paper to digital, personal to impersonal, informal to controlled and from bulky paper to big data. What are the knock on effects for appraising digital assets? Her colleague, Chris Campbell went further, posing the question - do we keep everything or nothing?

- I was particularly interested in the presentations on the collaborative projects between universities and business archives. A project between University of Liverpool and Barclays Group has embedded a PhD student in the corporate archive to understand the structure and constraints on archive services. For the university this sort of research grows archival science as a research discipline, promotes knowledge transfer and extends links with the professional community. For Barclays, they have an extra staff member, can evidence commitment to local community and are identified as a site of professional excellence

- Margaret Proctor, speaking on the above project, outlined the positives as aligning with strategic objectives of both partners, creating practical outputs and building on and developing already existing relationships. The negatives can be the interdisciplinary nature of the research with changing aims and research team assumptions and also the difficulty of recruiting suitable candidates

- Judy Faraday from John Lewis spoke passionately about the role of the business archivists in serving the truth as well as ensuring that there is no repetitional damage to the organisation. She encouraged us to know what is on the business agendas and find out how we can serve that purpose. This can make the archive more sustainable as the business value of the archive is evidenced

There was certainly a lot of food for thought and I will be considering our digital assets in a slightly different light. I am also interested in pursuing the idea of collaborative academic work with the business archive rather than necessarily with the cultural archive. It is always useful to step outside of the theatre archive sphere and meet others in the wider sector to get informed and inspired.

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