Looking forward by looking back

Properly preserving your companies records and historic documents is a source of pride and an effective advertising tool for promoting your brand.

“We were approaching a milestone in our history. When you have a significant occasion, you pause and reflect,” explains Linda Nagel, president and CEO of Advertising Standards Canada, on her organization’s archive preparation for their 50th anniversary. “You want to capture your history.”

Preserving your company’s history can serve many purposes: archived documents are protected, staff members’ contributions are recorded, and the raison d’être for the development of products and policies are kept accessible for future staff members. Reviewing documents and artifacts can enable an organization to gain a deeper sense of itself and of its future goals.

Paper documents
“First of all, financial documents should be kept for seven years. You then have to decide what records will be active and what should be stored,” notes Lisa Foucault, senior manager for archives services in the collections development and management  department of the Archives of Ontario. Do not store your documents in a basement where there is damp, Foucault advises, as mould will destroy them.

Kathy Nanowin, manager of collection and conservation at The Manitoba Museum agrees, adding that light is also destructive. “Bright sunlight will make brittle, fade, or darken paper, textiles, and untreated wood. Newspaper clippings are extremely unstable.” Companies creating archives should be aware of regional climate problems, Nanowin warns. In Winnipeg, for example, the dry air must be considered when archiving materials.

Archived materials should be placed in a storage environment stable in its humidity and temperature. Storing paper records in acid-free buffered folders that are white or cream-coloured is best. Colour can leach from folders and onto important papers. Photographs, Foucault points out, should only be handled with gloves, as fingerprints, dirt, and oil from fingers can damage them. Archivists and records managers can be hired as  consultants  through provincial associations to  help companies record, organize, and store their documents.

Obsolete technology
“There should be a plan in place to migrate your records,” Foucault stresses, as different technologies are only “backwards-capable,” or readable from one technology to another, for a limited time. Depending on the technology, this is roughly about 10 to 30 years.

Computers can also become “illiterate.” Like human languages, computer languages die out and evolve, rendering computers unable to communicate with each other.

Your history as a source of pride
Longevity is a rare commodity in many industries and professions. A printed version of your history, distributed to new and established shareholders and stakeholders, establishes the stability of the company and the wisdom of the executives’ decisions over time.

An effective advertising tool
Your archived history can also be a good public relations tool as well as a financial asset for your company.

Various media organizations, for example, are finding that making their archival material accessible on their web sites brings visitors - and revenue through web site advertisers. Time magazine has posted every article it has published since 1923. The CBC has made nearly 12,000 television and radio clips, as well as podcasts, available on its web site to historians, students, journalists, and the general public.

What is key with archiving an organization’s history is the legacy it provides. Future employees, related professional associations, and the greater community can benefit from the archived material and the local history it represents. An archive can be a source of justifiable pride for past and present employees.

“We gained a new perspective regarding the history and rationale for the formation of the organization. We also were able to see how far we have come,” reflects Linda Nagel.

J. Lynn Fraser is a Toronto-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Workplace.