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Southwest Airlines

Unleashing the Full Potential of Southwest Airlines’ Digital and Physical Archives

History Factory has partnered with Southwest Airlines since 2019 to transform its archive into an accessible, searchable and easy to use collection by:

  • Developing collection, acquisition and management policies
  • Increasing visibility with an Archives Advisory Board
  • Providing structure and organization to the collection and preserving its physical assets
  • Applying strategic digitization of expanding collection and establishing a digital asset management system for quick and simple sharing 
  • Adding metadata, taxonomy and helpful descriptions to previously scanned assets, unlocking the value of an earlier investment.

A High-Demand Collection With Untapped Value

Southwest Airlines, ranked North America’s top airline for economy travel, has spent the last 50 years providing travelers with a one-of-a-kind travel experience and unrivaled hospitality. 

Throughout its history, the company has also collected, maintained and referenced a growing collection of artifacts and assets in its archives. There was just one problem—its amazing assets could be hard to find. 

Rapidly advancing archival and digitization technology and an ever-growing quantity of materials to collect, organize and catalog created resourcing challenges. One dedicated staff historian wasn’t enough to manage, maintain and grow the archives, as well as research the company’s heritage.

During an earlier digitization project, materials had been scanned and uploaded, but the valuable artifacts and assets—including the airline’s priceless images, training materials, digital marketing assets, documentation from special events and more—lacked attached metadata, taxonomy or helpful descriptions. This made the 150,000-plus digitized files difficult to search and impossible to locate quickly. In addition, many employees and stakeholders didn’t understand what was and wasn’t part of the archives’ scope.

Southwest leadership understood that the company’s heritage was a strategic asset that was not being used to its full potential. With limited personnel and physical resources and an increasing volume of assets, Southwest needed an outside partner to create a better system, make assets accessible and get the maximum value out of its archives.

Building an Archives To Last Starts With a Plan

Southwest turned to History Factory, the airline’s partner for its 50th anniversary planning, in 2019 to help create an accessible and professionally organized archives.

We started with a full on-site archival assessment and roadmap of Southwest’s archives. The assessment process included stakeholder interviews to help us understand the archives’ existing and potential uses and goals. We also reviewed the company’s archival materials to evaluate the collection’s scope and management processes in order to provide recommendations for increasing access to and use of existing and unprocessed materials. 

Built on these assessment recommendations, our multi-phase, multi-year plan included creating an archives advisory board; developing collection, acquisition and management policies; and establishing an intuitive structure so that anyone can find what they’re looking for in the archives.

For the Best Digital Access, Apply the Best Organization

Digitization does not automatically equal access, as Southwest had already discovered. It has to be accompanied by an easy way to identify and locate assets. Accordingly, one of the airline’s top priorities was its collection of more than 30 terabytes of image and video files that were already digitized but not strategically organized. As COVID-19 hit, we were able to focus on these digital assets, adding metadata and creating an organizational framework for consistently and accurately integrating future assets into the archives.

Next up was the backlog of materials that needed to be added to the archives. The assets were sent to our new, state-of-the-art archival facility where we preserved, arranged and described them and added them to the organizational framework already in place, making them findable and usable. Assets included: 

  • Photographs documenting the company’s unique culture and its operation
  • Documents of several executives who shaped the business model and environment
  • Legal documents of the company’s founding and early history
  • Memorabilia of key company milestones
  • Collateral covering the full history of its advertising and marketing campaigns

A key pillar of this process was the deployment of our History Factory AMS™ to store and access archival files. Now, Southwest’s internal stakeholders can easily view and share valuable materials via a best-in-class digital asset management system that is fully integrated with archival collection management.

Today, Southwest and History Factory continue to work together to build an accessible and professionally organized archives. We’re working side-by-side with Southwest’s dedicated professional archivist, in addition to the company’s historian, to bring its heritage to its teams.

History Factory is processing materials donated by one of Southwest’s longest-tenured employees and former vice president of marketing, as well as digitizing recently processed assets to increase access and use. We’re also embarking on an exciting machine learning project to identify and tag key people in Southwest’s image assets. For a people-focused culture like Southwest’s, being able to quickly and accurately find images of employees is essential.

Using the Archives To Celebrate the Past and Inform the Future

Since we began our work with Southwest, History Factory has:

  • Processed more than 150,000 initial digital files
  • Rehoused nearly 10,000 physical files, representing more than 300,000 individual photos, documents and artifacts
  • Digitized more than 4,500 analog assets
  • Added 15,380 entries to AMS, with more than 101,000 digital photos, videos, graphical materials and text-based documents

Thanks to the archives’ new organized structure, Southwest’s stakeholders can easily access materials that inform marketing and business strategies, inspire content for communication and marketing initiatives, and guide key decision-makers in staying true to the airline’s core values when challenges arise.

For example, Southwest used content from its archives to add emotion and color to its 50th anniversary celebration. The historical stories and images used were especially popular with employees, further supporting Southwest’s employee-centric culture.

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