If you’re charged with either setting up a corporate archive or managing an existing archive, you may have realized that traditional archival programs don’t typically meet the value-add demands of today’s business environment. Whether you are starting out or looking at new ways to manage your archive, the costs of developing and maintaining an archive appear to exceed the value of the resource they provide. So why are fashion houses, automobile manufacturers and financial institutions establishing archives? Perhaps the real question is how are they justifying the cost?

Corporate archives have the potential to:

By taking a more pragmatic approach to corporate archive policy, companies can develop and maintain an archive that not only preserves corporate heritage but actually drives growth.

Taking a pragmatic approach does not mean abandoning the underlying principles of archival science. Archives require both content and context — and therefore, following preservation guidelines and arrangement methods is necessary to keep and locate your valuable material. What can corporations eliminate or streamline? Policy is a good place to start. Policies define the archive’s purpose and strategy for achieving it. When developing corporate archive policy, adopting a practical approach allows for flexibility. For example, some corporations may want to focus on how to responsibly dispose of records, while others are looking to expand and promote their historical collections. A pragmatic approach allows you to focus on the strengths as well as the limitations of your corporate archive.

Mission Statement

A pragmatic approach to corporate archive policy focuses on developing guidelines to ensure the archive is meeting business demand at the outset. First step: Do you have an archive? If so, then WHY do you have an archive? If the purpose is not already clear, determine what role this material can play in your corporation’s current and future plans.  Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re on your way to developing a mission statement. The mission statement formally summarizes the aims and values of the archive. Ideally, the archive’s mission statement should mirror or respond to the corporation’s mission statement, so that it remains aligned with critical business objectives.

Case Study: Bayer Corporate Archives

The Bayer Corporate Archives in Germany includes 28 million documents as well as thousands of books, photographs, films and exhibits, dating back to the company’s establishment in 1863. An interactive timeline with content drawn from this archive charts the development of the Bayer logo, provides biographical information on key figures and a historical overview of the company.

The archive’s webpage includes an introduction that reads like a mission statement:

The Bayer company archives are the central storehouse for information pertaining to the colorful history of the company since its establishment in 1863.

It is the place where important records relating to the company’s history — documents, photographs, films, advertisements, publications and other valuable items—are examined, evaluated and systematically archived. The company’s historians encourage an open dialogue and close contacts with the past both inside and outside of the Bayer Group, and thus make a valuable contribution to the corporate culture.

Collecting Policy

Now that you understand the purpose of your corporate archive, the next step is to define its size and scope. A collecting policy outlines the subject areas, time periods, and formats of materials to retain or seek out for the collection. Defining the type and scope of material to include in the archive enables individuals to quickly and efficiently determine whether or not material should be added to the collection. Without collecting criteria, a corporate archive can lose focus, becoming a costly and unmanageable endeavor. A pragmatic approach to corporate archive policy aims to reduce the time and resources spent deliberating on what to keep and what not to keep. A clear and concise collecting policy cuts through the confusion, shifting the focus to archive use rather than continually fixating on archive governance. Once you’ve got a collecting policy in place, focus on the many ways you can put the archive to work.

Access Policies and Procedures

The pragmatic approach to corporate archive policy emphasizes access and use. The archive exists to serve the business, not vice versa. Access policies and procedures define who has access to the archive and for what purposes. While opening an archive to users may support and promote the program, safeguarding the material is equally important. A sensible middle ground will provide access while physically protecting the archive and restricting access to the collection in accordance with law, donor requirements, or other regulations.

Case Study: General Mills Archives

The General Mills Archives in Minneapolis holds more than 4,000 items, some of which date back to when the company began in 1866. It operates primarily as a business archive, providing research and access to employees. For example, members of their branding team may be interested in packaging or publications. General Mills lawyers may require specific product examples or dates. Occasionally, film studios contact the archive with requests. Film director J.J. Abrams used archival images of Hamburger Helper and Tuna Helper for recreations in a scene from Super 8 set in 1979. While the archive is closed to the public, General Mills invited various media outlets, such as CBS Sunday Morning and The New York Times, to visit the archive during its 150th anniversary celebration.


While mission statements, collection policies and access policies are all part of traditional archiving theory, a pragmatic approach to corporate archive policy applies a sensible methodology to better aid the business archive. By making continuous improvement a central tenet for programs, pragmatic corporate archive policy places the archive within the context of real business needs. If you’d like some help either setting up or maximizing the impact of your archives, contact us today.

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