April 29, 2021 • Sam Grabel
It seems like every day brings more business headlines highlighting company moves. The pandemic has upended the commercial real estate market, with many organizations finding themselves with footprints that exceed their needs for an increasingly remote workforce. Even post-pandemic, many analysts estimate a rise in flexible environments that don’t require full-time space for all employees. Bottom line: Company space may shrink.
So while organizations adjust to this new reality and look at downsizing, facilities managers face an additional challenge: what to do with archival materials. When relocating a company headquarters and vast numbers of people and business equipment, that may not be the top priority. Still, leaders have to consider how to deal with the company’s heritage assets like valuable documents, digital records, product prototypes, videos and any other items related to company history.
These assets may make up an archives. Or they may be stuffed in cupboards or stashed on a hard drive or server. No matter their format, you still need to move them from point A to point B.
But before you proceed, consider this: These assets might be priceless and irreplaceable. They are part of your company’s heritage and potentially could be used to help your business in many forward-looking ways. That crate of old files is no ordinary parcel. Moving it is less like hauling a box of books and more like carefully transporting a sculpture or painting.
History Factory has managed both small and large archives relocation efforts. Our work has taken us across the country and around the world, and it includes experience in the era of COVID-19. We’ve put together this short guide of best practices for treating your heritage materials as the valuable assets that they are. We hope you find it helpful.
Before you decide to relocate your company’s historical records, it is crucial to understand the size and type of space that the collection will inhabit in the future. This is a great opportunity to upgrade the conditions in which your assets are kept. Key considerations in choosing this space are:
Each of these factors will affect what types of assets and how much of the collection you can bring with you from the old location. Temperature, humidity and light all can wreak havoc on paper, film and image collections. Shelving and storage solutions will also dictate whether you can add to the collection in your new location or if downsizing will be necessary.
The next step should be taking stock with an inventory—that is, a record of what is in the collection and where it is stored. The initial investment in an inventory is the costliest part of the relocation process because of the people-hours needed to thoroughly document everything. However, it is the most important part. It will ensure the usability of your assets and will reduce the need for future investments to organize them further.
A trained archival team is best equipped to lead you through this process. Activities during the inventory include:
Take this time to create clear guidelines that outline what to keep and what to discard. Recycle photocopies of “Reply All” emails that document the minutiae of daily office life. Get rid of excess copies of other documents while you’re at it—though we do recommend that you keep more than one copy of any document that is especially important.
Removing (deaccessioning) items from the collection and/or integrating new items creates opportunities for the collection, either to reduce clutter or to expand its scope. Many organizations keep far more than is necessary or even beneficial.
In the past, clients who haven’t wanted to keep physical items but still believed they were valuable chose to digitize them in an easily accessible and searchable format. Others have donated underused assets to historical societies or university libraries for use by historians and scholars. The goal is measured and responsible deaccession that safeguards historically and culturally valuable materials.
Space permitting, companies may look to fill gaps in their history by acquiring new materials. These new materials may be accessioned from decentralized locations or through a discovery program, which invites employees and retirees to donate items of value that may be collecting dust in their attics.
Moving digital assets might offer a good opportunity to assess the current state of the hardware used for storage and to upgrade to newer technology, if necessary.
This is the least expensive part of the process, and price differences are negligible, whether you’re moving a collection across campus, across the country or across the globe. However, be sure to take into account these important considerations:
The big day is quickly approaching. You’ve successfully navigated the first few steps. Now it’s time to transfer the collection out of the old space and into the new one. Forge ahead with these considerations in mind:
If your collection lives on the fourth floor, for instance, it’s likely that the path to the loading dock is circuitous. Furthermore, the loading dock may not be the same height as the moving truck. It might be necessary to transport the items on smaller vehicles to a staging area before you put them on the larger truck—like smaller boats taking passengers to a cruise ship that’s too large for the port.
If you have an archivist helping with your move, these materials will have been organized in a specific way for the people on the receiving end. Make sure the people handling the materials at any point during the move preserve this organization.
Some moving companies will offer GPS locators so you can track trucks in real time. If this is not available, get the phone number for the dispatcher or driver so you can remain in contact throughout the move to ensure a chain of accountability.
Chris Juhasz, C.A., History Factory’s managing archivist, considers these the five most important considerations in any archives move:
History Factory has more than 40 years of experience handling archives and would be pleased to help you launch or relocate your corporate archives. Get in touch to learn more.
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