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Guide to Moving Your Heritage Assets

April 29, 2021 • Sam Grabel

This is a photograph of an extensively developed corporate archives. There are several shelves full of boxes and media in a very large room.

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.

They’re Assets. You Need to Take Care of Them.

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.

Identify & Design a New Space

This is a photograph of a set of shelves in a company archive. The shelves are filled to the brim with boxes that are tagged and organized.

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:

  • HVAC temperature and humidity controls
  • Proper levels of incandescent and ultraviolet light
  • Fire and flood detection, suppression, and precautions
  • Shelving and storage solutions
  • Proper security measures and access controls

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.

Appraise & Inventory Your Assets

This is a photograph of a corporate archivist appraising and conducting an inventory of the company's assets.

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:

  • Appraising the collection to determine scope, size and contents, including decentralized assets—meaning those that may be stored in other locations than the primary collection
  • Downsizing, digitizing or integrating new items, according to the new space constraints, particularly important if the goal is to save physical space
  • Documenting and organizing each box for easy audit at the destination
  • Preparing and packing materials appropriately for transit
  • Collaborating with your IT provider to assess the best way to transfer digital assets, with an archivist involved in backing up data prior to the move

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.

Choose a Moving Company

This is a photograph of a wooden box from the company archives. It is labeled 'Fragile' in black marker on the side of the box.

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:

  • Look for a reputable company with experience moving archives. You don’t necessarily need an art mover, but many of our clients choose one for peace of mind.
  • Ask for climate control. Just as you intend to preserve the collection in the new location, you’ll also want to protect it en route.

The Move

This is a photograph of two History Factory employees moving the company's sign as they migrate to new offices.

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:

  • Make sure there’s a clear path to get the items out of the old location.
  • Ensure a continuous chain of accountability.
  • If the moving company does not have formal training, consider embedding an archivist or someone trained in collections transit.
  • For digital assets, choose a specialized packing system that is shock- and static-resistant.

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.

The Bottom Line

Chris Juhasz, C.A., History Factory’s managing archivist, considers these the five most important considerations in any archives move:

  • Involve a trained archivist or someone with a background in collections or library management.
  • Bring together all items from decentralized locations.
  • Make sure that there is an organized transmittal system for boxes and shipping containers.
  • Choose a qualified handler or moving company.
  • Make sure that the new location represents an upgrade over current facilities.

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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