July 12, 2011 • History Factory
After Indiana Jones retrieved the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark, having fended off hordes of snakes and Nazis to get it, he returned the priceless treasure to the authorities in Washington, D.C., where military officials promised him it would be forever displayed in a prominent museum. Suspicious, Indiana asked the officials who would be working on the Ark. Their cryptic response: “Top. Men.” The final scene depicts the Ark sealed in a wooden crate and placed in a nondescript government warehouse, presumably never to be seen again.
At The History Factory, we often work with clients who wonder who actually views their materials, and for whom the Ark storage facility in Raiders would look familiar. Perhaps these companies have a nominal archive, but it is tucked away in a forgotten closet or dank basement storage area, neglected and ill-used. For corporate communicators, this is particularly unfortunate, since the assets contained in company archives can be valuable instruments to engage employees or appeal to a market that is increasingly nostalgic and interested in authenticity. When organized properly and digitized, corporate archives can be accessed as easily as email or a search engine, making your job immediately easier. For the forward-looking archivist or communicator, there are several questions to consider.
In today’s post-recession climate when many businesses are closely monitoring costs, an archives’ relevance to larger business goals is crucial. Companies should make sure that users’ needs are met, and that the content derived from archival materials serves marketing and communications objectives, with mechanisms in place to support continuous improvement and/or expansion. Businesses have little use for archives that don’t benefit the company; ideally, an executive will champion the heritage management cause.
But no amount of lobbying will make up for a lack of gathered materials, sound infrastructure, and process. As a prerequisite, physical assets must be preserved, safe, and maintained according to the tenets of archival science. A company’s archives should have the capacity to support future additions, access, and metadata. There are many complex questions to consider, and if you are like most people, you need a professional archivist to answer them. Ultimately, your system of arrangement should collect records relevant to your contemporary business objectives and make them easily available to potential users.
Once physical assets are preserved, an infrastructure is built, and the archival philosophy is aligned with business goals, the issue most important to employees has to be addressed: ease of use. For corporate communicators, a company archive can exist on your computer screen. When you need to access an asset, it can be as simple as typing a few words and using a specialized search engine. When designing a system, it’s vital that assets are organized in such a way—tagged with the right descriptions—that users can easily find them. Companies should take an active approach to educating potential users on their system and its advantages, and encourage employees to supplement the collection in the future. Ultimately, the user interface should be simple, intuitive, and widely available. If employees throughout the company can easily use the archives, then the assets within it can directly contribute to the business, and you can begin leveraging your heritage.
While the Ark in Raiders held great power, it also destroyed any who tried to use it. Fortunately, the same is not true for the assets in your company’s archives. With sound infrastructure and the right interface, aligned with business needs, you can easily begin leveraging your heritage from your computer screen.
No fighting snakes or villains will be required.
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