April 4, 2017 • Tim Schantz
I admit it; I love history. It may be startling to hear me, a true believer, begin by saying that heritage is too important to be left only to the lovers of history. The same is true for the raw material of heritage: your corporate archives.
At the risk of offending an entire profession, I find that many archivists are content to practice the science – and high art – of their craft in splendid isolation. Left to their own devices, dedicated corporate archivists might build a collection to its perceived perfection: preserved, protected, processed and organized according to professionally established criteria and best practices. Their work is done – or is it?
The practical reality is that all corporate assets, tangible or intangible, must be held to the high standard of economic, business and brand relevance. Otherwise, over time, the commitment of resources necessary to sustain a collection and have it continue to contribute to the culture and character of a company could become vulnerable to the changing tides of corporate fortunes and priorities. Embedding heritage assets into the very fabric of a firm requires that they be accessible and readily reusable in a myriad of formats dictated by contemporary stakeholder preferences. In other words, a corporate archive needs to give expression to the ongoing and living history of a company, not just its distant past.
With today’s globally diverse and inclusive marketplaces, the goal of any good corporate archive should be to chronicle the record of the contemporary corporation in an engaging way that speaks with energy and excitement to a wide array of modern – and future – audiences. If the goal is to reach new audiences, then new interdisciplinary approaches are required in order to fill in the gaps of a traditional documentary record base.
I hope it is clear that I am not suggesting for a moment that any of us love history any less – rather, that we love it more smartly, so that we can ensure that it remains available to inform and enlighten generations to come.
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