Archives are our business

A man in a business suit and woman in sari tasting tea in a shop, talking to a second suited man

Tea Tasting at Melrose’s Tea (image from Edinburgh City Archives)

Part of The National Archives’ work with the wider archive sector is about exploring and promoting the rich variety of different types of archive that are found across the UK and beyond.  I was at Unilever Archives last week, finding out more about the way the company works with its historic records, and the records of companies it acquires. I was impressed as always by just how much business archives have to offer their parent company, as well as the valuable work they do preserving business records of wider research value.

Business archives are one of the parts of the archive sector that we are specifically targeting for Archive Service Accreditation (my day job), so they’ve been on my mind. The new Accreditation scheme is the first time a national standard for archives has been open to applicants from the corporate sector, so it has been a learning experience for us all in creating something that reflects the differing needs and priorities of archives in commercial settings. We’re going to be working with groups representing business archives to ensure we have a good understanding of what is realistic in a business archive setting. For example, if your service collects only records of your parent company, what kind of planning can or should you do about growing your collections?  How is the pressure of external interest in a company archive balanced against supporting internal business use, which is often the primary reason the service is maintained.

As business archives are an important sector, but perhaps not a very well known one, I thought I’d use today’s blog  to discuss some developments in the world of business archives. That world encompasses both archive collections that are part of living businesses, and those that are deposited in other archive services. I want to give you an idea of the sheer range of activity taking place.

For anyone:

  • The archivist at Evonik will be speaking at The National Archives on 20 March, exploring how German companies now represent their history in the period 1933-45, with particular reference to the company Degussa AG. The talk will also reflect on how being an archivist within a historic business affects this  portrayal. All are welcome, and a podcast will be available after the talk via our media player.
  • Have you browsed the Scottish Council on Archives’ Working Archive gallery? It is full of images from Scottish business archives, including the fabulous image of Melrose’s tea tasting that illustrates this post.
  • The blog An industrious past not only highlights Welsh business archive collections but also how Wales’s industrial past is being revealed through a series of strategic projects.
For new researchers:
For archivists:
  • The International Council on Archives Section for Business and Labour visits London in April, for a two day conference on engaging users with business archives through social media. Let’s hope everyone interested in business archives will benefit from this in future.
  • Managing Business Archives is full of resources to support anyone looking after a business archive.

Not for the first time, this blog will end with some archives poetry. The Working Archive had a Valentine’s Poem competition last month, and thanks to Scottish Council on Archives’ kindness,  I’ll close by sharing with you one of the winners. The business of tea is very close to an archivist’s heart, after all.

 An Ode to Tea, by Kate Page

McGonagall I take inspiration from thee,

Of how to write the perfect Valentine’s ditty,

For surely a poem about love sublime

Should have the most stupendous rhyme.

What would a day be without a Melrose cuppa?

Not once, not twice but six times before supper,

Yet as the Tea Tasting photo does show,

There are standards of love to be upheld, you know.

You might not have anywhere to put it down,

But a saucer’s a must to prevent a frown,

Cream, sugar (and a dram or two),

Will all help create the perfect brew.

Ceylon, Earl Grey, Darjeeling we’ve beheld,

Are always delightful to see upon the shelves,

For with water good feelings it will impart,

To warm the very cockles of your heart.

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