I recently attended the British Archive Council’s annual conference at the HSBC building in Canary Wharf. The theme was diversity – not of people, but of archives – diversifying, really.
Each speaker discussed the new challenge of getting one’s archive ‘out there’; of getting it to work for its owners; of justifying its existence; of how to exploit it for company benefit. Historically there has been a feeling that if a company owns an archive it is a) strictly private b) nothing more than a repository of ‘stuff we can’t get rid of’ and c) too difficult, too expensive, too risky and too time-consuming to either use it or open it to the public.
Happily, more forward thinking companies have changed and are continuing to change this view. Most of the big hitters – think Mitsubishi, Honda, Wells Fargo, M&S, Boots, Ikea, HSBC, Rothschilds, Guinness, Thomas Cook, Harley Davidson, Coca Cola – already have not only archives and archivists but museums too, to explore their collections, open them up to academics, provide inspiration and leverage their brand.
So I was surprised, when networking with the attendee archivists, to find out that the majority of them a) don’t already diversify as it’s a new field for them, b) are usually not trained in caring for a collection comprising three-dimensional items and c) are not used to putting on exhibitions. It seems that my role – being an archivist and museum curator for companies; somebody able to not only care for two-dimensional and three-dimensional items but to put on exhibitions and then leverage the collection for profit – is rarer than I’d thought. Maybe I should be called Archivist Plus or Archivist Extra instead of The Company Curator…