Third Annual Meeting of the
Corporate Archives Forum

June 22-23, 2000
Royal Bank of Canada
Montreal, Canada

Meeting Notes


The third annual meeting of the Corporate Archives Forum was held June 22-23, 2000 in Montreal, Canada. The Royal Bank of Canada hosted the meeting. The following individuals were present:

  • Elizabeth Adkins, Ford Motor Company
  • Amy Fischer, Procter & Gamble
  • Eleanor Fye, Microsoft
  • Becky Haglund Tousey, Kraft Foods
  • Susan Maclin, AIG
  • Phil Mooney, Coca-Cola Company
  • Gord Rabchuk, Royal Bank of Canada

Greg Hunter of Long Island University served as facilitator and note-taker.

To protect confidentiality, these meeting notes do not attribute comments to any attendee or company. The attendees are sharing these notes with the wider archival community in the hopes of furthering the discussion of issues.

This year’s meeting covered the following topics:

  • Updates from Attendees
  • Knowledge Sharing
  • Oral History and Knowledge Management
  • Fee-Based Strategies
  • Web Capture
  • Globalization of Archives
  • Web Delivery of Archival Content
  • Archives and Electronic Document Management Systems
  • Preserving Digital Information: Best Practices

Updates from Attendees

The meeting began with a round-table discussion of significant events in each archives during the past year. While many of the details are company-specific and cannot be printed here, some of the general comments were:

  • One archives is developing a "collections management database" running on SQL server with a Cold Fusion front-end.
  • One archives was reorganized in January. While this created chaos, it also created opportunities, particularly for assistance with the corporate art collection.
  • One corporation has gone through a drop in stock price and a change in senior management. As a result, some opportunities to expand the archives have disappeared.
  • A company is having a corporate history written. This has increased the number of oral histories that the archives conducts.
  • A company has given the archives a new name, "Business Intelligence Services." They have brought in some new Information Technology groups to the organization.
  • One company had a three-day fair for all of its Research and Development staff. The archives had a booth at the fair and encouraged "do it yourself oral histories."
  • One archives now reports through Site Operations, which also is where the Library reports. They are planning to produce product histories, which have never been done.
  • One archives is focusing its energy on a Web-based electronic records initiative. They also are involved in an e-business initiative.
  • One company acquired 2 relatively new companies. Making them aware of archival concerns has been a process of education.

Knowledge Sharing

This corporation uses "knowledge sharing" rather than "knowledge management" for the following reasons:

  • It is less threatening
  • It does not presuppose new layers of bureaucracy

The company has found useful an illustration in Clifford Stoll’s Silicon Snake Oil. The illustration is an "information triangle" with three corners: cheap, fast, and good. The illustration means:

  • "Cheap" and "fast" information is far from "good"
  • "Fast" and "good" information is far from "cheap"
  • "Cheap" and "good" information is far from "fast"

The company began with a KS Taskforce that mapped company culture by surveying employees. This led to the conclusion that current resources were fragmented and not well known throughout the company.

Previously-done oral histories have been important for KS.

Over 47 KM case studies are available on the "Know Network."

Oral History and Knowledge Management

Very often, Knowledge Management is equated with technology alone. Archivists have to try to educate people within their corporations that KM also means content. This archives has found that oral history interviews are key content that can be integrated into knowledge management initiatives.

"Knowledge Management" is what archivists do. We identify and maintain knowledge, and make it accessible. An archives is one of the few, real cross-functional areas in a corporation.

An archives is a very cost-effective knowledge management component: the information already has been paid for. However, the archives seldom is acknowledged by mid-level people.

The archives has been conducting oral history interviews since 1984. For example, oral histories have been used to document new product development, one of the main ways of growing a business.

One issue is: which archival knowledge do we want to make accessible to everyone in the corporation? Full-text oral history interviews may not be at the top of the list. What might be most valuable are case studies produced with Training as well as Marketing.

Presentations to employees should not focus on the history of the company. Rather, they should focus on how the archives can help various departments achieve their business objectives.

One archives has been emphasizing cataloging (sorting and organizing). They are working closely with the corporate Knowledge Architecture Committee to create a metadata registry.

Corporate Web site priorities are to conduct business, not to be "touchy feely." The archives has to support business purposes and not just be nostalgic.

One corporation has begin moving away from the Knowledge Sharing concept. They have gotten rid of their Chief Knowledge Officer. This corporation is emphasizing locally-focussed businesses. In this environment sharing becomes less important. Internal competition works against sharing. Also, the proprietary nature of information, especially in litigation, works against sharing.

A great deal of effort has gone into developing "best practices" Web sites within corporations. These sites receive very little use.

Employees still call up the archives and ask for information. People don’t want to take the time to search the Internet. The self-help tools are not yet in place. There also would need to be a change in corporate culture.

One archives answers reference requests with a link to the archives Web site. This helps make users more self-sufficient.

Corporate libraries have been cut and consolidated. Corporations have outsourced external resources. It is not so easy to outsource internal archival resources.

Knowledge Management is old news in many corporations. The big thing now is "portals."

Fee-Based Strategies

This corporation has always charged back the "core functional areas." The idea is that once people have to pay for costs, unnecessary costs will disappear. As costs have increased, front-line departments have become less willing to pay for services. The library, for example, has been cut in half because departments have not seen the value of paying for its services.

The archives is considering a fee-based strategy for its services. The Law Department also is considering charging for fees. Since this archives is part of the Corporate Secretary function, it is part of corporate governance. As a result, it has not yet had to charge back for services.

Attendees could not identify good examples of fee-based strategies for archives.

A key question is determining how much work the archives does for the various business units. It is difficult to quantify how much to charge. We know how much time is spent on reference services but we don’t know about other aspects of archival work (processing, education, etc.) Every quarter, the archivist will have to explain to the business platform heads why they were charged the fees they were charged.

Overhead costs are difficult to recover (LAN costs, etc.)

Another archives is developing "service level contracts" with business units, rather than individual charge-backs. The archives outlines the base services it will provide; anything else is extra.

Another archives worked with the Training Division to develop an interactive CD for new employees. However, Training is charging units $75 per CD. As a result, units will not purchase them for every employee. In this same corporation, Corporate Communications charges $8.00 for each annual report (shareholders get it free).

Another archives tries to compare its costs to similar services on the outside. This is what in-house legal counsel does with outside law firms. If an archives can’t compare itself to outside services, it will become an overhead cost, which will be chopped away at. The idea is to assign costs as close as possible to the operating units.

One corporate library has repositioned itself as an IT function. As a result, they have expanded despite charging for services. They charge back library time in bulk to a project ("10% of one person’s salary").

Another company does very little internal charging, especially for services. This is part of the corporate culture.

Web Capture

Most corporations still are capturing the Web on an ad hoc basis. At least one corporation is focussing on internal rather than external Web pages.

The major issues are:

  • Technology (actually capturing the pages)
  • Culture (being able to find out what’s on restricted Web pages)
  • Long-term Retention (by the archives of the originating department)

Some corporate Web sites are using cutting-edge technologies, especially for search engines. How can the archives preserve these technological components? We need to approach people within the corporation to have them help us. Archivists cannot just be "hunters and gatherers."

One archives has been involved in Web capture for a couple of years. They have tried different ways of capturing sites. The difficult part has been trying to read the pages later. They now are using Adobe Acrobat 4.0 to save internal Web pages in PDF format. This preserves the functionality of the links. This same corporation has had to print external sites, because of firewalls.

PDF format will not save Word or PowerPoint files as attachments. However, it will save image files.

One corporation wanted to see its first Internet home page. They could not find it on backup tapes. Ultimately, they had to go back to a screen shot of the page from a company magazine.

There are different rationales for retaining internal and external Web sites. External Web sites really are "external advertising" and must be saved as such. Web pages really are pushing appraisal theory to the limit.

Turnover in the IT department is a major issue. There is constant need to re-educate IT staff.

One archives now receives PDF copies of final product packaging (rather than hard copies). The PDF files are retained on a server.

Organization charts are very important for future litigation. Many corporations, however, no longer issue them. One archives is trying to capture organization charts from Web sites.

Globalization of Archives

One corporation is trying to have all of its units "think globally." As a result, the archives is trying to determine how best to offer global services. They are pursuing the idea of "satellite archives" around the world.

This archives began its initiative in Germany. They found that the database used for the records center identified everything by the year placed in storage, 1970. As a result, retrievals can take weeks.

Something that was very useful was meeting with other corporate archivists in Germany. Corporate archivists in Germany tend to have the Ph.D. in History. The archivists also have more of an academic focus – they write histories rather than provide services. The archives has decided that the German satellite archives will need to be run by a native German as an employee rather than a contractor.

It is important to establish contacts with the professional organizations in each country. This will be important in hiring archivists in the future.

In several countries, long-term employees and interested people just decided to "start something." The resulting collections have been run by non-professionals. The records are safe but there is not much of an investment in them. Databases are few; descriptive information tends to be in the heads of the employees. A key in database development is getting databases from different countries to work together.

Global records management has focused almost solely on electronic records, since technical people have been in charge. There has not been much work with legacy paper systems.

Some of the conclusions this corporation has reached are:

  • The existing collections are the foundation for future initiatives
  • All locations need professional assistance, beginning with policies and procedures.
  • There are issues with records management in all of the countries. It may be necessary to hire someone to serve as both archivist and records manager.

Web Delivery of Archival Content

In this corporation, all Web sites are registered. The "site list" includes the responsible party. This makes it easier for the archives to appraise Web pages.

The image database developed by the archives has become the corporate standard, including Corporate Advertising. It is a custom-designed Oracle database. The system took two years to develop and launch.

They hired a Web development firm to develop the look of the site. The writing is done in-house, with the tone being light and fun.

The archives promoted the launch extensively: demos in hallways, tent cards on cafeteria tables, etc.

The archives site uses a "shopping basket" for people to select images. The site is very visual in its content. It is a totally-searchable site with drop-down menus.

Not all fields in the database are viewable by non-archives staff. Users have to agree not to violate copyright before they are allowed into the site.

The archives scans images at 1,200 dots per inch (dpi) and saves them as TIFF files. They display the images as 72 dpi JPEG files. They use an outside vendor to fulfill requests for prints. The vendor scanned at no cost in order to have the exclusive right to sell reproductions.

The archives started with the most requested images. They are adding 2,000-3,000 more each year. The archives staff does the description/metadata.

Images only are available on the Intranet. This corporation has a licensing program for external users that generates millions of dollars each year. The archives did not want to do anything to interfere with the licensing program.

The next project will address the moving image collection. They are looking at IBM Content Manager (formerly Digital Library) as the backbone for the system. There will be no streaming video. There will be a "storyboarding system" as a visual aid. The archives is presenting this as a business proposition, which will pay for itself. They are continuing the building block approach which has proven successful in the past.

Archives and Electronic Document Management Systems

One archivist has been part of the team that developed the RFQ for a new Electronic Document Management System (EDMS).

The RFQ went to 4 vendors: Documentum. LiveLink, FileNet, and Lotus.

The archives staff reviewed the responses from the vendors and ranked the vendors in terms of meeting archival requirements. In this regard, it was especially important that the archives had defined its metadata requirements before the RFQ process began.

This archives intends to take custody of archival electronic records. They will have a separate location for archival records within the EDMS.

Preserving Digital Information: Best Practices

Greg Hunter summarized some digital preservation best practices covered in his new book, Preserving Digital Information (New York: Neal Schuman, 2000).

The best practices were drawn from four sources:

  • Charles Dollar
  • Syracuse University
  • U.S. Department of Defense
  • European Union

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