Second Annual Meeting of the
The second annual meeting of the Corporate Archives Forum (CAF) was held on June 17-18, 1999 at AIG Headquarters in New York City.
As with last year’s meeting, the group is sharing notes from its meeting in the hopes of furthering discussion of business archives topics and concerns. The group encourages other business archivists to meet for similar in-depth discussions of the special challenges facing business archivists.
The following individuals were present for the meeting:
Not present were: Elizabeth Adkins, Ford Motor Company; Jean Elliott, Chase Manhattan; and Phil Mooney, Coca-Cola Company.
Jim Lindner of Vidipax was a guest of the group Friday morning.
Greg Hunter, Long Island University, served as facilitator and recording secretary. As with last year’s meeting, in order to protect proprietary interests, these notes do not attribute comments to specific attendees.
Over the course of the two days, the attendees discussed the following topics:
Update on Key Changes since Last Year
Each of the attendees brought the group up to date on significant changes and initiatives since last year’s meeting. Some of these changes relate only to the archives while others relate to the corporation at large
One commonality to much of the above discussion was a struggle over what to call an archives. Should it be the "museum, "historical resources," "heritage center," or some other name? Does this indicate that we no longer are comfortable with the standard definition of archives? Perhaps it indicates that a business archives first and foremost must demonstrate a business purpose for its activities. The group concluded that what matters most are the relationships that you establish with others within the corporation, rather than the name of the department.
Three presenters led the discussion of knowledge management (KM).
The archivist serves as a "directional resource" within the company. The archivist has general information about "who creates what" within the corporation.
In a tight cost environment, the archives has inherited a large volume of records as other departments have shrunk.
This archives is getting away from the traditional approach to archives. For example, they are building databases for other departments to use on their own systems. The archives staff is using its information management expertise to help others with their day-to-day problems. They created an art database for the Art Committee – the archives helped solve a problem identified by the auditors.
They will be putting parts of an automated system on the Intranet. They will target certain groups that they know will use the site.
The archives is trying to be "quicker on its feet," to identify in advance ways to help within the corporation.
They also are reappraising what’s in the archives. This is because of budget constraints. In making reappraisal decisions, the archives is actively involving user groups.
KM and "information management" are changing very rapidly. They don’t want to peg the archives to only one function. The archives is trying to be omnipresent without being invasive. This corporation also does not have a set definition of KM.
The archivist serves on the corporate-wide KM committee. Up until this point, the committee’s work has not been particularly well focused.
This corporation’s early Web sites were established to conduct transactions, not to provide interesting information. The Web was to serve business purposes.
KM probably will lead to the death of the corporate library. The library charges $120/hour for labor plus on-line time. Many within the corporation are opting for research services provided on the Internet for a fee.
KM has a "networking aspect." The archives needs to jump on the bandwagon or be left behind.
The archives is part of Information Sciences (IS), which is at the center of KM. IS is providing the intellectual framework and the knowledge architecture for the entire company. The archives will provide a layer that people can use for interactions -- a controlled vocabulary and schema for dialog.
This corporation defines KM as "a combination of people, processes and technology that organizations use to optimize knowledge and knowledge assets." Corporate objectives are:
Starting in 1995, the archives put every one of its internal tools on a Web page. This was a huge mistake – data were unverified and contradictory. In the last six months, they have developed a "browse and search" capability.
The archives "owns" the product vocabulary database. This is a major contribution to KM. This will form the basis of search systems and knowledge mapping.
IS is creating "strategic knowledge centers." They identify an executive sponsor and set up a Web site dealing with an issue, not products. IS adds a layer of contextualization and provides one-stop shopping for searches
This presenter started looking at KM for archives over three years ago, thinking at first that it was a fad.
KM is nothing new, especially for archives. The biggest difference is the networking component. We have not had the technical capabilities before. Capturing and sharing information is new to corporations.
KM is very service intensive.
This corporation is jumping into KM in a big way. They define KM as "leveraging what you know." Archives have always done this.
There are 5 pillars for KM:
One thing that has proven to be a KM "dead end" is the online discussion group. This does not seem to achieve its purposes.
After the presentation, there was an open discussion focusing on examples of KM. Attendees offered the following examples:
One corporation is not as far along internally. They are looking at an Electronic Document Management System (EDMS) to lay on top of current information systems. The information systems professionals in this corporation are happy to have someone tell them which electronic records to keep and which not to keep.
Archivists need to make people aware that they have been doing KM for years. "Explicit knowledge" often is contained in records preserved by archives.
Attendees discussed the elements of a successful approach to KM, an opportunity with a potentially large payback. Some key points were:
World War II Research
The discussion of World War II and Nazi-era research included the following:
To conclude, the issue of Nazi Gold has changed over the last couple of year. Now, corporations have to prove that they did something right, rather than waiting for another party to prove that the corporation did something wrong.
Key points made during this discussion were:
This session featured two discussion leaders from the group and a presentation by Jim Lindner of Vidipax.
The first presenter focused on implementation issues for the audiovisual archivist. The main points of the presentation were:
The second presentation focused on digitization issues. The main points of the presentation were:
One archives has a different preservation strategy for videotape. They are transferring video back to motion picture film for preservation reasons. This is very expensive.
One attendee expressed concern about High Definition Television (HDTV). Will HDTV’s higher resolution make everything that we’re preserving basically unusable?
Another attendee noted that 75% of requests for audiovisual materials come from external sources. This corporation believes it valuable to have these materials used.
Every issue we’ve discussed has big up-front costs. No archives can handle the costs of all these programs. All corporate archives will have to make hard choices. Someone commented that we "have to play the hand we’re dealt." Every archives will have real-world budget constraints.
Third Presenter: Jim Lindner, Vidipax
Jim began by quoting a press release from Billboard dated June 5, 1999 which noted that music recordings are at risk because of "binder problems." These issues don’t have clear solutions.
Choosing the right technology for the job is the first consideration. One first has to define the job, which can be more difficult than it appears. This is a moving target: the "job" (use) keeps changing. Ten years ago, before digital technologies, AV preservation was similar to bookbinding – a straightforward, tried-and-true technology. How preservation and access are connected will define the job. Can you define the job to benefit others beyond the archives: advertising, marketing? This raises visibility and attracts resources.
The next consideration is choosing the right tools for the job. You certainly can do more than you did in the past, but is the technology gratuitous? Do we really need game shows in HDTV? Also, does the problem really exist? Is the cure worse than the disease? In evaluating tools, the archivist needs to make certain that the technology actually exists and is not "demoware." He recommended using an "evaluation purchase order" and testing in the product in the archives’ environment before final acceptance.
Jim then turned to video format and conversion issues:
There clearly are different goals among different groups within the corporation and industry. The production area is not interested in materials after the production is done. The general industry feeling is that a ten-year useful life is adequate. Archivists want a longer life but do not have sufficient market presence to motivate manufacturers. Also, the industry wants new formats while the archives wants one format. Professional technologies require a large infrastructure to maintain equipment properly.
One possible solution is "digital asset management." This is the current buzzword for online storage and distributed access. This implies that everyone needs and wants it. There now are 73 vendors of these products. (For a list, go to www.footagenet.com) There are some typical approaches to implementation:
The best approach depends upon the applications, current and future. Are there benefits to instant access? Will the cost/benefit analysis make financial sense? What materials have the highest priority? Would marketing and advertising benefit from improved access? Are there use restrictions? Are there revenue opportunities, as with stock footage? Do you want consumer access? It is important to remember that once something is available on the Internet, your competitors also have access to it.
Access and preservation travel together. Digitization, however, is not the same as preservation. Digital asset management does not necessarily mean that you can find everything instantly. Cataloging is much more important in the digital environment – items no longer are stored in human terms ("the top shelf on the left").
You can’t access materials if you don’t have them in the first place. It is important to plan for additional uses in the future. It also is important to have a migration plan – you don’t want to be stuck with one vendor.
Technology is still in its infancy. There are no good tools for retrieving video content. The analogy is saying that cavemen had "good tools for cutting."
Some specific points to consider are:
Pricing can vary dramatically depending upon approach, delivery systems, access requirements, number of users, etc. In general, media-oriented companies have different requirements than other companies: they expect media to generate revenue by re-use.
Jim also answered questions in the following areas:
On Friday afternoon, there were three presentations on unrelated topics: developing a scalable Intranet site, life as a virtual archivist, and blending the history of merged institutions.
Developing a Scalable Intranet Site
The archives wanted to develop a "scalable Intranet site," one that could expand as needs and resources permitted.
The archivist recommended developing a "project brief" before doing anything else. This brief detailed the nature and purpose of the project. This project required most of the time of a staff of 6 people for 18 months.
The archives made use of outside contractors. They used a Web site design firm in New York City that had experience with the Smithsonian Institution. They also used a firm in California to scan from the originals. They scanned to "Photo CD Pro," a high-resolution format. They scan each image at 6 different resolutions and make 2 derivative images for the Web site (JPEG and 300 dpi TIFF).
The software they are using is from the museum field where it is used for item-level cataloging. The collection management system captures all of the value-added descriptive work of the archivist. The database runs on an Oracle platform.
Developing the Website has completely changed archival processing. Terminology must be consistent and spelling and punctuation must be exact. Description comes first – it truly is archival management from the user perspective. The database supports the hierarchical relationships that are so central to archival description. In addition, anything entered into the database can be immediately available in the Intranet site by just clicking on a box.
There will be 20 animations on the site as well as a time line.
The real power of the system is that it completely integrates archival processes into the Web environment. Everything the archives does with a collection becomes part of the description program.
This project has done a world of good for the archives. It has led to a better-described collection. It also helps the archives meet a corporate objective of continuous improvement to processes and products.
Life as a Virtual Archivist
One of the attendees has spent the last six months as a "virtual archivist," working in another state from the physical location of the archives.
The parent corporation is in the midst of a major restructuring, so this was a good time for proposing new working arrangements. In this case, the archives is serving as a pilot project for a wider corporate use of this approach.
The virtual archivist’s major responsibilities are:
The archives has a daily staff meeting (by telephone) to keep everyone informed. This actually has led to increased collaboration among staff members. The virtual archivist also is expected to work regular work hours rather than setting an individual schedule. This means that others in the corporation may not even realize that the archivist now is far removed from corporate headquarters.
Blending the History of Merged Institutions
The final presentation dealt with an effort to promote history and heritage after a major merger. The archivist’s company, which is known for its commitment to historical preservation, merged with another corporation from the same industry. The latter corporation has never valued its history and does not know much of its heritage. Each of these major corporations, in turn, was formed by numerous mergers of smaller entities. As a result, the newly merged institution really is the heir of dozens of corporations of various sizes.
The archivist is trying to promote the rediscovery of the heritage of all of the merged corporations. They really are doing a vast genealogy of the many merged corporations. It is a struggle to find the information, but it leads to a much richer history.
The archives of the historically-aware corporation had long emphasized outreach. This made the archivist very effective in talking about the value of archives in a company that never valued history.
They found that after the merger it was important immediately to learn the new organization structure and the names of the key players. They also are working with retirees to get the donation of records. One objective of the archives is to build a "library" of the histories of all of the merged institutions.
Finally, oral histories are a key part of the documentation efforts. The archives contracts with university-based oral history programs across the country to conduct and transcribe interviews. They have found that some employees and ex-employees prefer to be interviewed by people not associated with the corporation – they believe that the university will do a better job of protecting the confidentiality of the interview content.
Updated August 23, 1999