Second Annual Meeting of the
Corporate Archives Forum

June 17-18, 1999
AIG Headquarters
New York, NY


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:

  • Mary Edith Arnold, Motorola
  • Susan Box, AIG
  • William Casari, AIG
  • Kathleen Collins, Bank of America
  • Amy Fischer, Procter & Gamble
  • April Hill, Microsoft
  • Claudette John, Cigna
  • Paul Lasewicz, IBM
  • Frances Lyons-Bristol, AIG
  • Gordon Rabchuk, Royal Bank
  • Becky Haglund Tousey, Kraft Foods

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
  • Knowledge management
  • World War II research
  • Electronic records
  • Audiovisual archives
  • Shorter features

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 corporation sold 130 companies during the year and also was acquired by another company.
  • A second archives has identified 300,000 boxes of records in an off-site warehouse. This corporation does not have an effective records management program. The archives currently contains 750 cubic feet of records.
  • A third archives found its continued existence threatened during a corporate restructuring. The department that came to the defense of the archives was the Marketing Department. The Tax Group also was a supporter, especially since they recently had used records in the archives to appeal an unfavorable IRS ruling.
  • A fourth archives was relocated to the Information Services Department, which is part of Human Resources. The archives has been renamed the "museum," since "archives" had an unfavorable connotation with records management. This archives also is trying to document an ongoing organization by taking snapshots of databases. They also have adopted a MARC cataloging system that is labor-intensive to load with data – the archives has 5 contractors performing this task.
  • A fifth archives spent the year building the infrastructure for its program. They are processing 8,500 cubic feet of backlog by using an outside contractor. The archives has moved into a new facility and is developing an Intranet site for direct access to collections. This archives is using a museum software package that does not support hierarchical relationships – one of the key components on traditional archival description. The archivist is wrestling with a decision to move away from traditional archival principles, since the new order is not "original" but is an artificial creation anyway.
  • A sixth archives was involved in a major merger with a corporation that does not place a high value on history. The archives is part of Corporate Affairs. The archivist has been trying to sell the value of history and heritage. (They emphasize "heritage" rather than "history.") They use Microsoft Access for cataloging so that everyone has access to the data. They are trying to document the histories of all the merged companies and are conducting extensive oral history interviews, even contracting with universities to conduct the interviews.
  • A seventh archives is in the middle of a huge corporate reorganization. The corporation is decentralizing into 7 business units. Corporate functions are being farmed out to the 7 units; the archives will have to sell its services to these new units. The records management program is under new leadership and no longer reports to the archives. This archives feels a need to do a better job of documenting activities outside of North America as well as documenting the 45-50 major corporate Web sites. They are debating what to call the department in the future.
  • The eighth corporation has been involved in several acquisitions in the part few years. The acquired companies are from different industries and have different cultures – they stress low overhead and cost consciousness; they are not interested in the past. This archives reports to the Corporate Secretary. They do not encourage outside requests.
  • A ninth corporation has begun to address electronic records. They probably will begin with Web sites. The records management function in this corporation is largely ineffective and is being outsourced. This corporation is trying to determine a strategy for direct access to historical materials – will employees use a self-service site or will they depend on the archives to conduct the research, as they do now.

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.

Knowledge Management

Three presenters led the discussion of knowledge management (KM).

First Presenter

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.

Second Presenter

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:

  • Reduce time to acquire knowledge
  • Leverage assets
  • Move from individual to collective knowledge

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

Third Presenter

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:

  • Business intelligence (data)
  • Collaboration (tools and spaces). Involves the cultural concept of sharing.
  • Knowledge transfer (distributed learning)
  • Knowledge discovery or mapping (presentation). This includes tools for data mining, something that was not possible until recently.
  • Expertise

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:

  • A "Global Knowledge Catalog," which is an Intranet-based registry of electronic documents. The originators register the documents and librarians create the metadata (controlled terminology and access points). People search the metadata, not the full text of the documents.
  • An Intranet directory with full-text searching. People register an entire Intranet site.
  • A service called "workbench," which offers subscription access to public relations information and economic research.
  • Both sales and service databases available online.
  • A "people finder" used to identify holders of tacit knowledge. They also are creating knowledge maps. This corporation also has researchers looking at storytelling and how this can be applied to KM.

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:

  • Don’t try to run the whole thing.
  • Corporations have technologies that they don’t know how to organize. Archival involvement (often with librarians) in thesaurus construction and indexing can make a contribution.
  • Management sees KM as a technology issue, but it goes beyond this. Archives can help with the intellectual components and control. Archives can help with content identification and preservation.
  • KM vendors are selling tools, not expertise. Archivists have the expertise.
  • Archival involvement on a small KM committee often is a good idea.

World War II Research

The discussion of World War II and Nazi-era research included the following:

  • One corporation became involved in the issue through its New York office. Detailed records no longer exist. Nevertheless, the archives had to spend a month conducting extensive research to verify this fact.
  • Another corporation had an office in France under the Vichy government. A circular from the Nazis was important in documenting how free the corporation was or was not to act – a major factor in determining liability.
  • New York, California, and Florida have passed laws requiring the disclosure of information on European dealings (Belgium, France, and Germany). One archives was able to find key information, thereby gaining the confidence of the legal department. This was a feather in the archives’ cap.
  • One corporation had to answer questions about the actions of a company that it did not acquire until the 1980s.
  • Are there any opportunities for positive press releases? One corporation protected the assets of Japanese internees -- a fact that the archives could document.
  • Archivists were pleased that they were able to take responsibility on this important issue – they were able to find relevant information that made a difference to their corporations.

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.

Electronic Records

Key points made during this discussion were:

  • One corporation has captured targeted sets of electronic records but has not yet developed a strategy for managing them. In terms of metadata, this corporation used the Dublin Core standard as a beginning point. (For more information on the Dublin core see: The Dublin Core is intended to create an embedded cataloging record. This corporation instead will be doing HTML cataloging embedded in the document. Once the system is in place, the archives will receive documents already tagged. The problem is how to tag documents retrospectively.
  • A second corporation is not yet doing much with electronic records. One researcher, however, is developing a "virtual computer" to emulate different hardware and software environments. The marketability of such a virtual computer is not yet known.
  • A third corporation had a great deal of difficulty recreating a 1990 computer system for a court case.
  • At least one major e-mail system does not have a built-in archiving component.
  • In Canada, electronic signatures are not acceptable.
  • One corporation installed a major Electronic Document Management System (EDMS) as a stand-alone application in its Legal Department. One year later they converted to a LAN-based system and had to re-tag (index) all the documents to get them into the new system.
  • It is easiest to get support for electronic records systems for transactional systems. It is relatively easy to build a business case for this. Service areas usually are not on the leading edge of technology improvements.
  • One corporation is implementing a system for quarterly preservation of key Web sites. Is it enough to preserve content, or must functionality also be preserved?
  • Another corporation is preserving "snapshots" of Web sites. Capturing the sites has not been a problem; what has been a problem is displaying the sites, even after only a short period of time. Unless all the components of a page are captured, the page will not display properly. Unfortunately, you don’t know if the capture is complete until later when you try to display the page.

Audiovisual Archives

This session featured two discussion leaders from the group and a presentation by Jim Lindner of Vidipax.

First Presenter

The first presenter focused on implementation issues for the audiovisual archivist. The main points of the presentation were:

  • With audiovisual materials, there never seems to one clear answer – there always are options.
  • In beginning to address the issue, the archives developed a "preservation plan outline" so management could see the entire picture. They next conducted an "inventory of formats" to determine just what they had in the archives. The third step was to look at preservation alternatives.
  • In terms of reformatting, they decided to start with the oldest formats: 1- and 2-inch open reels. This archives opted to make a "Beta SP" preservation copy and a VHS use copy. They bought a Beta SP player for approximately $6,000. If they decide to digitize in the future, they will digitize from the earliest generation format.
  • Their collection priorities are television commercials and programs, and internal productions. "Video news clips" are not considered permanent and probably will not be converted.
  • The archives does not keep much raw (unedited) footage, even though this could be a valuable historical resource. Other archives have found that this raw footage can be licensed to others as stock footage.
  • There is a potential problem, however, with the use of stock footage found in the archives. What are the rights? Copyright is easy to define; publicity rights are less clear, such as the right to reproduce talent (acting, music, etc.). Often the advertising agencies lack good documentation on rights. Publicity rights vary by country and state. Often one has to negotiate with the estates of the talent. Some corporations pay their advertising agencies to do the legwork.
  • It is important to show "due diligence" – that you tried to find the owners of the rights – and to keep the documentation for the search.
  • This archives uses an "indemnification letter" when they send out an image. This letter places on the requestor the responsibility for securing permissions.
  • The archives is receiving many "millennium requests," especially from the media. Authors and filmmakers are doing reviews like "100 years of" a particular type of product.
  • It is essential that the archivist have close ties with the media relations department.

Second Presenter

The second presentation focused on digitization issues. The main points of the presentation were:

  • They have digitized photographs, newsletters, and press releases.
  • In terms of videotape, the archives will use Beta SP masters.
  • This company now does almost all digital photography – they are no negatives. These photographs are kept on near-line storage in a CD jukebox. The archives is considering trying to acquire digital photos as soon as they are produced.
  • They are not convinced that they have found the best preservation method for high-resolution copies of images. There does not appear to be an archival quality digital photograph.
  • There is no way to know which digital standard, if any, will become the standard for AV materials. We have to make our best choice.
  • If an archives is preserving AV materials for legal reasons, the decision to reformat is easy. However, if an archives is keeping AV materials primarily for public relations reasons, the decision to reformat is more difficult.

General Discussion

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:

  • The archivist needs to quantify the risk. What kinds of losses are we talking about: chemical deterioration, obsolescence, disaster damage, corporate mergers and purchases, or loss due to mislabeling? On the last point, Jim gave the example of some footage that was labeled "resignation/Disneyland." This does not appear to have much value. However, upon viewing, the footage was of Governor Ronald Reagan at Disneyland commenting on President Nixon’s resignation.
  • How are the materials used? How could they be used in the future?
  • How will we balance preservation and access? Access is the financial steam engine. It is best to set the "access" task so that "preservation" is part of it.

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 There are some typical approaches to implementation:

  • Monolithic systems. These systems provide online cataloging, retrieval, and access at various quality and resolution levels. They don’t usually follow rules of cataloging and description. These systems usually have a large central server, on-site or off-site. They use a high-speed Intranet for headquarters’ access and lower-speed access for other locations.
  • Database index of items located elsewhere. These systems use a small server to track locations. The requestor then has to pull materials off a shelf and make copies.

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:

  • Will the project be outsourced or internal?
  • Will it be a phased project? If so, you need to evaluate progress and cost at regular intervals.

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:

  • Buying tape. One should buy "fresh" tape from a major vendor. The companies that make professional products tend to do better with consumer products as well. There are no ANSI standards for storage, only recommended practices.
  • Listservs. Some lists are: conservation list, AV media matters, and AMIA-L.
  • Digital formats. There are a number of professional formats: Digital Betacam, D2 and D3. He recommended also making an analog copy on Betacam SP. At the moment, all digital formats use compression; this probably will not be the case in the future.

Shorter Features

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:

  • Reference. This still takes up 50% of time, especially handling large, on-going reference projects.
  • Planning for electronic products. This includes image scanning and Intranet development.
  • Writing plans. This is for new business services.
  • Documenting Internet and Intranet sites. Working from a corporate directory of sites, the archivist identifies pages for preservation and saves them either electronically or on paper.
  • Monitoring on-line auctions. The archivist looks for and tries to acquire artifacts on E-bay and other auction sites.

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.

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Updated August 23, 1999