Understanding Your Past To Inform Your Future: Documenting the Oldest Family Businesses in Scotland
7th March 2015
As Business Archives Surveying Officer for Scotland, I'm involved in promoting the work of the Business Archives Council for Scotland through surveying records of businesses, to ensure that the records most valuable to Scotland's business heritage are preserved appropriately. I carryout work on behalf of archivists, businesses and other public sector organisations, as well as providing advice and guidance on the management of business archives. As Surveying Officer, my aim is to promote the research potential of business archives in Scotland but also the use of business archives as assets to businesses themselves.
Established in 1960, the Business Archives Council of Scotland is an independent body concerned with the location and preservation of Scotland's documentary business heritage, as well as dealing with their records management, legislative compliance and heritage exploitation needs. To this end, with the co-operation of hundreds of firms in all sectors of industry from all round Scotland, many accumulations of important historical records have been located and surveyed by its surveying officers over the past 53 years. In this way, many vital strands of Scottish history have been protected. The documents we have dealt with range in age from a few years to centuries, and contain the memories of firms from small family concerns to large corporations.
In 1977, the work of the Council was at a level that a permanent employee was required. The post of Surveying Officer was created to undertake the day-to-day work of the Council, most notably in the areas of co-ordinating rescue work and undertaking surveys. Some thirty years later, the Council has undertaken over 600 surveys and worked with literally hundreds of businesses and organisations to help them care and make better use of their archives.
A National Strategy for Business Archives in Scotland was developed in 2010 on behalf of the Scottish Council on Archives by the Business Archive Council of Scotland (BACS)in partnership with the Ballast Trust and with the support of the National Records of Scotland. The strategy was published in August 2010 and made recommendations for business archives in the public and private sectors in Scotland. It complements the National Strategy for Business Archives (England and Wales) published in July 2009, adopting the goals set out in that strategy. The strategy aims to promote, manage and exploit the archival legacy of Scottish business, by encouraging businesses to engage with their heritage.
Why Do Companies Manage Their Archives?
Around 20% of FTSE 100 companies, and many private companies, employ professional archivists to actively exploit their business records. Why?
Archives can be used in marketing and customer relations to increase brand knowledge and awareness. Archives have direct commercial value as a source of new product innovation they are literally full of ideas that can be re-discovered and re-packaged for todays market, delivering authentic classic, retro and vintage style.
Every company is unique with its own story of achievement, company culture, reputation, products and people. Telling your story - through product literature, websites and employee induction materials - can create the kind of loyalty and pride that in tough markets leverages a real competitive advantage.
The archive is the memory of the business - holding knowledge and evidence of commercial activities, forgotten when people move on. Archives can provide evidence against hostile litigation, trademark infringement, or assault on reputation. More routinely, they provide an unparalleled source of management information.
Exposure to the corporate memory shows today's employees, from boardroom to shop-floor, that your company has already weathered political and economic uncertainties, technological and organisational change, growth and recession. Whatever your business, whatever your sector, by keeping archives you capture todays experience, knowledge and company know-how for tomorrows management team. It's a powerful tool- so don't throw it away!
Business Archives Council
As well as responding to enquiries from businesses seeking advice about how to manage their business records, I carry out thematic survey themes to document particular aspects of Scottish business history. Currently, I am approaching the oldest family businesses in Scotland in a project to survey and preserve their business heritage. This will constitute a guide to the oldest family businesses in Scotland, celebrating their achievements, their survival- often over centuries, as well as ensuring their corporate memory will be preserved as part of Scotland's economic and social history.
In addition to this, the Business Archives Surveying Officer for Scotland can offer family businesses further services in order to manage and optimise your heritage as a unique resource:
- Survey and report on business records of historical importance
- Inventory of locations of records
- Advice about storage and management best practice
- Advice about meeting legal accountability requirements
- Recommendations about potential places of deposit for records, if necessary
- Guidance on how business archives can be used as a business asset
- Identify archives for company anniversaries and celebrations
- Advice about recording memories of staff
For examples of case studies demonstrating how business archives have used their heritage as an asset, please see the National Strategy for Business Archives in Scotland webpages:http://www.scottisharchives.org.uk/projects/business_archives/case_studies
If you are interested in having your family business recorded for posterity, to be remembered as part of Scotland's business history and to unlock your unique resource as an asset to your business, contact the Business Archives Surveying Officer for Scotland at Cheryl.firstname.lastname@example.org or 01505 328 488. For more information about the role of the Surveying Officer please see webpages: http://www.scottisharchives.org.uk/surveyingofficeror follow the work of the Surveying Officer on Twitter: @Working Archive
Photo: Blackie & Son Ltd, publisher, Bishopbriggs, Glasgow (reference: UGD 61), held on deposit in the Scottish Business Archive at the University of Glasgow Archive Services