Night at the Archives October 15, 2015

ARMA SWO members and guests enjoyed a VIP tour and visit to the Wellington County Archives on October 15, 2015. Below are notes and takeaways from this event, exploring the connection between corporate records and archival programs:
The Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge is the last remaining poor house in Canada, and a National Historic Site. Learn more about the structure and its history, including its industrial farm here

Karen Wagner, County Archivist:

The Wellington County Archives includes records from all County departments, the 21 original local municipalities, newspapers and school boards. The facility receives 3100 research visits and 2100 requests for information each year

The Archives facility includes a traditional dark room, that will be decommissioned this year because most research requests require digital image formats

A strong culture of preservation has existed in Wellington County since the 1950s, when many of the Town Reeves’ wives were influential members of local historical societies. More recently, the Museum and Archives has benefited from a supportive County Treasurer and long-term capital funding

Robin Keirstead, Archivist at Western University:

The Western University Archives also includes the corporate archives of Canadian Tire and Labbatt Breweries

The first ever corporate records program at Western University was established in 2001

New archival acquisitions often begin with cold calls to the Archives, i.e. “We found some things in this back room you might be interested in…”

Recent research has provided photos to Western University staff documenting the construction of buildings (relevant to renovations) and current litigation. Public research inquiries have included the historical participation of women in educational institutions and genealogy.

Western University is now moving towards the concept of a ‘post-custodial’ archives, beyond the traditional physical model of archives – this new model is maintained by Western’s IT (IS) group, and designated as a digital archive

How to identify and acquire archival records, especially from academic figures, remains a challenge

Support from the University President was critical to creating the Archives building, and a state of the art facility was needed to get cultural property designation, which the Western University Archives now has achieved.

After both presentations, our attendees offered their own observations on corporate records and archival programs:

Corporate archival records have the unique ability to tell the story of organizational operations over time

Managing expectations is a major challenge: people will expect that archives will have certain content over time, but it is impossible to provide high quality content if it was never identified and sent in advance!

Amalgamations can lead to the permanent loss of records when transfers and institutional changes occur. Likewise, archival records may exist in many places, but have never been identified and cannot be searched.

Corporate archivists need to be more proactive in bulding collections, rather than leaving it all to individuals: “we have to get out there and ask for records.”

The expected and actual value of archives, including their intended and real audiences, will change over time.

When establishing archival collections, it is extremely important to confirm and clarify ownership over materials, defining control and expectations

After presentations, an interactive tour and discussion, participants enjoyed a locally sourced dinner and networking opportunities together.
Next year, the “Night at the Archives” model will be extended to include data centre operations, and a further exploration of digital archiving methods.
Join us in 2016!