Organizations benefit from records and archival management programs in both tangible and intangible ways.
The purpose of an archives is to preserve and make accessible the various elements of the historical and enduring value of a business, organization, agency, family, or other entity. Significant components include files, photographs, correspondence, legal documents, press clippings, and a wide range of informational items in between.
In some instances, the intangible and unmeasurable benefits may have the most impact. For example, an archives contributes to an institution’s goal of promoting social responsibility. Suppose the organization exists to benefit the community—its clients, patrons, customers, and colleagues—and to improve social, cultural, or political conditions. In that case, maintaining an archives can be an act of social responsibility. In addition, an archives preserves information about the organization by documenting its past. This documentation is invaluable, informative, and educational to various potential users.
An archives contributes to the organization’s pride and improves morale among its members and constituents. Materials from the archives illustrate an institution’s history, stimulate enthusiasm, and encourage members to maintain the organization’s values and future. Organizational pride creates an environment of strength and hope.
Controlling past, current, and future records also has practical advantages that decision-makers in leadership positions understand.
Daily operations frequently require using noncurrent records of enduring value. For example, an anniversary publication that outlines the organization’s achievements is easier and faster to produce if an archives exists than searching through other sources or depending on institutional memory. In addition, the information necessary for the publication is readily accessible to create an accurate account of an organization’s activities.
Having systems, policies, and procedures in place helps records be filed orderly to facilitate retrieval. Whenever records are needed, employees confirm their existence, determine their location, and retrieve them.
Organizational archives support marketing, advertising, and public relations. An institution’s past successes attract interest, commitment, and contributions. Discussing, documenting, and illustrating activities of the past lends credibility to the organization in its recent efforts. An archives preserves an institution’s history of achievements and transforms past glories into current political capital. Successful programs demonstrate the organization’s credibility, strength, and longevity.
The existence of an archives boosts strategic planning. Decision-makers can look back at their organization’s history to learn which efforts succeed and why. In some instances, exploring failures through the lens of history and the distance of time can also bring insight into current activities. Understanding errors, as well as successes, determines future strategy. An archives reveals which activities helped the organization and its beneficiaries. Present interest areas are compared with past efforts and evaluated for their future potential.
Archives are also helpful for legal purposes. Whether defending itself against actual or threatened litigation or acting as a plaintiff, the organization can rely on the effort of a records management and archives program. In legal proceedings, information is power, and the archives can support a legal strategy that supports the organization.
Benefits to the Community
When organizations maintain archival records, the public benefits because the records have educational or historical value. The records of all types of organizations may be available for use in repositories.
Researchers investigate the archival records of organizations not only to find out about the institution itself, its members, leadership, structure, and activities. They can also discover whatever they can about issues important to the organizations. Community organizations, for example, participate in and promote grassroots political organizing, citizen participation in government, voluntarism, and social activism.
A Commitment to Care
Organizations benefit themselves and the public by directing efforts toward preserving their records, organizing them, and making them available to those inside and outside the institution. The commitment to reliable record-keeping begins with records maintenance.
Margot Note, archivist, consultant, and Lucidea Press author is a regular blogger, and popular webinar presenter for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. Read more of Margot’s posts here. And stay tuned for the release of her upcoming book, The Digital Decisive Moment: Transformative Digitization Practices—the next title in our Lucidea’s Lens series.
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