Introduction: why do archives matter?

Archives are unique historical documents evidencing our collective past. These records are crucial to understanding our past and reflecting the society in which we all live. A society without archives has no memory and the aim of this guidance is to offer practical advice to help you work with others to save and sustain archives that might otherwise be lost. 

We all create records which:

  1. defines what archives are and what we mean by risk
  2. identifies warning signs of when an archive may be at risk
  3. identifies organisations and sources of advice that may be able to help you manage an archive you are responsible for or who to contact if you are concerned about a collection you believe to be at risk
  4. identifies online guides empowering you to care for your collections

Records at risk

Did you know? Archival facts and figures

The following facts and figures put archival risk in a wider historical context:

  • Lost and found: That the oldest written records in Britain is a series of 405 Writing Tablets  found at the site of Bloomberg Headquarters in the City of London dating from 50-80 AD; appropriately many of them relate to business correspondence and were excavated between 2010 and 2013. 
  • How to find an archive? The National Archives finding aid Discovery  holds over 32 million descriptions held at The National Archives and 2500 archives across the country. Find an archive can also help you find archive services across the UK and overseas. 
  • Saving Business Archives: The Crisis Management Team for Business Archives has worked on over 260 cases between 2008-2022; collections saved as a result include the archives of Thomas Cook , Beales Department Store and Quaker Oats Limited (‘Honey Monster’ Factory). 
  • Funding Archives: The National Archives Finding funding pages give information to help identify appropriate sources of funding and explores a range of fundraising techniques.  
  • Cakes and Computers: Catering Company, J Lyons and Company Limited was the first business to use a main frame computer for running their operations in 1951. The Lyons Electronic Office (LEO) was used to compute the costs of all the ingredients that went into the bread and cakes produced at the Lyons factory. Today the Digital Preservation Coalition works to support long-term preservation of digital archives.