Undertaking Archive Surveys

Undertaking Archive Surveys

Archives stored in boxes viewed on a surveyThe Business Archives Council of Scotland has been carrying out surveys of the business records of Scotland since 1960. These have ranged from surveying a few volumes to listing hundreds of metres of records that are now major corporate archives of internationally renowned businesses. Until 2011 the surveying work of the BACS was supported through a grant from the National Records of Scotland and through donations from Scottish businesses and our membership. The post is now funded by the Ballast Trust with the postholder a member of the BACS executive committee and reporting on surveying activity through that mechanism.

The purpose of a survey is to identify records of enduring historical value and to encourage the custodian of these records to maintain these records for current and future generations to enjoy.  These records can date from hundreds of years ago to records created on the day of the survey. 

During a survey, the Surveying Officer will:

  • visit the business or organisation who have custody of the records
  • discuss the history of the records and their purpose with the record's owners / creators
  • create an inventory of the records at box, volume or item level
  • physically rearrange the records as needed
  • report back to the record custodians on the importance, completeness and condition of the records
  • identify records that are of little value and could be disposed of
  • offer practical help and advice on the management and exploitation of the records

Smith's Patent Folding Lavatories: A page from an archive volume during a surveyOn completion of the survey, a copy of the survey list and report will be provided to the owner of the records. A copy will also be sent to the National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS).  At this point, permission will also be sought to place the survey on the NRAS online database so that researchers can identify records in private hands that may be of interest to them.  This implies no right of access to the records and no change in ownership - access remains purely at the discretion of the record owners.

Now that the records are accessible though the survey list, it is hoped that the owners of the records will make greater use of them as a business asset.

If the owners do not wish to retain physical custody of the records, the BACS can arrange for the records to be transferred to a suitable archive repository where they can be accessed by the public.

If you are the custodian of, or know of, archive records relating to Scottish industry and business that you think should be surveyed then please contact the Surveying Officer at bacs@archives.gla.ac.uk.