Archives Trainee Group visit to the M&S and ITV Archives

The M&S Archives Service that I had researched on several occasions during my Aberystwyth course, their outreach efforts in the local community, as well as the open and the friendly feel of the website was something that I hadn’t come across before from a business archive.

M&S pic

The original Marks & Spencer in Kirkgate market, Leeds

I’d arrived in Leeds the day before determined to make the most of the New Professionals visit. Whilst wandering the city of Leeds I made my way to the Kirkgate Market where Michael Marks opened his Bazaar. The stall was a success and it wasn’t long until Thomas Spencer joined to establish arguably one of the most well-known brands on the British high street.

Marks and Spencer still has a place in the market with Percy Pigs in plentiful supply. I visited and got far too excited at the array of postcards and general souvenirs relating to the M&S archive. I have no qualms in announcing that I am a proud owner of an M&S company archive mug.

We were shown around by the Archivist, Nicola Herbert who started the afternoon with a brief history of the archive service. The first centenary of the business was in the early 1980’s and marked the employment of an Archivist for the company. Previously, records had been stored above one of the stores and the diversity of the collection can only be imagined.

Today the purpose built archive stands proud in the middle of the University of Leeds’ campus. The front reception of the building is a welcoming exhibition suite where visitors can walk through the branding and history of the business.

When it comes to acquisition, M&S is heavily dependent on donations from the public. This really shows that the focus of the M&S archive is to engage with their communities; what I didn’t know was that anyone can drop items off at their local M&S which, if appropriate of course, can find their way into the archive collections.

Dresses in window

Exhibition at the M&S Archive showcasing the varied collections of the archive.

M&S Archive Ambassadors are also scattered across the business. Their role is to identify and ensure that items of archival interest are redirected to the archives. Due to the vast range of items that the company produces, there is, of course, a limit to what the archive can collect. Nicola explained that the company archive makes attempts to acquire rare (international, men’s and children’s items) and special products such as bestsellers and iconic products (Archive by Alexa) that receive a great deal of press coverage. Nicola told us of the challenge that she’s currently facing in trying to get hold of one of the Queen’s Birthday Hampers (if I had one, I would probably struggle to let it go too!)

This is not to say that external researchers are not a priority. As can be seen from the website and online catalogue, the functionality, accessibility and user-friendly nature of the service is actually quite fun to browse through.

The service sits within the Corporate Governance Department but outreach and education is a core focus. Visiting schools and groups are catered for and the learning materials on the website offer such a varied number of areas from Food Technology and Chemistry to Advertising and History.

And next, the walk down the hill to the ITV archives..

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Dusty Bin was at the ITV Archive to greet us!

Nicola, this time Nicola Surhers, the Archival Manager at the ITV archives welcomed us with an introduction to the Content Management department at the ITV offices. A very handy first slide helped us identify the three main departments which defined policies and arrangement of roles:

  1. What have we got?                                        (ITV archive)
  2. What have we done with it?                       (Rights Management & Reporting Operations)
  3. What can we do with it?                               (Right Management)

As we walked into the large open plan office we were already able to see the large scale of the Content Management team. In all, there were around 70 people working in this department owing to the drive to make more items available for anniversaries and promotions.

Reels

Rows and rows of film, from Hitchcock to Belle du Jour to Murder in Suburbia

International showings, ITV Hub, iTunes, Netflix, and YouTube keep the department busy with working out the access and transmission rights. Interestingly perhaps, of their 30 channels Jeremy Kyle is the most popular YouTube channel.

The archives were brought out of the Rights Management department of ITV and their collections policy is clear: if they do not have the rights for a particular programme, it does not make it into the archives. The Rights Management department is very much to ensure that the business fulfils its financial objective of generating income for the business.

Our excellent tour of the storage facilities of the archives was information packed and the threats to the collections not only from the dreaded obsolescence but also flooding were revealed to us. Christmas 2015 saw the arrival of Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank that resulted in severe flooding of the River Aire in many areas of Leeds. The tide marks of the flooding were visible on the bottom shelves of the stores and, as a result of the floods additional defences are being implemented.

Floor

Evidence of the River Aire in the Archives (we were reassured that there was nothing on the bottom shelf!)

Another challenge faced by the Archive Service was that of legacy records. These, which include Granada Television, are deposited at the Leeds ITV archives and are undergoing integration to one system. As with all their other  assets, ITV make these available for education and non-commercial organisations which helps in curating the 1.2 million item collection.

The consolidation efforts don’t stop there. What struck me was the sheer scale of the storage facilities at the ITV archives –  rows upon rows of tapes. Over the last 20 years there has been a huge consolidation effort following the merger of several TV companies, where the number of items have been reduced; everything that can be recycled is recycled and so far this amounts to half a million tapes (you can melt these tapes down and use to run scoters apparently!)

Thank you again to the warm reception that we received, both at the M&S and the ITV archive. Coming from a Prime Ministerial library and archive, it was refreshing to see two collections which were not entirely nor mainly paper based. The ways in which business records were used and especially the terminology was especially instructive. From assets to be exploited, to a supplement to the brand, both served a purpose but did so in very different ways. I’d highly recommend a visit to Leeds.

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