September 2016
A very personal history

Angharad McCarrick and Matthew Edmondson

Angharad McCarrick and Matthew Edmondson are professional archivists at Swire's Hong Kong Archive Service ("HKAS"). They are responsible for the repository of the group's priceless documents, film, photos and artefacts. Here, they discuss what fuels their passion for the past and the challenges facing archives in the future.
What does an archivist actually do?

Angharad: We help bring the past to life by creating a repository of memory for the future. The job itself can be hugely varied. One of the misconceptions about us is we're constantly locked away in a room sorting through dusty old papers. This simply isn't true. We do undertake traditional archive work, such as appraisals, cataloguing and preservation, but we also spend a great deal of time engaging directly with various companies in the group.

Matthew: I work with the aviation division and attend regular meetings with various stakeholders to assess – via presentations and interactive discussions – which documents they need to keep for historical reasons and what can be discarded. We also offer suggestions about how companies can make the most of our services.
Why did you choose a career as an archivist, and what do you enjoy most about it?

Angharad: What appealed to me was that an archivist's role can be so varied and isn't necessarily confined to just one industry. Something else that attracted me was that the role translates to other countries, which is why I chose to study an MSc in Information Management and Preservation. A qualified archivist possesses the skills to work in any industry, anywhere in the world.

Matthew: I've always been fascinated with history so, after completing my undergraduate studies, I worked at a local government archive in the UK, before returning to university to study Archives and Records Management. Since then, I've worked in corporate archives. Organisations can add value by assimilating their archives and business heritage into their identity, and I'm incredibly passionate about that.

Matthew Edmondson

What's the most challenging aspect of your role as an archivist?

Matthew: With the rise of digital, there's a real risk of there being an information 'black hole' because of constant technology and format changes. For example, if an in-flight magazine is only available as an iPad app, how do we go about preserving it for all time after the technology or app become redundant? This presents an exciting challenge for archivists everywhere.
What is your proudest achievement to date of your time with Swire?

Matthew: Being part of the team building the archive has been a great experience. In the five years since our establishment, we've gathered more than 3,400 standard archival boxes of documents and 3.59 terabytes of digital and born-digital material [i.e. material that originates in digital format, as opposed to material reformatted from analogue to digital]. The setting up of Swire's first purpose-built archives repository in late 2015 has also been a big achievement for us. It's been wonderful that other firms considering opening their own archives have consulted us about how best to go about it.
How are the archives being used by people both inside and outside the organisation?

Angharad: Often we get inquiries relating to specific records – a legal document, for instance. We can give advice and assistance about how to access that document, how to interpret it in its historical setting, and how best to use it. And for some group companies, we form a key part of their induction training for new employees. A fascinating tour of our archives really helps instil in new joiners a sense of Swire's business heritage.

Matthew: We do get questions from researchers and members of the public as well. Recently I had an enquiry from a pilot about an image in the archives taken during the early years of Cathay Pacific, and it turned out to be a picture of his father, who was one of the airline's first pilots. When you get requests like this, you get a real sense of the personal value of what we do.

Angharad McCarrick

Do you have any anecdotes or stories regarding requests?

Angharad: I had an enquiry from a novelist in America whose grandfather travelled on a Butterfield & Swire-managed vessel. As part of her research for her latest work of fiction, she wanted to get a better idea about what that voyage from Hong Kong in the 1930s would have been like. She must have been pleased because she told me she would name a character in her novel after me!
What can we expect from the archives in the future?

Angharad: As well as finding a solution to the digital challenge, we want to help others within Swire companies to enjoy the collection. There's a great opportunity to use this material in an immersive way – whether it's for marketing, speeches, reports, events or presentations. There are also some companies we've only just touched upon, so there will be even more fascinating artefacts to emerge from the past. For an archivist, this makes for an exciting future.

Swire News September 2016
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