Firearms from the 18th and 19th century

From the archives: Delve into the bank’s history

28 November 2016

Maria Sienkiewicz, Barclays’ Group Archivist, takes us through the workings of Barclays’ Archives and looks at some of the more interesting artefacts stored deep within the vaults.

Tell us about your career path to Barclays?

I decided I wanted to be an archivist when I was 14, which is quite unusual! I’ve loved history for as long as I can remember, and did a history degree, but you don’t need to have a history degree to become an archivist.

Managing archives requires good research, analytical, organisational, and communication skills, so any degree which allows you to develop those is perfect.

After my degree, I applied for a place on a one-year postgraduate archive training course. Once I’d qualified, I worked in the public sector for eight years, where the majority of archivists work, and 12 years ago, the archivist who’d given me my first trainee job at Barclays retired and suggested I apply for her job. With her encouragement I applied, and got the job.

Maria Sienkiewicz

What types of artefacts do you store at the archives?

The Barclays Archive exists to preserve and provide access to records which are being retained permanently for legal, business or historic reasons. Some of these we have to keep by law – things like the Board minutes, for example. Other records we choose to keep because we think they will be useful to the business, or because they will be historically significant in the future, particularly in telling us something about the organisation’s history and evolution.

What special conditions do we store our items in?

The archives are stored on approximately a mile and a half of shelving in purpose-built strongrooms. They maintain a constant temperature and humidity, optimal for the preservation of paper. They are fitted with super-sensitive fire detectors, and an inert gas fire suppression system, which extinguishes a fire by starving it of oxygen. Water sprinklers are a big no-no in archives as a faulty sprinkler can cause almost as much damage as a fire.

Each item in the archive is logged on a database with a unique identifier and location reference, but we are a very long way from having a digital image of everything, and still do most of our work with the hard copy originals.

Our website, www.archive.barclays.com contains thousands of digital images taken from our collection, yet we estimate this to only be about 1% of the total.

How do Barclays colleagues use the archives?

We work closely with colleagues in managing the statutory records of the bank and its many subsidiaries.

We also work with Barclays colleagues across a range of departments around the world, from colleagues in our legal function, who use the records to support their investigations and reviews; the customer relations team who use information about our various products to assess customer complaints, to colleagues in corporate relations who use the archives to promote the brand and raise awareness of our long history – whatever the request, we always try our best to help.

Describe a typical day for you

One of the things I love about my job is that every day is different. More often than not, we’re kept busy dealing with enquiries from colleagues and members of the public. Anyone is welcome to contact us, and while we have strict rules about what we can share with the public the vast majority of our records are accessible. When we’re not busy with enquiries, it’s great to spend time sorting through new arrivals to the Archives – everything needs to be appraised to determine if we want to keep it, then catalogued onto our database, and packaged before being safely stored away in the storeroom.

We need to make sure we’re capturing things now that will be needed in the future. The current programme of structural reform is the biggest organisational change in Barclays’ history, so it’s incredibly important that we ensure we’ve got everything we need to accurately record what is taking place. The last time Barclays did anything approaching this scale was in 1985 when the international and domestic banks merged, and we get asked about that on a regular basis.

It’s also important that we continue to collect more ‘everyday’ records – current policies, procedures, advertising, premises records, project papers, committee minutes.

Digital preservation is a big concern for us – the majority of the bank’s records are now created electronically, so that is how we should be storing them. A fair chunk of my time is currently spent with IT, discussing the best way of ensuring that anything we store will be secure and still accessible in 20, 50, even 100 years’ time.

I also get to publicise the archives and tell stories from our past – we regularly contribute articles to in-house and professional archive publications, and requests for us to speak about our work come from across the bank and the wider archive sector.

Of course, I don’t, and couldn’t, do all of this on my own – we are a team of four here in the Archives, and I absolutely couldn’t manage without my colleagues.

The Barclays Archive is a treasure chest. Maria takes us through some of her favourite items and artefacts stored at the archives