Written by Michaela Morrow, Digitization Assistant
The words “annual business report” likely don’t conjure up the most exciting visions in your head. You most likely think of rows of monetary values, line graphs of stocks, and maybe, if you’re lucky, a photo of a company’s president. However, our library’s unique Canadian Corporate Annual Reports collection shows there is more to annual reports than numbers and suits. These reports offer us a glimpse into graphic design, architecture, and the evolution of company language, just to name a few points of interest.
There are so many diverse companies represented within the collection, including ones that have built their businesses on unique products – think Molson Breweries, Harlequin Books, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Larger companies like Bell and Air Canada are also represented in the collection, and you can see how their communication and design philosophies change over a range of years. There are also the final reports of now-defunct companies, reports which could provide insight into the highs and lows of running a business during particular economic and cultural eras. And yes, the majority of materials in these reports are spreadsheets and graphs, but there are also fascinating design choices, photographs, and pieces of written content that could be of interest to a number of fields. The collection ranges from the 1960s to 1980s and is a valuable resource for twentieth-century studies in humanities, business, communications, and fine arts.
There are a variety of research questions one might want to consider surrounding this collection. For instance, why style an annual report a certain way? How are company values represented or reflected in the graphic design and communication language of the reports? What design elements changed over time, and why?
These reports highlight the importance of graphic design as a component of corporate communications. Beyond using the collection as a visual compilation, the Internet Archive’s optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities allow it to be used as a textual dataset, as well. For anyone interested in big data text analysis, this collection could offer an intriguing project on company language. Some of you may be interested to learn that natural gas companies even used the climate change narrative to their advantage as far back as the 1960s!
Many of the reports also have pictures of headquarters, vehicles, and infrastructure in the process of being built or renovated. As such, the collection also offers insight into how equipment and maintenance changed over time, as well as how these companies thought of space and place in relation to their business strategies. More broadly, these reports also offer interesting perspectives on well-known buildings and buildings that don’t exist anymore.
In short, there’s far more to look at than numbers and graphs! So why not take a gander into the collection and see what research gems you can pull out of it? Here are a few, with pictures that seem to capture the aesthetics of their times:
- AMCA International Ltd (1985)
- Royal Bank of Canada (1968)
- Miron Company Ltd (1966)
- Air Canada (1975)
- Rolland Paper Company Ltd (1972)
This project is ongoing, and the collection will keep growing. Check back soon!