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Preservation of Archival Records at the Estonian National Archives through the Century. Part 2

The second part of this article providing an overview of the preservation of records at the Estonian National Archives focuses on examining the post-war period, the preservation activity that took place in the Soviet period, and developments that have taken place after the restoration of independence.

After the Germans had been driven out of the country, the Soviet-era structures that had been established in the archival system in the autumn of 1940 were restored. The return of archival records that had been evacuated to the countryside became a priority in the post-war years. The prevailing political situation also did not leave conservation and preservation work unchanged. People who had worked long-term as part-time assistants in Tartu in the field of restoration and conservation gradually disappeared from their former positions. Helmut Rammo, who held the position of bookbinder at the archives, worked on restoration and the preparation of photocopies until 1947, when he left his job at the archives. A new employee was hired for the job of bookbinder in his place. Other archive employees helped with simple repair work on archival records when necessary. The archive had run out of the high-quality materials from the period of independence and had to make do with ordinary working materials, which were often unsuitable for the task. The main problematical repair work that has been done on archival records dates from the post-war period. The use of unsuitable repair materials for archival records was characteristic of that period. In addition to the widely used acidic brown and white condenser paper, various kinds of adhesive tape and sundry varieties of acidic wood pulp paper were also used in repairing archival records, and alongside suitable flour paste, glues that damage paper and leather were employed. Similarly, staff with no specialised training started being hired at the end of the 1940s and at the start of the 1950s. The socialist planned economy and work quotas that had been implemented started affecting the quality of the work. Regulations and orders from the Main Administration of Archives in Moscow regulated work in the archives, which were under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and run by the state security organs until 1960. In addition to the fact that the archives were closed to the general public and to the prohibition of genealogical research, a key word that characterised this period was the wastepaper campaign, the high point of which turned out to be the interval 1950–1953.

The situation started improving in the field of preservation in Tartu and Tallinn in the latter half of the 1950s, when in accordance with the decree issued on 27 April 1956 by the ESSR Council of Ministers, ‘restoration workshops along with a photography laboratory for the restoration of damaged documents and the preparation of micro photocopies of documents’ was formed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Archives Department. At that time, another three people (a technician-restorer, a master-restorer, and a master-bookbinder) worked at the archive in Tartu alongside the photography works specialist Ants Laivo. The year 1957 can be considered noteworthy in the field of preservation because that is when microfilming and the creation of a backup collection began, using the Kontophot microfilm apparatus of German origin. Over the course of a few years, microfilming transitioned to technical equipment made in the Soviet Union. Keeping records of documents with fading texts with the aim of copying them became an important field in archives over a long period of time. Alongside condenser papers, micalent paper, which was of considerably better quality, was adopted for use as repair paper in the restoration of archival records at the end of the 1950s. Carboxymethylcellulose, gelatine, joiner’s glue (bone glue), and later PVA (poluvinylacetate) glue were used as adhesive substances alongside flour paste. Spirits, carbamide, and spermaceti were used for cleaning and softening parchment documents. Glue prepared using a methyl polyamide base was employed in fortifying damaged places in parchment, and in repairing wax and lacquer seals. According to archival sources, the archive in Tartu fortunately did not arrive at the point of using the lamination method, which is harmful to archival records. New occupational practical experience was acquired from working in restoration centres in Moscow as well as in the local republic. Boxes and other casings were fashioned in the workshops of both the Tallinn and Tartu archives for the improved preservation of archival records.

Formalin, thymol and pentachlorophenolate were primarily used in the archives for disinfecting archival records with mould damage. DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), dichlophos and carbophos were in use for disinsectisation. Training and fire drills were organised, and fire safety regulations and evacuation plans were drawn up in the archives for improving fire safety. Collection’s managers were responsible for maintaining a preservation atmosphere that corresponded to required standards in depositories (temperature 14–20 ˚C and air humidity 50–65%, cleaning, and other such factors). Temperature and air humidity were regulated in buildings by artificially moistening the heating systems and depositories. When airing out the depositories, the windows were covered with gauze that had been moistened with a 50% glycerine solution in order to prevent dust from entering the building through the windows. The collections managers similarly checked documents that were received by the archives to ensure that damaged documents were sent to be dried, cleaned, disinfected and disinsectised. If necessary, the collections managers sent damaged and endangered archival records to be restored or copied.