Doreen Kelimes: The eastern and north-eastern European archives between digitisation, Web 2.0 and social media[1]

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It can be stated that the Northern and Eastern European countries are working on comprehensive digitization projects. The transformation process in the late 1980s in Eastern Europe not only led to an opening of the borders, but favored the gradual access to the archives in the eastern and north-eastern European countries. The use of Web 2.0 and social networks, as a new form of public relations and interaction with the users is looking so far received from the archives only hesitantly. Today, Web 2.0 and social media, a new range of public relations enable cultural institutions to communicate with both national and international user. In addition, many cultural institutions grab the opportunity to present their collections digitally and push more and more projects. The first major projects, based primarily on the digitization of civil status documents and church records, also offer the opportunity to preserve this cultural heritage and protect. Here, rather dominated the "classic" version of the home page. As already mentioned, the eastern and north-eastern European archives worked primarily on various digitization projects, which included in particular the "online status" comprehensive civil status documents and church records.



The transformation process in the late 1980s in Eastern Europe not only led to an opening of the borders, but also improved the gradual access to the archives in the eastern and north-eastern European countries. Besides a new phenomenon has been enriched the world: the invention of the World Wide Web. Today Web 2.0 and the social media open a new spectrum of public relations of the cultural institutions. This is a new possibility to communicate with the user. Beyond many cultural institutions seize the opportunity to present their collections digitally and carry out more and more projects. Especially the digitisation is also an opportunity to protect and to preserve the cultural heritage. So this new form of public relations with Web 2.0 and the social media give the institutions the chance to present themselves nationally and internationally with the whole of their archival repertoire and also change the face of a closed archivist.

The main aim of the digitisation of the cultural heritage includes the online presentation of the digitised originals preserved in the archives. The digitisation projects guarantee the preservation and safety of the cultural heritage and offer a better access to them. Several cultural institutions in the eastern and north-eastern European countries seize the possibilities to present their collections digitally and create so-called virtual reading rooms and online-databases. Especially the first projects based on digitisation, for example the register of births, deaths and marriages and the church records. The Baltic States created portals to present digital records in the web very early.



The National Archives of Estonia, as the centre of archival administration, includes the Historical Archives, the State Archives, Film Archives and four regional departments in Haapsalu, Kuressare, Rakvere and Valga[2]. To centralise web resources the National Archives of Estonia create a Virtual reading room and essential information aimed at archives users. Two databases of Estonian sources for research are SAAGA and Arhiivi InfoSüsteem (AIS). The first prototype of SAAGA was released and made available in the local network in the reading room of Estonian Historical Archives in November 2004 and the first public version of SAAGA in May 2005.[3] The project SAAGA comprises all the archival records, which were digitised in the Estonian National Archives and the Tallinn City Archives since 2008.[4] The most important project SAAGA is a collection of digitised archival records from the National Archives of Estonia and the Tallinn City Archives. The initial objective of SAAGA was to enable access to several archival materials, for example church records, soul revision lists, military records, family archives and also to German Baltic genealogical sources, which were digitised during the cooperation project of Estonian National Archives, Marburg Herder Institute and Baltic German Genealogical Society Hereditas baltica from 2011 to 2013.[5] At the moment SAAGA comprises approximately 119,000 digitised volumes and 11 million images.

AIS is an electronic database of the National Archives of Estonia and the Tallinn City Archives, which allows users to search for documents preserved in the archives and to find books in the library’s collection. At the moment the user finds more than 8,7 million integrated records on AIS. Other information systems for audio-visual archival records can be found on Filmarhiivi InfoSüsteem (FIS), which presents 1,264 films in the web and on Fotode InfoSüsteem (FOTIS) are 434,671 photos available. The user have also an access to a register of the maps in the National Archives of Estonia (Rahvusarhiivi kaaride infosüsteem), which contains descriptions and digital images of 28,527 digitised maps and 99,827 described maps in the Estonian Historical Archives and the State Archives. At the moment the Estonian archives are involved in further projects such as Two Beginnings of the Republic of Estonia with 1,8 million digital images in 2014; Archives Portal Europe network of excellence (APEx) project – Work Package 6 ‘Usability and Web 2.0’ with the aim to create a portal by 2015; You! Enhance Access to History (YEAH), which comprises the implementation of crowdsourcing principles and the description of the software for e-services of the archives by 2014 and also the project Ship Wrecks in the Baltic Sea (SHIPWHER), based on an Estonian-Swedish cooperation with the aim of digitisation and opening access to Ship Wrecks Heritage.



The state archival system of Latvia consists of fifteen archives with the aim to secure the accumulation, appraisal, descriptions, preservation, access and use of national documents.[6] Here we have an archival structural unit as follow: The National Archives Management, Latvian State Historical Archives, State Archives of Latvia, Latvia State Archives of Audio-visual Documents, State Archives of Personnel Files, Regional State Archives, Department of the Preventive Preservation, Library of the National Archives of Latvia and eleven regional State Archives.

The aim of the important project Raduraksti, which realised from 2007 to 2010, was to create and support on-line resources for family history research and ensure the preservation of originals of the microfilmed and digitised records.[7] The project realised the Directorate General of Latvia State Archives, the Latvia State Historical Archives and the Central Micro photocopying and Document Restoration Laboraty.[8] The records were presented in a Virtual reading room and contain digitised collections such as church records, register of births, deaths and marriages, soul revision lists and census documents on the territory of the present-day Latvia, which includes the historical territory of Courland, Livonia and partial collection outside of Latvia. At the moment there are approximately 6 million records online. The Latvian State Archives presents also further online-databases, for example, the Central Register of National Archive Fond with information about the records of National Archival Fonds of Latvia, ie about the fonds of state and municipal institutions and enterprises, commissions, significant events and activities; the Database of the State Archive of Latvia, European archival legislation online (Euronomos) and the Baltic Connections, as a database to present the history around the Baltic Sea during the period from 1450 to 1800 and aims at covering the most relevant repositories in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia and Sweden and comprises also themes such as trade, shipping, merchants, commodities, diplomacy, finances and migration.[9]



The Lithuanian Archive structure comprises the Lithuanian State Historical Archives, Lithuanian Central State Archives, Lithuanian State Modern Archives, Lithuanian Special Archives, Lithuanian Archives of Literature and Art and also ten County Archives. At the moment large projects of digitisation are in progress and based on the concept for digitisation of Lithuanian Cultural Heritage in 2005. The main project Epaveldas (Lithuanian Cultural Heritage in the Virtual Environment) is a collection of digitised Lithuanian Cultural Heritage in cooperation of the Lithuanian Art Museum, Lithuanian Archives Department under the Government of the Republic of Lithuania and the National Library of Lithuania (Martynas Mažvydas).[10] The project Epaveldas will be implemented from 2010 to 2013 and now, the online database contains over 3 million pages of the most valuable old books, newspapers, artworks, manuscripts and church registers.[11] The aim of the project is to create an access of Lithuanian cultural heritage content by developing the virtual electronic heritage system Virtual Electronic Heritage System (VEPS).[12] Another project in cooperation with the Lithuanian Central State Archives and other institutions is called Filmarchives online – Finding Moving Images in European Collection. The project is a result of the Moving Image Database for Access and Re-use of European film collections (MIDAS) project and ran from 2006 until 2009. The project was carried out by eighteen institutions and archives, for example the British Film Institute, DEFA Foundation, eye Film Institute Netherlands and S§, under the lead of the Deutsches Filminstitut (DIF). The database includes non-fiction material such as documentary and educational films, newsreels, travelogue, and advertising.



The cooperation of the Polish archives in digitisation is very comprehensive and they are involved in several projects to digitise their whole archival collections. The Integrated Archive Information System (ZoSIA) and the online service Szukaj w archiwach are projects by the National Digital Archive [13], which were released in 2009 and enable an access to the digitised collection of several Polish States Archives such as Lublin, Poznan, the State Archive of the Warsaw and the Hoover Institution Archive.[14] At the moment there are more than seven million images online available. The main aim of the site is full accessibility and openness. Especially in 2013 the online-database is expanded in two steps: Firstly the website is redesigned and a digitised collection of more than five million images is added to the database in March and June 2013.

In addition, further databases offer a possibility to research in several archival collections and contain information, descriptions and data of various archival material preserved in the state archives. The database SEZAM contains information about national archival collections of the Polish state archives in exception of Lublin and Poznan. The project PRADZIAD, completed in 2011, includes data on parish and civil registers of all state archives. The online-databases IZA and ELA contain description of archival units of various databases at the archives and their cooperative institutions and data on all registers of population.[15] The Head Office of the State Archives is also involved in the projects Casualties and victims of repression under the German occupation [16] since 2006 and Reconstruction of the Memory of Poland [17].


The archives between digitisation, Web 2.0 and social media

Dains and Nimer say: “The technology and the Internet are changing the ways that archivists interact with their user […] and it is becoming an increasingly integrated part of our whole lives”[18]. Using the Web 2.0 applications by the archives create a new form of interactive conversation with users and other cultural institutions, too.[19] Today the term Web 2.0 is “more relevant than ever and the so-called social media, i.e. Web 2.0 point out to a new generation, a new perception of the Web.”[20]. So the possibility of the new form of conservation is a way that can change the relationship between the archivist and the user community.[21] The World Wide Web offer collaborative and interactive elements and “the content and the information are created interactively, edited and distributed; networking is an important keyword.”[22]. Important Web 2.0 applications are Wikis, blogs, micro blogging, social networks, social bookmarks and podcasts and working in Web 2.0 offer much more possibilities, ie tagging, crowdsourcing, collaborative descriptions.[23] With the use of Web 2.0 applications, “a larger and younger audience is addressed, opportunities for contact and discussions will be offered, and for example, new finding aids, information about new charges / transfers to the archive.”[24].

Generally, all the presented archives are using the possibilities of Web 2.0 applications and social networks, especially Facebook. The use of the social media by the current archives is very different, but the activities are not at a standstill. The communication in social networks is especially in the native language, in due to that fact the communication depends on the current user. Mainly all the archives of the presented countries are using Facebook and other applications, for example Twitter, Foursquare, Skype, Flickr and Pinterest. All the current archives didn’t ignore the fact, that for the most Internet users social media is everyday life. The following examples of joining Facebook will show the time, when the archives started to use Web 2.0 applications. Posting on Facebook by all archives means actual information and photos about the practical work on the basis of “live photos”, postings of invitations, reports or articles about events and also presentation of historical photos.

Although the Estonian archives created a Virtual reading room to centralize the archival activities. The current archival homepage and the social media activities form an integrated whole. So the Estonian Archives especially use the possibilities of social networks to communicate with their users and to promote their institutions. The archives of Estonia have been using Facebook since 2010. On Facebook the user not only finds the presentation of the archives, but also Estonian archival projects such as SHIPWHER. The archives, which joined Facebook, are Rigiiarhiiv (the Estonian State Archives), Rahvusarhiiv (the National Archives of Estonia) and Ajalooarhiiv (the Estonian Historical Archives).

In the case of the Latvian Archives the use of social media is very different. The most of the archives prefer the classical homepage to communicate with the user. There is no clue for social networks with the exception of the Latvia State Archive of Audio-visual Documents, which joined Facebook in 2012, and so the use of social media is very new. But this archive is also using social media applications such as Twitter and Skype for contacting and posting actual information, photos and reports.

The Lithuanian Archives are centralized on the website of the Office of the Chief Archivist of Lithuania as a guide to each archive. Here the user finds a news-blog, online-exhibitions, projects and reports. The use of social networks is very different, but nevertheless some archives use the possibility to communicate with the users interactively via Facebook. The first archives joined Facebook in 2009. These archives are the Lithuanian Special Archives, the County Archives Vilnius and the National Library, which provides also the project of Epaveldas. Since 2013 the Office of the Chief Archivist of Lithuania has been joining Facebook.

The main page of the Polish archives The Head Office of the State Archives offer all information about the archival structure, addresses, news, reports about events, aims, publications and links to the online databases for the user. In Poland, the archives use the possibilities of social media very comprehensive. For example, the National Digital Archive already joined Facebook in 2008 and has more than 36,000 likes. This archive was one of the first to use this new possibility to present its archival work with the help of the Web 2.0 applications in Poland. The Head Office of State Archives joined Facebook in 2010 and centralizes all the news of the several state archives. At the moment the most State Archives have their own Facebook account for promoting and communicating. By the way the Head Office of State Archives uses regularly other applications such as Foursquare and Twitter. So the examples show, that Web 2.0 changes the Internet-use of cultural institutions, because working with Web 2.0 offers new ways of public relations and communication with the user community.

Finally, we must note: The positioning of archives in the modern, digital world is one of the central challenges for the future of our profession. Archives are involved in a big transformation process. We do not know, where it will end – but we need to go away. Many tasks and activities of archives in the new century will have only little in common with what used to be familiar.

The examples from Eastern and North-Eastern Europe are good examples. They show what is possible in the field of digitisation and presentation. They also show the more and more important role, social media can play in archives recently. Much is still safe to expand. Much will be expanded. This process is difficult for any institution – and the exchange of the experiences (digitisation, social media etc) beyond the countries is an absolute must. Digitisation and social media are of course megatrends. However, they are only partly a technical problem. This can be mastered. They are just an "attitude". It is an attitude to our customers. They require a new understanding of the archives and our work!


The text was published in 2013: Kelimes, Doreen; Kemper, Joachim: "The eastern and north-eastern European archives between digitisation, web 2.0 and social media" in: Atlanti. Review for modern archival theory and practice. Special edition: In honorem Charles Kecskemeti, (Trieste-Maribor, 2013), pp. 67-73. 
Rahvusarhiiv, "About us" ( (viewed 29 May 2013). 
Cf. Rahvusarhiiv, "HerBalt. Baltic German genealogical sources" ( (viewed 29  May 2013). 
Cf. LatvijasArhivi, “New Archives Law in Latvia”( (viewed 29 May 2013). 
LatvijasArhivi, “Project Raduraksti 2007-2010” ( (viewed 29 May 2013). 
NationaalArchief, “Uncovering the past of the Baltic Sea countries (1450-1800)” ( (viewed 29 May 2013). 
Epaveldas: "Lithuanian Cultural Heritage in the Virtual Environment" ( (viewed 5 May 2013). 
Polish: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe (NAC). 
The Head Office of The State Archives, “Databases” ( (viewed 15 May 2013). 
The results of the project are available at the project’s site: (viewed 21 February 2014). 
Cf. The Head Office of the State Archives, “NDAP Projects” ( (viewed 29 May 2013). 
Gordon Daines III and Cory Nimer, “Web 2.0 and Archives", available at "The Interactive Archivist" (2009) (http:/ (viewed 29 May 2013). 
Joachim Kemper: "Between Facebook, Twitter and blogs. New forms of work for archives and archivists by the example of the city archive Speyer. Radenci on 8 April 2011" ( (viewed 29 May 2013). 
Gordon Daines III and Cory Nimer, “Web 2.0 and Archives", available at "The Interactive Archivist" (2009) (http:/ (viewed 29 May 2013). 
Joachim Kemper: "Between Facebook, Twitter and blogs. New forms of work for archives and archivists by the example of the city archive Speyer. Radenci on 8 April 2011" ( (viewed 29 May 2013). 
Thomas Just and Joachim Kemper: "Out of the box! Wege zur Offenheit. Köln 11 November 2011 “Offene Archive. Web 2.0 und die deutsch(sprachig)en Archive (Konferenz, November 2012) “Offene Archive! – „Archives open“." (2011) ( (viewed 29 May 2013). 
Joachim Kemper: "Between Facebook, Twitter and blogs. New forms of work for archives and archivists by the example of the city archive Speyer. Radenci on 8 April 2011" ( (viewed 29 May 2013). 

About the Author

Doreen Kelimes

Doreen Kelimes studied Intercultural European and American Studies with a focus on Russia and Poland at the University Halle-Wittenberg. She holds a M.A. in Slavic Studies. Since 2012 she has been working at the city of Speyer archives (DE).

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