Recording the history of various queer factions such as associations, communities, and networks, is important so that queer history is documented for further research.
In Finland, the Labour Archives collect documents and the Finnish Labour Museum Werstas collects items in regard to documenting queer history. Documentation that may be stored in the archives includes all paper and digital documentation that may through technical means be read, listened to, or otherwise interpreted; for example, notes, letters, diaries, memoirs, as well as photographs, audio recordings, and videos. Items belonging in the museum are for example clothes, accessories, badges, banners, as well as related information giving context, such as photographs of items being used.
The LGBTQIA+ collections of the Labour Archives include archives and memory data of organizations, private individuals, and research projects that represent and support sexual and gender minorities. Working in conjunction with the Archives, the Labour Memories Committee organizes queer-themed interviews and memory collection.
This article details the storage of archival data regarding queer associations, communities, and networks in the collections of the Labour Archives. Instructions for the storage of personal archives can be found here: Documentation Instructions for Personal Archives: Storing Personal Documentation in the Archive.
n regard to museum items, please inquire at Werstas for further information: firstname.lastname@example.org. See also the article in the Werstas online magazine (in Finnish): The Finnish Labour Museum Werstas: Make History with a Museum Donation!
Author: Minna Sannikka, Researcher, The Labour Archives
What documentation is worth conserving? What form should it be in?
The time period documentation is to be stored for is determined by law (e.g. the Accounting Act), an organization’s or other actor’s requirements, and the requirements of historical research. The general rule is that all documentation produced by a community or organization that are directly relevant to the group or its function should be permanently stored. This includes documents, correspondence (relevant emails), organization reports and plans, membership catalogues, accounting ledgers, historical background information, event materials, magazines, photographs, videos and audio recordings. Documents may be in either digital or paper form.
Documents retained for only a limited period of time are for example receipts, which may be removed 6 years after an audit. Other documentation which may be removed are routine messages, such as emails regarding meeting schedules, received notices and advertisements, and additional drafts of materials, when they are no longer needed for work or other organization purposes. If documentation being disposed of contains personal information, it must be done in a secure manner.
The Labour Archives website provides a downloadable Archive Guide (in Finnish), that lists which materials are to be stored permanently, and which may be disposed of after a certain period of time: Download the Labour Archives Archive Guide here (opens in a new tab).
Information regarding people in communities or organizations should also be recorded through interviews, or for example, through arranging a ’memory lane’ evening for sharing recollections. Written or spoken memories are a valuable addition to other information documented in the archives. The Labour Archives accept various forms of memoirs into their collections, such as autobiographical texts, interview recordings, and transcriptions.
2. Collect and Select
What to take into consideration when collecting documentation, regarding form and challenges in collecting?
Digital documentation such as photographs and videos are widely available today, but often recording this documentation into permanent storage is not fully completed. Documentation related to the activities of an organization or community should be regularly collected from members and event organizers, for example through email or a shared folder in a cloud account. All documentation should be dated.
Organizations should create a non-personal email account where important messages can be found even if the person in charge of the account changes. Emails intended to be permanently stored are best placed in their own folder in the account. They can then be regularly collected, for example by saving them into PDF files, or by printing them out and filing them in the organization’s archive.
An organization’s or community’s website or social media account content can be selectively recorded, if they contain interesting and valuable content and representation of the time period which is not available in other documentation. An organization determines for itself what content is considered pertinent and to be routinely stored. Tools for saving and recording are often found in the menu of browsers and applications, and may also be done through separate programs. Files are best saved as a PDF.
For paper documents, it is best when they are produced and stored using supplies of archive quality. Any paperclips, tape, plastic folders, and rubber bands should be removed from paper documents before storage, as they wear away at the paper and ink. Conversely, staples may be left. When handling and storing physical photographs, damaging materials such as ballpoint pens and tape should be avoided.
Any documents should be directly filed away in folders or equivalent storage in order to protect them from grime, moisture, and light. Poor quality or easily deteriorated documents can be protected by placing them, for example, between a folded piece of A3 paper. Large posters are best stored rolled up. Analog audio and video recordings, such as cassette tape recordings, mini cassettes, VHS cassettes, and film, are each best stored in their own cases. It is a good idea to also make electronic copies of important recordings; for example by putting them into WAV, MP3, AAC, or MPEG-4 AVC form, either yourself or through an outside service provider.
Any stored documentation should be routinely sorted through, discarding any unnecessary materials. Particularly with photographs, moderation should be kept in mind; a select sample is enough. A good photograph is one that is in good shape with interesting and representative content, and for which comprehensive background information can be provided. The time and place the photograph was taken, the names of any people depicted, as well as the photographer and any copyright information should be directly recorded with the photograph. This can be done digitally in a separate file, or on the back of a physical photograph with a soft pencil.
For any documentation such as interviews or written recollections and memoirs regarding the operation of the organization, the interviewees and writers should be informed of the recording and agree to it possibly being archived in the Labour Archives at a later date. It is best to have consent on record; for example spoken at the beginning of a recorded interview, or written down with documentation. The Labour Archives make a separate transfer agreement with each person involved, for example with both interviewee and interviewer. The transfer agreement is available for downloading on the Archives website (in Finnish), and those involved in recording recollections should be asked to fill in the agreement at the same time: download the transfer agreement here (opens in a new tab). A filled in agreement can be given to the Archives in conjunction with the transfer of documentation.
Interview recordings and recollections should be dated, as well as specify the name, date and place of birth of the interviewee, the name of the interviewer, and a brief summary of the interview content.
The Archives should be consulted particularly when planning the collecting of memoirs on a larger scale: the Archives are happy to help with the organization of the collecting, as well as with any technical questions. For further reading on memoir collection, see the Friends of Queer History online article ”Record the History of Your Own Lived Queer Experience”. More detailed instructions on interviews are given the following work (in Finnish): Heimo, Anne & Juvonen, Tuula & Kurvinen, Heidi (2021): Opas muistitietohaastattelun tekemiseen. Työväen historian ja perinteen tutkimuksen seura. This guide is available as a PDF online: Opas muistitietohaastattelun tekemiseen (opens in a new tab).
3. Create a Routine
Make archiving a routine and appoint someone to be in charge of it (in an organization usually the secretary). Some advice for the continual process of archiving.
When collecting and archiving documentation, it is a good idea to specifically appoint someone to be in charge of this. The person should be well-versed in the activities of the community or organization, and familiar with the kinds of documentation produced. A specific archiving spot is chosen, and the person or people in charge of archiving will routinely file documentation at agreed intervals.
Digital documentation can be stored on an external hard drive or similar device, or if the documentation of the community or organization is required to be accessed by more than one person, a cloud storage option may be more practical. Regardless of where the documentation is stored, back-up copies need to be regularly made! Another option is to print out the most important documents.
For both digital and physical documentation, clear and coherent filing systems should be used right off the bat, as well as informative and consistent names given to folders and individual files. In this way, documents are easily accessible and will not require reorganization at a later date. Depending on the amount, documentation may be organized by field (e.g. administration, finance, membership), or by form and type of document (e.g. minutes, financial reports, correspondence). If there are small amounts of documentation, chronological order may also be appropriate, for example in yearly folders. If there are any documents or folders with personal or other sensitive information, this should also be clearly marked.
Documentation intended to be permanently stored is best directly put into archive quality forms right after their production. In this way, a lot of work can be avoided when the time comes to transfer the documentation over to the Archives. For text documents this means a PDF/A file format. For images, recommended file formats are JPEG, TIFF, or PNG, for sound files WAV, MP3, or AAC, and for video MPEG-4 AVC.
For further information on archiving digital documentation, see the Guide to Digital Archiving in the Private Central Archives (opens in a new tab) on the Labour Archives website.
Documents requiring frequent access, or intended for short-term storage, are best kept within your own workspace. Documentation which does not require further access can be filed in a secure storage space, or copied to an external storage device, appropriately labeled, to await transfer to the Archives.
If an archive has fallen into disarray and requires a full inventory, it is best to first create a general overview. Collect everything into one place, and if necessary, familiarize yourself with the previous work of the organization, for example through annual reports. If the archive is in some manner logically organized or contains any set collections, these should be preserved. Photographs, videos, audio recordings, books, and items are separated into their own collections. Grouping items through form or use as mentioned above, may also be applied in the reorganization process.
4. Engage in Cataloging
When it comes cataloging, the aim is to make sure that everything is easily accessible even in the distant future. Various forms of contextual information are essential in successful cataloging.
As priorly mentioned, regardless of the form documentation is stored in, it is important that everything is clearly named and organized for future accessibility. When folders and other storage equipment is thoughtfully named, it is then easy to create a catalog of the documentation. A catalog is useful particularly with larger amounts of documentation, as well as with later organization at the Archives.
A catalog may be either general or highly detailed. Information is listed in the catalog through sets of documents, for example by subject matter (minutes 2000-2020), or by folder (minutes 2000-2005, minutes 2006-2010, etc.). Documents and collections containing personal or other sensitive information also need to be listed as such in the catalog. With an archive catalog, it is best to also add information describing the work done by the organization, as well as the method of organizing the documentation.
With digital photographs, audio recordings, and videos it is useful to maintain separate catalogs which detail information on individual images and recordings. The information should specify the date and subject matter of the image or recording, the individuals that appear in it, as well as copyright information. Individual files can be numbered so that it is easier to refer to them in the catalog. The catalogs can then be saved in the same file folders with the recordings and images. These catalogs should be updated whenever new documentation is added.
If so wanted, descriptors may also be used in cataloging. Instead of making up descriptors yourself, it is best to use those that memory institutions have together agreed upon. They can be found on the Finnish ontology service website Finto (opens in a new tab).
5. Agree on Transfer to the Archives
How does the transfer take place and under what conditions? How to take into account data security and people’s trust in the archiving process?
The transfer of documentation to the Archives often becomes relevant to an organization or community approximately 10 years after the documentation was created, or as soon as the organization is disbanded. Only documentation that is no longer required for the organization’s use is transferred to the Archives, as after the transfer, the documentation will no longer be available for personal use, not even for short-term borrowing. Through the transfer agreement, the ownership of the documentation is transferred to the Labour Archives.
If an organization or community is considering a transfer, or the suitability of their materials for the Labour Archives, it is best to get in touch with the Archives. When a transfer has been agreed to, the documentation can either be personally delivered to the Archives in Helsinki, or couriered over directly. In exceptional circumstances, the Labour Archives may also pick up the documentation. The Archives accept documentation relevant to its field free of charge.
Documentation can be transferred in both digital and paper form. With documentation in digital form, it needs to be taken into account that the Archives only accept certain file formats (which at the time of writing are PDF/A, JPEG, TIFF, PNG, WAV, MP3, AAC, and MPEG-4 AVC). Digital documentation should be transferred on an external storage device, for example a flash drive. Paper documentation is best filed in folders, or otherwise organized into clear groupings, and packaged in a way that the documentation will not be damaged during transport. Documentation also needs to be clearly marked with information describing its content, best labeled on folders or with files. If there is an inventory catalog, it should also be transferred with the materials.
At the Archives documentation will be organized, reduced as needed, and transferred to archive quality storage or a digital database. Organized documentation is cataloged, described for the Archives database, and then made available for public use. At the Archives the public generally has free access to examine the documentation in accordance with the rules of the Archives, but certain materials may have usage restrictions due to either their transfer agreement, the law, or additional rules imposed by the Archives.
The transfer agreement may for justifiable reasons restrict research on some or all of the documentation, either for a specific time period or indefinitely. For example the Seta archive, which is stored at the Labour Archives, has an agreement which states that it is only available for examination with the permission of the Director of the Labour Archives. The Data Protection Act also restricts the use of certain materials. If documentation contains social security numbers, information on medical issues, union membership, ethnic background, or sexual orientation, then their examination without express consent of those involved will require a research permit. Research permits are granted on a case-by-case basis for well-founded reasons.
6. Get in Touch with the Archives!
Feel free to get in touch with the Labour Archives for anything to do with archiving, archival organization, and transfer information. Guides on archiving are available for download on the Archives website (in Finnish).
The Labour Archives Contact Information:
040 455 6972
Sörnäisten rantatie 25 A, 2nd floor, 00500 Helsinki