Etusivu / Preservation / Archiving Instructions for Individuals: How to Record your Personal Documentation for the Archives

Archiving Instructions for Individuals: How to Record your Personal Documentation for the Archives

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 personal queer archival materials in the Labour Archives. Archiving instructions for organizations and communities can be found here.

In regard to museum items, please inquire at Werstas for further information: See also the Werstas online magazine article (in Finnish): The Finnish Labour Museum Werstas: Make History with a Museum Donation!

Author: Minna Sannikka, Researcher, The Labour Archives
Updated: 14.10.2022

1. Identify

Which materials are worth archiving? What form are the materials in? Is this documentation your own, or that of someone close to you? Is it the estate of a loved one?

If there is any documentation regarding queer life, either in your own possession, that of a loved one, or as part of their estate, make sure it is not disposed of. A personal archive can detail an individual’s personal experiences, it may contain rare documents from organizations, or materials related to significant societal events. All of this may be uniquely valuable for historical research. Archiving these materials assists in making the history of gender and sexual minorities visible and part of our shared cultural heritage.

A personal archive that is stored at the Labour Archives typically contains physical and digital documentation related to a person’s work life, positions of trust, hobbies, and relevant things from their personal life. Documentation may be categorized as follows:

  • Personal documentation: certificates, articles, magazine articles, etc.
  • Correspondence: letters, relevant emails, other possible messages
  • Personal writings of the individual themself: diaries, memoirs, blogs, websites, manuscripts, articles, plays, speeches, poems, calendars, notebooks
  • Photographs, videos, and audio recordings related to the individual

Things such as receipts, bank statements, tax cards, and junk mail do not belong in a personal archive. Only in certain circumstances will birthday or Christmas cards, magazine articles collected by the individual depicting an interest of theirs, and other possible materials not produced by the individual themselves be archived. Books written by the individual will be archived only if they are not readily available, are self-published, or published on a small scale. Other books may be offered for example to the Labour Movement Library.

A guide to personal archiving is available on the Labour Archives website (in Finnish):

It is a good idea to record the life stories and activities of yourself or a loved one, for example by writing them down, making audio recordings, or conducting an interview. The Labour Archives accept memoir materials; such as autobiographical writings, interview recordings, and transcriptions into its collections. Further information on collecting materials is available in the online article (in Finnish): Tallenna itse koettua ja elettyä historiaa or Työväen arkiston muistitieto-ohjeet (opens in a new tab). For a more detailed look at conducting an interview, see (in Finnish): Heimo, Anne & Juvonen, Tuula & Kurvinen, Heidi (2021): Opas muistitietohaastattelun tekemiseen. Työväen historian ja perinteen tutkimuksen seura. The guide is also available online as a PDF: Opas muistitietohaastattelun tekemiseen.

2. Arrange and Select

Why are the materials archived? How to evaluate the potential historical significance of personal materials? How to organize and refine personal materials?

Before an individual’s personal collection is transferred from their home to the public archives, it is important to consider which elements of this personal archive are essential to conserve for future generations.

The person that owns and has created the archive is most familiar with its content. It is a good idea to periodically go through your own collection, as well as organize it where possible. Depending on the quantity, materials can be categorized for example by activity (e.g. hobbies, work, organizations), or by their form (e.g. personal writings, correspondence, magazine articles), or through a combination of these systems. When choosing documentation to archive, it may be evaluated from the perspective of what information it conveys of both the person themselves, and their queer life.

The documentation is best organized in a manner where unnecessary and temporarily stored documentation, such as old bank statements, advertisements, and circulars are removed. Unnecessary duplicates, such as copies of documents and near identical photographs, may also be removed.

Particularly with a personal digital archive, it is a good idea to invest time into maintaining it, and frequently clear out unnecessary files. With important files it is best to make copies or to print them out. For digital documentation, a clear, informative, and consistent way of organizing folders and naming files is best done straight off the bat. Documentation should be stored in archive appropriate formats: text as PDF/A, images as JPEG, TIFF, or PNG, audio as WAV, MP3, or AAC, and video as MPEG-4 AVC.

Email correspondence intended for permanent storage is best filed in its own folder in the email inbox and then periodically copied for storage, for example as a PDF or by printing it out.

A personal website or social media account content can be selectively saved, if they contain valuable content and descriptive representation of the person’s life. Tools for saving content are usually found in the menu of a web browser or application, and there are also separate programs available for this purpose. Files should be saved in PDF format.

An archive that is in disarray, for example the estate of a loved one, is best first collected into one place and then given a general overview. If the archive, or parts of it, are logically organized, this system should be preserved. Photographs, videos, audio recordings, books, and other items are separated into their own collections. Categorizing through activity or format may also be applied in later arranging.

Paper documents are best preserved by removing and paperclips, tape, plastic folders, and rubber bands, while staples may be left. Documents should be directly filed into 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 make digital 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. All storage cases should be clearly labeled.

Particularly with photographs, moderation is key; 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, for example with a soft pencil on the back, or the folder it is stored in. With digital photographs, a catalog of their content as a separate file should be added. For preserving physical photographs, it is best to avoid damaging materials, such as ballpoint pen and tape.

3. 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?

If you are considering turning over your own archive materials, or those of a loved one, or contemplating their suitability for the Labour Archives, please get in touch with the Archives. The Archives researchers can advise you and answer any questions you may have, as well as go through the details of the content of the collection and of a possible transfer with you. Make sure any transfer is agreed to by all heirs of the estate.

At the Archives an agreement regarding the transfer of the materials is made, in which the information of the content and other possible details and conditions are recorded.

Through the transfer, the full ownership of the materials becomes that of the Labour Archives. After the transfer, the materials are no longer available for borrowing for personal use, or to be permanently reclaimed. The Labour Archives accept relevant personal archives free of charge.

The materials can either be personally delivered or couriered to the Archives in Helsinki. In extenuating circumstances, the Labour Archives may also retrieve a larger archive of materials. Not all personal documentation needs to be transferred in one delivery, instead it can (and is often recommended) be transferred in smaller collections over the course of one’s life. The benefit to this is that the creator of the archive knows its content best, and thus will be able to give adequate background information regarding the content to the Archives.

Documentation may be transferred in either digital or paper form. With digital documentation, it is important to take into account that the Archives only accept certain file formats. With text documents this means PDF/A files. For images the recommended file formats at the time of writing are JPEG, TIFF, or PNG, for audio recordings WAV, MP3, or ACC, and for video MPEG-4 AVC. Digital documentation should be transferred on an external storage device, for example a flash drive.

Paper documentation should be placed in folders or otherwise separated into clear collections, as well as packaged so as not to be damaged during transport. The archive being transferred also needs to contain information specifying the content, which is labeled either with the paper or digital folders and files. If there is an archive catalog, it should be transferred along with the documentation.

At the Archives the documentation will be organized and transferred to archive quality storage or a digital database. Any documents not intended for permanent storage will be removed at this stage. It is possible to arrange that any removed documentation be returned to the possession of the transferer. 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. It is worth bearing in mind that the Archives generally store documentation for the purpose of research.

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.

It is helpful to the Archives if any documentation collection has at the least a general catalog of its contents. The catalog should list any documentation content for example by subject or folder. 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 here: The archive catalog should also contain descriptive information of the person and their activities, the filing method, and possible restrictions on use.

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.

The creator of the personal archive determines which terms (if any) they want listed in the Archives documentation descriptions regarding their gender and sexual orientation, and which terms and definitions they want used in association with their documentation. It is useful to bring this up for example in the documentation catalog, or when arranging a transfer.

5. 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