Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Global Archives Management Delegation Visit with the Beijing Municipal Archives

October 14, 2008

Representing the Beijing Municipal Archives:
Ms. Chen Leren: Archives Director
Mr. Luo Yunhe: Deputy Archives Director
Ms. Li: Duplication, technology
Ms. Song: Internet management
Ms. Wang: cataloging and management
Ms. Wang: reference and reception

Our hosts provided a brief overview of the Beijing Municipal Archives, which was founded in 1958. They are responsible for collecting records of Party institutions and related government institutions. There are 1.77 million volumes in the collection. (Each volume is a small aggregate of related records, similar to a file folder.) Their holdings include not just paper, but audiovisual collections. Every year they receive records from 200 separate entities at the city level, including corporate entities. They have been collecting information on important events and celebrations in Beijing. Examples include the 2003 SARS outbreak, as well as the 2008 Olympics and Para-Olympics and their preparations. They have gone to the United Kingdom and the United States to collect records about Beijing, to contribute toward the bigger picture of the city of Beijing.

They are working to improve environmental conditions for storage, using the latest technologies. The original archives was located in the center of the city. Eventually a new building was necessary. The current building dates to 1995. It covers 20,000 square meters. It has 15 floors; 13 are for storage, and the rest are for offices, IT, and reference. The Reference Hall is where people gain access to the records. Now they are working on additional exhibition rooms. The exhibitions will highlight the most valuable records, to tell the people of Beijing about the history of the city. There is also a dining hall.

With this new building, conditions for preservation have greatly improved. They have temperature and humidity controls. They are using technology, including digitization for publicly accessible records, microfilm for others. They aim to better preserve the original, making access easier for researchers. They are digitizing audiovisual materials, not just paper records.

They orient their services to the needs of the public. They provide access to agencies and organizations at the city level – and to the general public. They also have scholars who visit to use the records. Their website helps to manage the information, and helps users access their services. They also have the Beijing Archives Bureau. The Beijing Municipal Archives also shoulders the administration of the archives.

There is a Society of Beijing Archives, and those with more academic interest in archives are members. The president of the Society of Beijing Archives is also a member of the Chinese Archives Society.

After the overview, the hosts and delegates spent some time exchanging information. In the following exchange, "GAMD" stands for Global Archives Management Delegation, and "BMA" stands for Beijing Municipal Archives.

GAMD: Is there legislation authorizing your collection of Beijing records?

BMA: There is such legislative authority: the Archives Act of the People's Republic of China (1987). They are responsible for and entitled to collect records from the local area. Their archives date back to 1533, and continue up to the present day. There is also the Archives Code, which helps them collect from the local Party offices and city agencies. There is a list of records that they are to collect. After 20 years records are required to be moved to the Beijing Municipal Archives.

GAMD: Do you have personal or family records?

BMA: They emphasize government records so this includes information on individuals, such as marriages or salaries. They have attempted to collect a few personal papers, but it is a “side thing.”

Their goal is to digitize their entire holdings. They have already digitized 40% of their huge holdings. They would like to learn more about digitization in the United States, especially at the National Archives (NARA).

GAMD: Diane Dimkoff explained that at NARA “everyone wants everything digitized now,” but this is impossible. So they have formed partnerships with private companies, starting with the easiest: digitizing microfilm. They are approached by private companies, signing legal documents outlining what NARA and the companies agree to be responsible for. This started with genealogy research interests. NARA prioritizes the most needed records, which are mounted on the NARA website for public access. Partnership agreements outline standards for digitizing, as well as control of the metadata. Many lawyers are involved. NARA provides space in-house for this digitizing work. The work of these private companies with original materials is monitored by NARA's reference room staff.

BMA: They first digitized the catalog, then whole collections. By 2007, they had 2.12 million hits on the website – more than 40% were from the U.S. Most of these were from California.

GAMD: California has a very large Asian-American population. No one in the U.S. has goal of digitizing “absolutely everything.” We create priorities.

Max Evans talked about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which has a strong genealogical interest. They began microfilming records of genealogical interest in 1937. Today they digitize. They are one of the NARA partners, of whom Diane Dimkoff spoke. They are also digitizing the several million rolls of microfilm in Salt Lake City. He can find someone from the LDS program, a Chinese speaker, who can help them do their digitizing. He is the LDS archivist for the records of the Church itself. They are now investigating “digitizing on demand.”

Lee Stout commented that the American archival system is very decentralized; many budgets are too small to digitize all records. So, we must be strategic about what can and should be done, deciding which collections most warrant digitization. This raises the issue of the preservation of digitized files: This is a big problem for the future, both for born-digital and digitized files. He asked how they are working to capture born-digital records.

MBA: Starting recently, with the Olympics, they are receiving born-digital records. They copy them and preserve the copies.

Two of you mentioned genealogy. What specific families are you documenting? Do you take records of anyone?

GAMD: Eric Hartmann: He is an archivist of the Catholic Church in Texas. They have microfilm and original sacramental records – similar to vital records. Descendants come to the archives to find out about their families. They are not famous people, just ordinary people.

Pat Scott: She is an amateur genealogist herself. Even her college – Pennsylvania College of Technology – gets such requests. She noted that the U.S. is a country of immigrants and many have little information about their ancestors, and seek this information.

Kit Leary: She gets genealogy requests from descendants of Oregon Shakespeare Festival participants.

Helen Wong Smith: Genealogical research in her repository in Hawaii parallels research by Native American research – to prove blood descent to entitle people to funds, land, group membership.

BMA: What is the size and scope of the National Archives?

GAMD: Diane Dimkoff explained that NARA maintains the permanently valuable records of the federal government. They were established in 1934 and they save only 3-4 % of records created by the government. They have three main facilities. There are also 14 regional archival facilities. They also have Presidential libraries, from President Hoover on forward. They have over 1,000,000,000 pieces of paper and many other formats. Their website is www.archives.gov. The records are open to everyone. Everyone must register so they can keep track of use.

At the conclusion of this exchange, the delegation toured the facility, including the Beijing Municipal Archives' scanning operation, conservation area, and exhibit area.

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