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The Press Archives of the Herder-Institut: Potential, Problems and Prospects
Karl von Delhaes1
Formation and structure of the collections
started collecting newspapers from East Central Europe in 1952.
At the same time, clippings were filed systematically according to an index of (currently) 450topics. At first, these rapidly growing archives mainly served the staff as internal sources ofinformation on the countries behind the Iron Curtain. In accordance with the objectives of theInstitute, special consideration was given to the former German territories and areas ofsettlement in this region. Thus, a unique coverage of local and regional newspapers hasbecome a special feature of the collections. By the 1960s, materials were systematically filedfrom the 150 titles to which the Institute subscribed.
An overview of the structure and present size of the collections are given in the
The press archives of the Herder-Institut
Clippings filed systematically
15422 files with 350 clippings (average) and 8476 microfiche with 60
photos each ( totaling 5.9 million clippings)
1 Partly translated from: Karl von Delhaes: Das Pressearchiv des Herder-Instituts:Potential,Probleme und Perspektiven, in: Eduard Muehle (ed.) Vom Instrument der Partei zur „ViertenGewalt“, Marburg 1997, 263-272.
Estonia 606+ 216 Estonia 436 Estonia 39 Estonia 332
Latvia 448+ 77 Latvia 298 Latvia 30 Latvia 375
Lithuania 388+ 95 Lithuania 303 Lithuania 21 Lithuania 439
Poland 3362+5144 Poland 2018 Poland 491 Poland 5295+129
Czechoslovakia (since Czechoslovakia (since Czechoslovakia (since Czechoslovakia (since1993: ÈR, SR)
The diagram below shows the distribution of clippings on different subjects
Relative share of subject groups in the total number of clippings
National and international comparison
In order to furnish its users with information on similar or complementary collections
and to establish its position relative to comparable institutions and potential partners, theInstitute held a survey of 40 relevant libraries or archives in Germany and 15 other countries.
Due to the fact that after 1945 a limited concentration of materials from the Soviet Unioncould be expected and socialist countries did little open research on the fellow members oftheir bloc, the result of the survey was somewhat surprising:
Although there are several institutions that file newspaper clippings from the same
region and period as our press archives, their objectives are quite different. The archives ofthe Kieler Institut fuer Weltwirtschaft
for instance are exclusively interested in economictopics and the Institute for Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences
library onlycollects material on literary subjects and persons of literary significance. Furthermore, noneof these collections are even remotely comparable in size to the press archives of the Herder-Institut
as far as the given region and period are concerned. The only exception in this respectis the Open Society Archives
at the Central European University
in Budapest, which took
over the materials of the documentation departments of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
.2Whereas these collections -- ending at the beginning of the 1990s -- are rather orientedtowards human rights issues, totalitarian abuse and malgovernment, and undergroundactivities in accordance with the interests of the respective radio stations, the archives of theHerder-Institut
give a more general outlook on the contemporary history of the countries inthe region.
Although they are not always accessible, the national libraries in East Central Europe
naturally possess fairly complete collections of newspapers published in the country (whichexcludes the exile publications). However, our survey found only three institutions which areable to furnish the scholar with newspapers of the entire region for the relevant period. Theseare the Hoover Institution
(Stanford, California) with a total of 405 titles for the time from1945 to 1989 and 75 titles currently subscribed, the British Library
(London) with 321 titlesover all and 111 titles currently subscribed3, and finally, for the time until 1990, the OpenSociety Archives
(Budapest) mentioned above. Due to geographical proximity and manifoldhistorical interrelations, other considerable collections are to be found in Germany. These aredispersed over different locations in accord with the federal structure of our country,however. Direct comparisons showed that more than two-thirds of the 382 titles (for therelevant region and period) held in the Staatsbibliothek Berlin
, as well as all 67 relevant titlesheld by the Bayrische Staatsbibliothek Muenchen
, are also among the 667 titles available inMarburg.
User profile: Motives of and obstacles to research in the archives
From its initial function as a source of topical information otherwise not obtainable
for the staff, the press archives have continually grown into a collection predominantly usedby scholars from outside the Institute, mainly from universities. At the same time, thedistribution of users changed geographically. Today, scholars from other German states andfrom abroad make up the majority of users.
A count of research objectives over the last ten years shows that more than 80 percent
were exclusively devoted to scholarly purposes. Again, nearly half of these cases aimed atacademic qualifications, the distribution of which is shown in more detail in the followingtable.
Purpose of research
2 Cf. Pavol Salamon: Open Society Archives: An Overview, also available in Intermarium.
3 In 1993 the British Library to a large part incorporated the collections of the Polish Instituteand Sikorski Museum.
Presenting the distribution of research by subject always poses a problem of
definition, as exemplified by the case of contemporary history and political sciences. Historywith a share of one-third, however, was clearly the most important single discipline involved.
More than 40 percent of all queries concerned subjects from the social sciences.
Queries by subject
History (especially contemporary history)
A major problem in using newspapers as a historical source is that most of the
scholar’s time is spent sifting through them and discarding irrelevant or redundant parts.
Evidence suggests that systematically filed clippings such as the ones in the Herder-Institut
--even if they provide only first clues -- are extremely valuable aids in this respect. Thefrequency of demand for files and microfiches is higher than for volumes or microfilms ofcomplete newspapers. These , however, remain indispensable as the original source, a pointwhich we will return to later.
Without any doubt, the most important obstacle to research in press archives
specializing on East Central Europe is insufficient knowledge of the relevant languages, astate that began to slowly improve only in the last few years. Our materials are predominantlywritten in the languages of the region. The newspaper collection contains only a few titles(mostly minority newspapers and publications from exile) in German or English. Around tenpercent, of the clippings are in these languages. The languages of the region -- beginning withthose more frequently spoken -- are Russian (with only a relative small portion of thematerials), Polish, Czech, Slovakian, Lithuanian, Estonian and Latvian. Barriers tounderstanding are obviously higher, the less frequently a language is used. From the supplyside, these obstacles could only be overcome by a translation service that would greatlyovertax the capacities of our Institute.
Until the post-1989 changes, the seclusion of the region by the Iron Curtain further
diminished incentives to learn the languages concerned. The rise in the number of users ofour archives in the 1990s might be taken as an indication that the opening of borders hasconsiderably improved motivation in this field.
Priorities in documentation: Service to the academic user and preservation of the
In contrast with the majority of press documentation established for journalistic and
other commercial purposes, press archives for academic use have an important function inpreserving material for longer periods; for research on contemporary history or the social
sciences where they are empirically based on time series, archives of other types are often notan alternative. Official waiting periods are seldom less than 30 years. Furthermore, it seemsdoubtful whether complete documentation could be expected here for all reaches of life. Notall facts that are reported by the press have left traces in official records. Some have beenintentionally destroyed as examples from the last days of the GDR illustrate. Thediscontinuities in organization and personnel during the first years of transition in EastCentral Europe have made systematic access difficult for years to come, even if interestedparties have not used the opportunities of general chaos to delete traces of certain activities.
After all, it is only from the press that one may draw conclusions as to the probableinformedness of the public at a given time. At the same time, newspapers are the originalsource to document the efforts undertaken to influence this informedness and consequentlypublic opinion.
At first glance it might seem as if there were no trade-off between preservation and
optimal service for the user. In fact, efforts to lead the user directly and exclusively to thematerial relevant to his/her research may serve to protect the rest, for instance. On the otherhand, measures to protect the newspapers can impair their use; binding of complete titles involumes has the advantage of minimizing the influx of air, but hampers copying. Frequentexposure to strong light and mechanical wear and tear while copying endangers the filedclippings. Finally, on account of the inferior quality of paper in those years, the oldest partsof the collection rapidly approach a state where further use endangers their existence.
At this point a decision about conversion of the material into a more durable form is
required. From the point of view of preservation, the experts clearly recommend filming.4This recommendation has been implemented for the current filing of clippings by microfichesince 1991 as well as for the acquisition of early years of important newspapers asmicrofilms. Due to the lack of funds, backward conversion of our materials by filming hasonly been possible in the form of special projects of very limited scope. Optimal service forthe user would require digitalization for on-line access and full-text research.5 Problems ofphysical aging and rapid obsolescence of hardware and software however, make this mediumfall short of preservation standards.6 Thus, given limited funds, the two main priorities ofdocumentation are once again in conflict.
Prospects of a more comprehensive service: Digitized access data
4 For more detail cf. ANGELIKA MENNE-HARETZ and NILS BRUBACH: Der intrinsische Wertvon Archiv- und Bibliotheksgut. Kriterienkatalog zur bildlichen und textlichen Konversionbei der Bestandserhaltung [On the intrinsic value of archive and library materials. Criteria forfacsimile and text conversion for preservation purposes] (= Veroeffentlichungen derArchivschule Marburg, Bd. 26), Marburg 1997, 67 passim. This study reports the results of aproject sponsored by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and is also concerned withexactness, durability and “migration” problems of digitalization of source material.
5 For a rather advanced method combining full-text research and bit-mapped images cf.
Ronald Zweig: From Newsprint to Screen: Lessons from the Palestine Post Project, in:Eduard Muehle (ed.) Vom Instrument der Partei zur “Vierten Gewalt”, Marburg 1997, 285 –296.
6 Cf. the preliminary report of technical experts on the program „RetrospektiveDigitalisierung von Bibliotheksbestaenden“ (financed by the DFG), especially 13, 42 and theliterature listed there.
Keeping in mind the requirements of preservation, improvement of service in the
immediate future will mean digitizing access data (also avoiding possible copyrightproblems). At present, access to the collection of clippings is exclusively guided by the filingsystem, that is, by a general subject (from a list of around 450 topics) and the date ofpublication. Information on the contents of certain files other than mere quantities might atbest be obtained from the documentarian responsible at the time of filing. The degree of theirrelevance to specific questions can -- as a rule -- only be established by looking them up. Toremedy this situation, a plan to supplement the information on lectured materials isunderway. Apart from the signature used for systematic classification, a completebibliographical identification and additional key words will be noted for every article filedand subsequently made available in an access data bank. The keywords are intended to giveadditional information and establish links to other relevant files. They will be amenable toelectronic search. This access data bank could be additionally enriched by outside sourcessuch as newspaper indices or national bibliographies where they also comprise newspaperarticles. For preservation purposes, however, the access data should also be periodicallystored on microfiche.
This concept offers several advantages:
• availability of more detailed information on all parts of the collections even in the absence
of the staff that originally lectured the relevant newspapers,
• internal and external on-line access to this information for potential users, irrespective of
• automated electronic identification of relevant clippings by additional keywords,• a direct guide to our own newspaper collection or similar collections in other locations
with the help of complete bibliographical identification of all filed clippings and theadditional information from outside sources mentioned above,
• supply on demand of scanned or copied clippings identified on-line.
At the same time, this option recommends itself for retrospective application to the existingsubject files.
The present state of hard- and software in the field of processing, storing and
accessing printed data would also allow the scanning of all clippings, at least those currentlyfiled, storing them in a “juke-box” where they can be retrieved via the access data bank. Infact, many commercially operated archives already use such a configuration. For ourpurposes however, preservation requirements would still necessitate additional filming. Onlysuch progress in compressing bit-map data that would make it feasible to hold all lecturedpapers in this form would present us with a technically optimal and financially viablesolution. Scanning could then be done from the films necessary for preservation of thenewspaper collection and there would be no conflicts between users needing the same reel ata given time. Furthermore, a specific clipping would always be viewed virtually in its originalsurroundings, an advantage especially to the historian.
Insufficient funds and copyright considerations (which take account of complications
and potential financial risks of electronic copying under German law), however, have led usto the compromise outlined above. Since users who want to reap the synergetic benefitsgenerated by the unique ensemble of all our specialized collections in books, maps, photos
etc., which may not be digitized for years to come, will have to visit us anyway, this seems afair solution.
Current efforts to enhance the accessibility of our archives
Apart from planning the access data bank which will hopefully start with the year
1999, we have worked on two projects that aim to provide a more detailed description of ourcollections, providing information on their contents on-line as well.
The first of these projects is an inventory of the newspaper collection. For every one
of the 667 titles, the yearly issues and numbers available were registered. Ordered by country,every title is shortly characterized as to its specialization, political affiliation, circulation,publication dates, history and relevant literature. For each country a short introduction into itspress history since 1945 was added.7 The titles registered and their inventories are alsoavailable on-line in the Zeitschriftendatenbank
[Data bank on periodicals] Berlin
Another project is the description of the biographical files. Since there are dossiers on
about 200,000 persons from East Central Europe with contents varying in quantity (from 1 tomore than 1000 clippings) and quality (articles from or about the person, interviews, shortbiographies, obituaries etc.), a selection had to be made that limits the description to the moresubstantial files. Experience with the first 5,000 persons selected shows, that we willprobably end up with around 50,000 dossiers described. Apart from the identification of theperson (name, first name, date of birth/death, place of birth) and contents of the dossier(number of clippings, number of biographies, year of first/last entry) we have added to thedescription certain features which we felt would interest the contemporary historian or socialscientist working on the material. These are: profession, education, qualification and up tothree functions in each of the following fields: parties and organizations, state andgovernment, economy, police and military, church and other religious communities, cultureand science. A first volume with Polish dossiers (names from A to G) has appeared in printJanuary 1998.9 The same data has been placed in the Datenbank „Biographische Materialienaus der Presse Ostmitteleuropas“
[data bank “Biographical Materials from the East CentralEuropean Press”] which is accessible via our home page (http://www.uni-marburg.de/herder-institut/pressehp.html). Work on biographical files of the other countries (see table 1) has alsobegun and by the end of the year we hope to provide another 5,000 descriptions. All data willbe periodically transferred to the data bank.
As a by-product to this work, a rather voluminous list of abbreviations has been
compiled that should be useful to the scholar interested in contemporary history of the region.
In the course of the century, the use of abbreviations, especially for organizations and
7 Zeitungen aus den Laendern Ostmitteleuropas und der Emigration. Beschreibung derBestaende im Pressearchiv des Herder-Instituts [Newspapers from the countries of EastCentral Europe and their emigrants . Description of the holdings of the press archives of theHerder-Institut], berarbeitet von REINER BEUSHAUSEN u.a. = Sammlungen des Herder-Instituts zur Ostmitteleuropa-Forschung, Band 3, Marburg 1997.
[ Choose “databases”and log on as guest!]9 Biographische Materialien aus der Presse Ostmitteleuropas nach 1945 [Biographic materialsfrom Central East European newspapers after 1945] A. Polen, Band 1: A –G, bearbeitet vonKARL VON DELHAES u.a. = Sammlungen des Herder-Instituts zur Ostmitteleuropa-ForschungBand 6, Marburg 1998
institutions, has continually increased. The list is periodically augmented -- also from othersources -- and may be consulted on-line under the same address as the data bank.
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