Members of the European Ego-Documents Archive and Collections Network (EDAC) convened for a virtual meeting on 17 October 2020. The focus of the meeting was discussions on how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected individual organisations and about the prospective 2021 EDAC conference. The Expatriate Archive Centre (EAC) is the Secretariat of EDAC. Kristine Racina, the director of the EAC, moderated the meeting.
EDAC members were asked to consider before the meeting how the pandemic has led to changes in their organisation, what they wished they knew before the pandemic started, and how the EDAC network can be of assistance. Countries across Europe have taken various measures at different times throughout the year to lockdown or otherwise restrict public attendance of institutions such as archives, museums, galleries, and libraries. The responses by the EDAC network organisations are likewise varied, but all show a great degree of resiliency.
One theme that emerged is how institutions had to quickly adapt to an absence or strict restriction of personnel, including volunteers. In some cases, such as at KADOC, Deutsche Tagebucharch, the EAC, and Prozhito, organisations were able to maintain workflow because staff, and volunteer in certain cases, could continue at home with certain projects. In fact, Prozhito reports participation increased because volunteers now work from home.
For EDAC network institutions that are housed within larger institutions, work could progress but at a different pace. One example is the Sammlung Frauennachlässe’s attachment with Universität Wien: though their workflow was mostly unaffected, access to the collection housed at the university was difficult through Spring 2020, which in turn affected teaching with those sources.
Unfortunately, some places were forced to close with little to no preparation, such as the Archivo Diaristico Nazionale. In this instance, workers brought home what work they could; all other work stopped entirely until the archive reopened in June 2020. The Nederlands Dagboekarchief can no longer invite readers or researchers, and the pandemic has also halted their cataloguing and other activities. Likewise, the Actualités du Patrimoine Autobiographique aux Archives et Musée de la Littérature (APA-AML) is housed within the Belgian Royal Library, which has been closed throughout the pandemic except for a reading room available only by reservation. Researchers at APA-AML were able to continue some of their work, thankfully, including some writing done during confinement about Belgian chroniclers. More of these can be found on the Fonds APA-AML website.
Gergely Kunt, describing his private collection as a “one-person mission to support Hungarian ego-documents,” reported an utter lack of institutional support and a national media that is no longer receptive to advertisements calling for ego-documents. There is a gulf of difference between Gergely’s experience and what state-supported institutions in EDAC are experiencing, even if the whole of the EDAC network found themselves struggling with some degree of change this year.
Keeping volunteers is another concern. Considerations for the health of older archival volunteers means many of them no longer come to institutions to help in person. In addition, older volunteers may need more training, and this isolation makes such training more difficult; however, a great benefit is that they have more time, and several EDAC institutions hope to see their elder volunteers return. In the event that volunteers do not return or that an institution’s need for volunteers changes while they still work remotely, how will volunteers be trained when they cannot be in the same space? There is a desire for best practices in such situations.
Another theme is a positive one: that some EDAC institutions took this change as an opportunity to focus on projects that would not have otherwise received much attention. For some, such as at KADOC, digitisation has been brought into the workflow as scan-on-demand and other projects continue. The Deutsche Tagebucharchiv noted their online catalogue is now complete, and Prozhito is developing a digital archive as well.
As people moved en masse to working online this year, some institutions found an opportunity to reach the public where they were spending most of their time: at their computer. The Association pour l’autobiographie et le Patrimoine Autobiographique (APA) decided early on to start a blog called ‘Vivres confinés‘ where people from all over France could submit contributions. In fact, the experience was positive enough that APA created a new blog called ‘Grains de sel‘ that gathers everyday experiences and individual cultural discoveries. The Deutsche Tagebucharchiv created an Instagram account that created enough of a following that the archive fielded several media requests. KADOC created a webpage for online exhibitions of some parts of their physical collection. The EAC created an initiative named Expatriate Life in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic calling for pandemic-related stories in any format; in an organisational first, the initiative information has been translated into 6 European languages.
Finally, another theme that applies to several organisations is the desire for personnel — whether volunteer or employed — experienced in virtual conferences and other events. Most EDAC network organisations had to move events online, if they were not postponed or outright cancelled. At the same time, there is acknowledgment that online events are no replacement for in-person conferences.
With this last thought in mind, the convened members of the EDAC network turned their focus to planning the 2021 conference. The Deutsche Tagebucharchiv kindly offered to host the conference in the city of Emmendingen, Germany. The EDAC members agreed that it would take place on 24-25 September 2020. The Deutsche Tagebucharchiv together with the EDAC Secretariat and Dutch Diary Archive will prepare the conference programme and share it with the EDAC members in Spring 2021.
Of course, everything will depend on the COVID-19 situation, and the possibility exists that the conference will move online. The EDAC Secretariat asks that any ideas and thoughts about the conference be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.