Monday, September 5, 2011

American Lithuanian Archives & Libraries Conference

Lithuanian Research and Studies Center
Close to 60 people gathered in Chicago on Labor Day weekend, September 3-4, 2011 to discuss issues around the preservation of Lithuanian archives and, to a lesser degree, libraries. At least 7 of the speakers were from Lithuania, the rest of the participants were mostly from the Chicago area and Washington DC, with other key players from Putnam, CT, Baltimore, and other places.

It is a strange feeling to sit for two whole days and listen to information vital to your research in a language you don’t quite understand. I have never studied Lithuanian, just know that it is similar to Latvian, and that some words that sound like Latvian words have different meanings. Like “mokslo,” which is like “maksla” or “art” in Latvian, but means “research” in Lithuanian. Or “kambarys” – sounds like “kambaris” or “closet” in Latvian, but means “room.” It was a mental exercise to listen intently to a couple of dozen speakers at this Lithuanian archive and library conference, and see if I can get a gist of what they are saying. Often I would catch a phrase like “where the problem lies,” but then would not get the problem itself. There were certain cadences to the language that sounded familiar, especially when people started arguing. I was lucky that on the first day, before the conference started, I had talked to a musicologist Loreta, who was very willing to translate main points to me. I had the program in partial translation, so I knew who was speaking, what organization they were representing, and what their topic was supposed to be. I seemed to understand more of what was said by the émigré Lithuanians, than from the officials from Lithuania. I asked questions during the breaks and had dinner in English with two of the organizers, who helped fill in many of the gaps. On the second day I had another translator. 
Dale Lukas, Rolandas Kačinskas,
Antanas Gražulis, Robertas Vitas

This conference was organized by Dale Lukas (Lukiene), chair of the American Lithuanian Archives Committee, whom I met around 15 years ago at an AABS conference. She is also one of the people responsible for compiling an extensive list of Lithuanian Archives and Libraries in the US that I have been using as a guide to my research. Much of the information I want to put into my directory is already there. I just have a slightly different take on these collections, will be organizing the information differently, and want to visit the major collections, so I can accurately reflect what is available to researchers. Plus I am asking questions about available databases and online tools. Though she was not the first to speak, in her introductory remarks Dale talked about Lithuanian immigration history being more than 100 years old and that a lot of things have been created over those years to preserve that history, and that they need to continue to preserve it. Her goals for the conference were to get people together to talk about what can be done, what problems they face. She was also interested in making the community aware that archives need to be preserved and that the community will need to support these efforts with time and resources. Dale has also started the conversation with the archives in Lithuania and hopes that there can be an exchange of specialists and researchers, organized workshops, and common guidelines, methodologies, standards.

The conference was opened by Robertas Vitas, the chair of the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center (LRSC) and our host. The conference was held in the very comfortable café of the Center. Robert remarked that the Lithuanian nation doesn’t just exist in Lithuania, but it exists wherever there are Lithuanians that are active, where there is a Lithuanian consciousness. He believes archives and libraries too should exist wherever there are Lithuanians and argues strongly against sending everything to Lithuania, as someone had recently proposed in a letter to the newspaper Draugas. Robertas believes in the Global Nation – a concept I saw repeated throughout the conference. Rolandas Kačinskas, representing the Lithuanian embassy in the US, addressed the conference and encouraged everyone to work together.

The first presenter was Ramojus Kraujelis, Lithuania’s chief archivist. He gave an overview of Lithuanian archives, and his PowerPoint slides contained the structure of their archival system, which I will have to get and translate. I wish the wireless had worked in that room, as I could have taken phrases from his slides and put them into Google Translate and gotten a better sense of what he said. I believe his presentation will answer many of my questions and give me the structure of archives in Lithuania that I want to describe in my handbook. (I brought in my more powerful laptop on the second day and was able to connect to the wireless and do some translations.)

The next presenter was Mirga Giriuviene, the director of the American Lithuanian Cultural Archive (ALKA) in Putnam, CT that I visited in June. Even before she got the PowerPoint slides going, I could actually understand what she was talking about, as I had seen it all with my own eyes. The woman next to me claimed that this was the biggest and best Lithuanian archive. After seeing the collection in the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center the following day, I doubt ALKA is the largest, but it was definitely impressive when I visited. They are still making a decision on which cataloging system to use. I believe that Mirga was able to talk to Irene from the Balzekas Museum library that has chosen a less expensive version of the cataloging system used in Lithuanain public libraries.

Augustinas Idzelis, a historian and philosopher, placed the whole archive conversation withina historical space. He quoted Lithuanian philosopher Juozus Girnius, that has described the history of a nation as its roots, Lithuania itself being the trunk with branches all over the world. If we cut off the branches, we lose the history of Lithuanians in the U.S. I was told this was an eloquent argument against sending all materials back to Lithuania. He also spoke about the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center, its collections, programs and issues. Though I did not understand much from his presentation, I saw the extensive collections Sunday, and plan to return and get a tour in English with more detailed explanation of their work.

After lunch we heard from Dalius Žižys, the director of the Lithuania Central State Archive in Vilnius. He described their archive, and if I understood correctly, they have the historical collection from the first independence through the second independence 1918 until 1990. I will get the details later, but I assume they divide up responsibilities like they do in Latvia, with a historical collection and then the ongoing collection. I understood that they keep all their documents in a climate controlled environment and are working on digitizing the most important and most requested or useful documents. I believe I heard 700 million pages have already been scanned. (I have to find out what kind of numbers make sense to quote when talking about digitizing. I figured out that at work we just scanned about 20,000 pages for 50 years worth of the journal Reading Horizons in a few months this spring and summer – in between other projects.) They are also digitizing films, sound recordings, and photographs. Director Žižys demonstrated their database, that can be searched by topic and documents can be browsed, bringing up images of the actual document. They are still resolving security issues with this database, so it is not available online, just within the archive.

Church at the Lithuanian
Next up was Stanley Balzekas, the president of the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Cultural and I understood everything, because he spoke in English! He explained that the museum was established 45 years ago and that every museum needs a library, which is why they started collecting books and archives to support their collection. He has been on the board of the Chicago Public Library and is well connected in Chicago. He is a visionary and asks questions like what will people want 25 years from now. He encouraged giving scholarships to students studying humanities and using Lithuanian libraries and archives. He believes collections should be live and may need to specialize. He talked about getting advice from the Field Museum, so I believe the Balzekas Museum is also one of those Chicago cultural organizations that get support from the city like the Chicago Latvian Museum. There were at least three employees from the Balzekas museum at this conference – Rita Janz, the director, Irene Pumputiene, the librarian that I have met previously, and Karile Vaikute, the genealogist. I talked a bit with Karile, and she explained that her role is mainly as a link between people researching their families and Lithuania, explaining the Lithuanian language and name endings and how archives work in Lithuania. They also have a collection of obituaries from Lithuanian and American sources, as well as books about regions of Lithuania.

Vytautas Žalys, the Foreign Ministry Ambassador at Large, a role I do not quite understand, addressed the topic of Lithuanian Archives owned by other countries. I understood him to say, that the Lithuanian governmental archives were just established in 2009, though I am sure governmental materials have always been collected, maybe they became more active a few years ago. Ambassador Žalys did address an interesting question about Lithuanian archives that are scattered throughout the world because of history. Some of the oldest archives are located in Russia, because Russia governed Lithuanian lands for so many years. Some are in Germany, especially concerning the territory of Klaipeda. During wars, archives get stolen or moved, e.g. the allied powers divided documents they found in Germany, so Lithuanian documents could be anywhere.

The first day of the conference ended with a discussion about a new American Lithuanian archive and research center. Robertas Vitas gave the background and explained the proposed project. I will need to get a translation of his article in Draugas, before I dare set down any details, but this is a huge project that will need the support of the whole Lithuanian community. After the introduction by Robertas, a panel of stakeholders expressed their opinions, and as I was told later, all of them supported the idea in pricinciple, as long as funding is found for the project. The panel included Stanley Balzekas, Gediminas Deveikis from the scout archive and museum, Dalia Cidzikaite from the newspaper Draugas, Rimas Griskelis from the Lithuanian Foundation, Giedrius Subacius from the Lithuanian Studies Department at University of Illinois at Chicago, Skaiste Aniuliene, from the Lithuanian general consulate, and Vytautas Žalys, Ambassador at Large. Many other participants rose to make comments or ask questions, and my sense was that most of the concerns were about financing a project of this magnitude.

My day ended with a delightful discussion of the Lithuanian and Latvian communities in English over Chicago deep dish pizza with Robertas Vitas and Vytas Beleška. They filled in a lot of gaps on what I had not understood in the day’s proceedings and gave me some background information about the need for the new Center. I see the need and wish them the best of luck in realizing this vision.

Ramojus Kraujelis, Daiva Barzdukiene
Daiva Barzdukiene is from the Library of Congress where she acquired Lithuanian materials (among other responsibilities) before she retired. She is now working with the Lithuanian World Community to document Lithuanian archives. Her set of handouts is  very valuable, and will be even more so when I can get them translated into English. They consist of:
  • Guidelines for Lithuanian archives around the world, including what kinds of materials should be preserved
  • Detailed description of what personal documents should be kept – biographical, correspondence, memoirs, creative materials, ecnomic, etc.
  • List of institutions with archives of Lithuanians abroad
  • List of institutions in Lithuania that may be accepting archives from the emigre community in the future 
  • List of major Lithuanian libraries and museums and their specialties
  • Sample of survey questions asked of archives.
I was able to talk to Daiva before her presentation and she explained that Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas received a grant to document archives of Lithuanians that have gone abroad. They sent surveys out to 300 Lithuanian institutions and have received 30 responses from collections that have these archives and 50 institutions that report that they do not have these types of materials. They have five doctoral students who will be visiting all the larger institutions to compile this data, where the staff is too busy to do so. The plan is to put all of this information into a unified database, so if someone is researching a particular person or organization, they will be able to look up all the places that have some archival material on this person or organization. I believa Daiva will be a very important contact for me while I work on gathering information for my handbook. I was not planning on providing that level of detail – what archives are where, but I definitely want to point to any lists or databases that provide this information.

Maryte (is this like the Latvian Marite?) Patlaba talked about the oldest Lithuanian library in the U.S., the Baltimore Lithuanian House Library and Archive, established in 1908. They have about 5000 books and have revived activities after a 10 year hiatus. Someone pointed out that this has one of the best local community archives – about Lithuanians of Baltimore.  I will definitely have to visit this collection.

Gediminas Deveikis is the chair of the Lithuanian Scout Association archive & museum, which is located in the Lithuanian center in Lamont, IL. I believe this was the center I visited in 1989 and was told that this center was purchased, when a large portion of the Lithuanians moved out to the southwestern suburbs. Deveikis explained the archive was started in 1980, formally established in 1984 and in 2005 they published a catalog of the collection -  Lietuviu skautu sajunga archyvo-muziejaus katalogas. (I looked it up and the only copy in WorldCat is at the Library of Congress. They have four people working on the archive on Tuesdays and have close to 300 banker’s boxes of materials. There is a fund that supports their work, but the are running out of room and the rent has gone up too much. They would like to digitize their collection.

Vytas Beleška is the manager of the music archive at the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center (LRSC), as well as a musician himself.  He explained what was in the archive, but also talked about new technologies, the online environment, being able to transfer sound and video recordings to new digital technologies that take up little space, thus resolving many of the physical preservation issues, as well as solving the question on whether things need to be kept here or sent to Lithuania. He also talked about uses of Web 2.0 and social networking for disseminating archives, though he admitted those are labor intensive activities. He gave an example of Lithuania getting ready to host the European basketball championship. Vytas has put up on the LRSC Facebook page a video clip from 1939, where Lithuania trounced Finland. He also talked of cloud computing, storing materials on other people’s servers “in the cloud.” The one time I commented was to say that digitizing was not preserving, and that a preservation plan has to be created for migrating digitized materials to constantly new technologies.

Daiva Kapkute and Dalia Kuziniene, fellows at the Lithuanian Emigration Institute in Kaunas, spoke about their institute. (I heard about this at the conference in Germany.) „Its main purpose is to collect, study, preserve, and exhibit the archival materials that constitute the cultural, political, and scholarly heritage of the Lithuanian diaspora, embracing both organizations and individuals.” From their website. The Institute supports the Center for Lithuanian Diaspora Studies at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas. They publish books, a journal and organize conferences, seminars and exhibits. They talked of having a single database with information about what is available in all archives, but I did not think to ask if this was the same project described by Daiva Barzdukiene. They were sitting together at one table, so I will assume that it is the same

The last session of the conference was a potpourri of U.S. Lithuanian organization archives and their activities.

Dale Lukiene from the American Lithuanian Archive committee spoke about sending  letters to 60 organizations asking about their archives and has received 3 responses so far. She also pointed out the Lithuanian World Archives list on the LRSC site.

Rimas Griškelis spoke about the Lithuanian Foundation and the issues they have with their own archives. He made the observation that documentation of their organization and others may be more in English as language skills decline. They publish a history of the foundation on major anniversaries – 10, 25, etc. They regularly support organizations such as the LRSC.

Saulius Kuprys spoke about Amerikos Lietuviu Taryba (ALT) or Lithuanian American Council, founded in 1915 and representing the interests of the Lithuanian-American community and cooperating with Latvians and Estonians. Their archival material is distributed in various places including the LRSC and Balzekas Museum, some was in Connecticut, where they had a fire. The Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) archives are at the Immigration History Research Center in MN.

Skirmante Miglinas showing a 1908 newspaper
Daile Cidzikaite discussed the largest Lithuanian newspaper  Draugas that has been published for over 100 years. Lituanus printed an article about Draugas, when it had its 100th anniversary in 2009 by Danguole Kyvlis, another librarian I met some years ago. She has compiled a list of where Draugas is to be found, though it sounds like there may not be a complete set of the newspaper anywhere. The newspaper has been partially microfilmed and the Library of Congress has the largest set of these microfilms. People at Mazvydas have been indexing the paper since 1990, and the Saturday cultural supplement has been indexed since 1973. Mazvydas will be digitizing all the issues of Draugas that they have. Some of them are online at These are the kinds of things I want to clarify, so researchers know where to go.

After the conference we had the opportunity to take a tour of the various collections in the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center. I will definitely return to have a private tour and explanations in English, but it was definitely an impressive collection. They have around 115,000 books in the library, extensive archives in many different rooms, a music collection, a medical museum and archive, and museum showcases along one long corridor as well as throughout the building of crosses, amber, military gear, medals, stamps, a folk costume, crafts and much more.

I still have a lot to learn, but I am thankful I found out about this conference and was able to attend, as I now have some idea of the Lithuanian archive and library situation. They may have many issues to resolve, but I am afraid that both the Lithuanians and Estonians are way ahead of American Latvians in preserving their archives.

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