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  5. SOIS Archives Students Help Save a German Archives

SOIS Archives Students Help Save a German Archives SOIS Archives Students Help Save a German Archives

For one week in July 2009, six SOIS students and recent graduates had the unique opportunity to help with the recovery effort at the largest European municipal historical archives north of the Alps, in Cologne, Germany. On March 3rd, 2009 the Historischen Archivs der Stadt Köln (Historical Archives of the City of Cologne) collapsed, killing two residents in an adjacent apartment building and damaging historical records. The archives held records dating from 922 AD to the present. Since the collapse there has been a continuous rescue and preservation effort to save the historical materials. Due to the scope of the disaster the group played a big part in getting the archives back on its feet and in the same time learning about important aspects in archival theory.

 The SOIS group gained practical, hands-on experience in preservation and disaster recovery. When the group arrived on July 20th, it received an initial debriefing from the German archivist. The group learned about the original archives and the site where the building collapsed. It is now a pit where records damaged by ground water were still being recovered in July. The SOIS group worked at the school-turned recovery area directly across from the pit. The two main stations which housed SOIS volunteers were nicknamed “Waschington” and “Packistan” by archives staff and volunteers. The wet, muddy and sometimes moldy recovered records were put into crates and then brought to “Waschington,” where the group and other volunteers gently washed them with water to remove most of the mud. From “Waschington” they were then taken to “Packistan” were the students wrapped (packed) and inventoried the records which were then taken to be frozen.

 One student on the trip, Colleen McCorkell, was struck by the similarities and differences between archives, no matter their location. “It was an invaluable experience to be involved with the recovery process and observe how the archives staff hopes to resolve some of the looming issues in the coming years,” said McCorkell. “It was also encouraging to see the international archival community come to their aid. I look forward to seeing how the recovery process continues to move forward in the coming years and the larger lessons the archival community takes away from the Cologne Archives disaster.”

 Despite the full days doing recovery work, the group did have time to explore Cologne, its cathedral and museums, and to take trips to the nearby cities of Bonn and Düsseldorf.

The recovery trip was possible through partial scholarships from SOIS, and lodging and food was provided for volunteers by the Cologne government. Katie Blank, Special Librarian for SOIS and Archival Studies Program Assistant arranged and led the trip, and students, Sarah Ethier, Colleen McCorkell, Tanya Shelton-Council, Matt Shoemaker, and May 2009 SOIS graduate Adam Zimmerli all participated in the recovery work.