How do we save the archives?

Author: Karin Lokrantz Nilsson 2022

For several years, the Kalmar County Archives Association (KLAF) has observed signs of individual archives being “hidden” or forgotten. Over the years, the county archivist has received emails from associations in the county whose archives were at risk of disappearing completely. The common thread among these association or company archives is that they had their archival documents stored in a facility owned by the municipality or the company. Due to space constraints or the closure of a business, there has been an urgent need to find storage for the documents, as the facility needs to be emptied. They have sought help from the municipality or their local archives association to avoid having to dispose of the archival documents.

A significant problem is that there are areas in the county where locally active associations and companies do not have access to an archival institution where they can submit their archived material for long-term storage. KLAF, as a nonprofit organization, has a regional mandate to coordinate activities and development of individual and public archives in Kalmar County.

There are several examples of situations that can arise due to this lack of space, where KLAF has been involved in providing advice or solutions, and I have chosen to highlight some of them.


The Friend Association Lettlands Vänner
KLAF received an email from a woman whose mother had been active in the Friend Association Lettlands Vänner and who now had over 20 years’ worth of documents in a moving box with archive boxes in her attic. The mother was about to sell her house, so the documents could not remain there. The daughter wondered if there was any archival institution in the county that could take care of the documents, as she did not want to throw them away.

The Friend Association Lettlands Vänner was started around 1988 and ceased operations in 2021. They had members throughout Småland and worked for a municipality in Latvia. The association was a charitable organization that collected materials from companies and healthcare facilities in Kalmar County that were needed in Latvia. This ranged from furniture and hospital beds to clothes, toys, and more. They also collaborated with schools and churches in Latvia.

In this case, we have a relative who recognizes the importance of preserving both her mother’s and the association’s history and activities. Archival documents take up space, and if they are to be preserved properly, the archive should be submitted to an archival institution that can take care of it and manage it correctly. What do we do next time someone contacts us to hand over documents, and we don’t have the ability to accept them? Or when there is no relative aware of the important role of archives as part of our shared cultural heritage? Then we may not be as fortunate, and there is a high risk that the archive will be discarded.


Emergency Operation at Ljungdahl’s Envelope Factory in Nybro
Ljungdahl’s envelope factory was founded by Sture Ljungdahl in 1915 and was a major employer in Nybro at the time. The Ljungdahl family ran both a bookstore and the production of stationery and envelopes. Sture Ljungdahl was CEO until 1953 when his eldest son took over. In 1981, Ljungdahl’s envelope factory was the third-largest in Europe and employed up to 800 people. The company was a family business until 1987 when it was sold to Munksjö AB, and in 1997, Bong AB in Kristianstad took over the business. Bong AB still has its administration in Nybro but has moved the production to Kristianstad.

Sture Ljungdahl was very concerned about the health of his employees and established both a tennis court and a fitness facility with a pool, sauna, gym, and table tennis – activities that are still in use today. The archive contains documents showing that Ljungdahl’s cared for its employees in other ways as well, including a sickness fund for those who were unable to work for various reasons. Ljungdahl’s also had its own music band – Ljungdahl’s Music Band. This speaks volumes about the company’s community involvement and drive in Nybro municipality. Many residents of Nybro have a connection to Ljungdahl’s envelope factory, either knowing someone who worked there or having worked in the administration or on the factory floor themselves.

At the end of November 2019, a phone call came from staff at Nybro Municipal Archives. They had been asked if they wanted to take over the records from Ljungdahl’s envelope factory, an archive of approximately 40 meters of shelving. The relocation of the archive needed to take place before the end of the year, otherwise, the entire archive would be discarded.

I and the staff at Nybro Municipal Archives discussed how to proceed. The municipality could only accommodate 10 meters of shelving. We asked ourselves if there were other institutions that might be interested in receiving parts of the archive or if any archival institution could accept the entire archive. We contacted archival institutions and museums primarily in Kalmar County but also throughout Sweden, but we didn’t get any positive response.

The entire archive was located in the old premises of Ljungdahl’s envelope factory; the majority was found downstairs in a basement bomb shelter. Here, we found minutes from the 1950s to the 1970s, bound annual reports, cash books, employee newsletters, correspondence, agreements, and films about Ljungdahl’s envelope factory and the development of Nybro. There were also large map and drawing cabinets with machine drawings and numerous product catalogs. Upstairs in a storage room, there were posters, manuscripts, source material for employee newsletters, patent applications, loan documents, and more. On the same floor, there was also an office with personnel records, trade union records, financial accounts, and construction drawings.

I went to Nybro on December 19, 2019, and together with the staff of the municipal archives, we conducted an initial rough inventory of the archive. A second inventory was conducted in mid-January 2020. Together, we discussed what was important to preserve to reflect the operations of the company and what was important for future research. We realized that there would be no opportunity to conduct a more thorough inventory, appraisal process, and relocation of the archive before the end of the year. We received a two-week extension to complete our work.

How would we handle this? The municipality could only accommodate a quarter of the material. Ideally, the archive would have remained intact, collected in one place, such as a regional archive depot in Kalmar County, to ensure safe preservation and intact provenance. In this case, the solution was different.


Eastern Småland Mission Society
In early May 2022, my phone rang, and on the other end was the voice of an employee at a municipal archive who had received an inquiry about accepting the archive from the Eastern Småland Mission Society. The archive in question turned out to be between 10 and 20 meters of shelving, and several of the documents were in folio format, meaning they took up extra space. The municipal archive counted and counted and concluded that if the archive and its documents were packed tightly, they could accept a maximum of 17 meters of shelving. If the municipal archive chose to accept the entire archive, their archival space would be completely filled, and there would be no space left to accept archives from other associations.

The question was posed to the association if the situation was urgent and if they needed to submit their documents due to a lack of space, but this was not the case. The association had its own space, but they wanted to submit their archival documents to an archival institution as they believed that the documents would be better preserved in a secure manner. In an approved archival space, the documents would be protected against fires, floods, moisture damage, and theft. By submitting the documents to an archival institution, the association believed that the information would be secured for the future and contribute to preserving cultural heritage and the history of the association. There would also be the possibility to promote the archive and make it accessible for potential research.

Here we have an example of an association that wants to submit its material but cannot do so due to space constraints at the receiving municipal archive.

KLAF’s recommendation was for the association to contact the Regional State Archives in Vadstena and inquire if they had the possibility to accept the material. If the Regional State Archives could not accommodate the material, we asked the association to “sit tight” for a while and informed them of our plans to establish a county archive depot.


Preliminary Study of County Archive Depot in Kalmar County
KLAF is working towards establishing a county archive depot in Kalmar County by the year 2026. A preliminary study starting in the fall of 2022 will investigate the needs, prerequisites, and criteria for a county-wide and coordinated solution for individual archives from associations, county organizations, and dissolved companies within Kalmar County. The study will also provide concrete proposals on how and where a county archive depot can be physically established and what resources and expertise are required to do so. A county archive depot contributes to preventing valuable archival material from being lost. The goal is to safely preserve and provide access to the archival material in an approved archival facility.

A county archive depot is intended to complement the occasions where individual archival institutions are not sufficient. The depot will not take over archives that are already preserved at individual archival institutions, nor will it accept archival material that already has a designated place at any of the archival institutions in the county. The work on establishing a county archive depot in Kalmar County is a long-term ongoing project that we do not expect to complete for several years. KLAF is exploring several solutions for future archival arrangements in parallel with the preliminary study.


The Importance of Volunteer Efforts in Preserving Our Shared Cultural Heritage
The initiatives of associations and individuals are important when archival material is to be preserved and submitted to an archival institution. KLAF, as the regional archives association, must do better at harnessing the positive forces that exist and encourage and support them. Associations are crucial for preserving our cultural heritage!

How do we make a hidden archive accessible to Linus Persson or Anna Lindström, whose grandfather or grandmother worked at the workshop in the envelope factory or was active in a local association in the area?

Today, it is someone’s daughter who, at best, notices the material, but what happens in the next generation when children or grandchildren find moving boxes in their grandmother’s attic or basement filled with old association documents that they know nothing about? There is a significant risk that it will be deemed “old junk” and thrown away, thereby losing valuable history that says a lot about the time we live in.

KLAF is keen for associations’ documents to be submitted to an archival institution to be secured and preserved for the future. We constantly struggle with questions about how associations can become aware of the opportunity to submit archival material to an archival institution, and who will take on the task of informing the association community?

Archival institutions for association and company archives exist throughout Sweden. If you or your relatives find archival material at home, for example, at your grandmother’s, contact an archival institution!


Factual Information About the Kalmar County Archives Association (KLAF)
KLAF is a nonprofit organization with a regional mandate to coordinate activities and development of individual and public archives in Kalmar County. The mandate is part of the cultural mission of the Kalmar County Region within the cultural collaboration model.

KLAF has members that include both folk movement and association archives (archival institutions), individual and regional associations, municipalities, and special archives.

KLAF has a total staff resource divided among three individuals (85%). The county archivist currently works 50% and is responsible for ensuring archival expertise. She is also responsible for implementation, planning, coordination, and competence development for the member associations and organizations (36 members in 2022).