Archival records are priceless and as such they are considered a cultural monument. They constitute a small but most valuable part of current records and are of permanent significance for history, science and culture, as well as for the protection of legal interest of natural and legal persons. Their appearance had changed through time, and even today they come in different forms, bring different content, and can either be used in their original form or as reproductions.
About archival records
Archival records often changed their appearance through the centuries; even today they come in different forms, bring different content, and can be used either in their original form or as reproductions. Based on whether they are produced by legal or natural persons, we distinguish between public archival records, selected in accordance with written professional instructions out of documents created by entities under public law, and private archival records, declared as such by special decrees on the basis of previous documenting carried out by the competent archives.
According to data gathered in 2019, the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia manages 27.850 running metres of archival records, most of them documents on paper, but also some on parchment, microfilm, film tape and on other media. Archival records are arranged in 1932 archival fonds and collections. The earliest document preserved is the fragment of a pastoral text dating back to the second quarter of the 9th century. However, records preserved from the 12th century on (initially mostly parchment charters and manuscripts) run in a much more continuous manner.
Preserved among the holdings of the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia are:
- archival records created by the republic administrative authorities and other state bodies and by the former state or autonomous bodies of the province or of similarly high state level, which had their seat in the territory of Slovenia and exercised administrative and legal jurisdiction over its entire territory (from 15th century on);
- archival records created by bodies, organizations and associations in the field of economy, banking, health and social security service, education, culture and science, whose operations covered the entire territory of today’s Slovenia or its former provinces (from 16th century on);
- archival records created by land seigniories, families or individuals, important for the course of Slovenian history (from 13th century on);
- archival records in collections: charters (from 12th century on), manuscripts (from 9th century on), land registers (from 18th century on), cadastres (from 18th century on), plans (from 18th century on).
Slovenian film archival heritage is preserved by the Slovenian Film Archives, which operates as an organization unit within the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia. Included in its collection are films spanning from the 1905 film recordings, shot by one of the pioneers of Slovenian filmmaking Dr. Karol Grossman, to a more contemporary film production of feature, short, documentary and animated films. During its fifty-year existence, Slovenian Film Archives has managed to collect and preserve over 90 percent of Slovenian film production.
Processing of achival records
Making archival records available to the public is the fundamental task of every archival institution, and processing of archival records for this purpose is the fundamental task of every archivist. But archivists carry out a number of other duties as well. Especially important are the ones linked to the preservation of archival records prior to their transfer into archives (so-called “external service”). Once the records are transferred into archives, archivists tend to focus more on preservation and protection of records (“repository services”) and making such records available for use (“reading room service”).
Processing of archival records consists of three basic steps: arrangement of records, their description and compilation of finding aids, in a wider sense also publishing of archival records, especially so-called scientific publishing.
Upon their release to archival institution, records are supposed to already be properly arranged according to a certain method, determined by their creator – legal or natural person that produced them. When this is not the case, records need to be arranged by us archivists in archival institutions. If possible and practical, we reconstruct the original arrangement first determined by the creator (the principle of original order), and if not, we follow the internal organizational structure of the creator and the types of records dictated by its work operations at certain times in the past.
Although processing of archival records is considered one of the most challenging and complex tasks of any archival work, it is from the point of view of archival science also one of the most interesting ones.
It requires a detailed knowledge of archival theory as well as of some other aspects of history – especially of the development of Slovenian administrative and judicial authorities from the Middle Ages onwards, also needed is a good command of history of law, archival legislation, and of operation and internal organization of entities under public law in the field of administration, judicature, economy, etc., both in the past and today. The fact that almost all archival records in Slovenian archives created prior to 1918 are written in German (some also in Italian or Latin) poses an additional challenge for Slovenian archivists. Processing of records created from the Late Middle Ages until Baroque is especially complex, since particularities in the script and in the German language of that time are a challenge even for our colleagues in Austrian and German archives.
The purpose of this task is to extract and prepare quality information about our archival holdings in order to facilitate their accessibility and use by our users – either users undertaking research in the field of history, geography, ethnologic studies, history of art, linguistics etc., or those searching for documents or data needed to prove their legal rights. Use of archival holdings and collections brings results that can be strictly scientific in nature, or they can also be of cultural, educational, informative, or practical character.
Processing of archival records consists of three steps: arrangement of records, their description and compilation of finding aids that help facilitate their use. Upon their release to archival institution, archival records are supposed to already be properly arranged. Records are arranged if they preserve the internal structure and arrangement determined by their creator – legal or natural person that produced them, and if records creator had a well-regulated records management. When such arrangement is not preserved, records need to be arranged by us archivists in archival institutions according to their content, type, time frame and according to different functions and tasks performed by their creators. It is important here that relations between individual documents are not broken and that they remain intact.
The second stage of processing is the description of previously arranged records. By describing them, we categorize the outer properties of archival or descriptive units (writing material, amount and size …) as well as their inner properties (title, content, language, time of creation …). Description is directed from general towards specific: from fonds-level description (describing the entire body of archival records produced by one legal or natural person) and collection-level description, to descriptions at the level of subfonds, series, aggregation of records and individual records.
In both cases, the list of records, which in itself is a primary finding aid, has to include some basic and standardized data called “elements of description”. Obligatory elements of description are:
- reference code – unique combination of letters and numbers used to systematically position a unit of description to a specific place in archival storage or to a specific position within the archival fonds or collection to which it belongs (eg. AS 1100, 7, 49(6), where AS 1100 is the number of the fonds at the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia, 7 is the number of a technical unit, and 49(6) is the number of the original technical unit, and this is the location where a particular file that is the subject of description is currently kept;
- title or content of a unit of description – at fonds-level description, the title is usually a creator’s name, for example Imperial Royal Office for Protection of Monuments, to which we add thematic sections that narrow down the content of the records included, for example church restoration, post-earthquake rebuilding, Roman tombstones, etc.; at file-level description, we concisely state the content of our unit of description, for example Komenda, restoration of the parish church;
- time of creation - usually it is sufficient to put down the year in which records were created or a certain time span if documents in our unit of description were created over the course of many years;
- extent – the number of pieces or technical units (such as boxes, fascicles) and running metres – such data is usually entered only at fonds and collection-level descriptions.
The chosen level of description determines the type of a finding aid produced for a more efficient search through archival holdings; lists of fonds and collections are usually included in archival guides, whereas lists of files and items are included in archival inventories.
Archival institutions compile different types of archival guides. The most general ones are guides to fonds and collections, where users can find basic information about the fonds and collections held by a particular archival institution. In addition to general information about the content of each fonds or collection, guides of this kind also provide short information about the function and activities of legal or natural persons that created them, information about the method of determining internal structure of fonds and formation of collections, about the time of transfer of archival records into archives, and about the extent of such records and time of their creation. Also included is the information on different finding aids users can consult to obtain more detailed information about the records included in a particular fonds or collection; such finding aids are lists of records, archival guides and archival inventories. It is important that fonds and collections in such guides are arranged systematically, which usually means arrangement according to basic areas of work (for example administrative bodies, judicial bodies, organizations in the field of culture, education, health care service, etc.). The last archival guide published by the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia in paper form and titled “The Guide to Fonds and Collections of the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia” was published in three large volumes in 1999. In recent years the electronic version of the archival guide in form of a database is being used.
The Archives of the Republic of Slovenia publishes other types of archival guides as well, such as thematic guides which concentrate on one specific type of archival records; records described may be kept within one fonds or collection, or in several different fonds and collections within one archival institution, or they may even be kept in archival holdings of several different archival institutions (an example of such thematic guide is a guide to rent-rolls, guide to birth, marriage and death registers, etc.). Also published are guides to archival material preserved in archives outside Slovenia that contain data important for the history of Slovenia and Slovenians.
Compilation of archival inventories is a priority task for the majority of archivists. Inventories are finding aids that offer users further information about the content and time of the creation of records within one particular fonds or collection (only exceptionally within several different fonds and collections).
In a wider sense, the task of processing archival records also includes the publishing of such records, particularly the so-called scientific publishing. For each such document a concise summary of its content (regest) is prepared, which must also contain data on the person issuing the document and the one receiving it, as well as data on the time, place and purpose of issuing such a document. Apart from comprehensive historical study, such scientific publications need also include footnotes with comments explaining content or context of records, and end with alphabetic indexes (index of persons, places, subjects, legal entities etc.). Scientific publications are prepared only for documents that are of special importance due to their rarity and content or due to the fact that their frequent use is putting them in danger of getting damaged. These are mostly unique documents of older date (charters and records issued by nation’s prominent personalities – rulers and their representatives, higher nobility, etc.), which bear witness to important historical events. Archivists capable of compiling such quality scientific studies are due to numerous special skills needed to complete this task, rather hard to find, both in Slovenia as well as abroad.