Tangible history: Main Archive Department of Moscow makes copies of historical documents

June 21

Solid tables in a small room illuminated by spotlights.  Each of them has a platform with a powerful camera inside. With the help of these devices, the Main Archive Department of Moscow creates a Security Fund of unique and highly valuable documents. The originals are filmed, as today it is a more reliable storing method than a digital copy. Experts call these copies shots. Negative images are sent to a special restricted storage, while you may freely use positive images at the Main Archive Department of Moscow's reading room. Hundreds of thousands of letters, books, newspapers, layouts, drawings and photographs have already been copied in the laboratory for preservation of archival documents. To date, more than 20 million shots have been made. But according to the Main Archive, it is only a small part of what is to be copied.

800 shots per day

Over the years, the microfilming process at the Main Archive Department of Moscow has become almost automatic. First, experts make a test shot to make sure that the camera is configured correctly. Then the hard work begins: each document should be carefully spread out and photographed with various exposures (to choose a final version of the highest quality). After all, it is not a digital format, you cannot Photoshop it, so it is necessary to do it right. Microfilming Department's employees have a huge experience, so it is an easy job for them, as all of them have been working at the Main Archive for many years and they make about 800 shots every day.

Yelena Plekhanova, 1st class process engineer, told that, during the 13 years of her experience, she has encountered highly valuable and unique documents. In particular, a draft of Mikhail Bulgakov's work and a 16th century Bible.

By sense of touch

Each film has 400 shots. It must be reloaded in complete darkness, otherwise it will get exposed. Microfilming Department team do it by touch. They say it takes less than a minute to reload the camera.

For an average megacity resident, a film is an outlived rarity, as today everything gets digitalised. But competent people know that a film is still a more reliable carrier, since under the proper conditions, it may last for more than 100 years. Besides, film carriers do not depend on power supply.

"Just imagine a man-made disaster, a power outage. Rescuers take a film with this building's layout, and it provides them a possibility to navigate in arrangement of rooms and communications. But they must have special equipment to see the film image," says Natalya Kulak, Chief Expert of the Microfilming Department.

By the way, the Archive Department is engaged in digital copying as well, but copies are made not instead of analogue ones, but to supplement them. In addition, the Main Archive has been developing a customer's fund simultaneously with the Security Fund. Copies from this fund are available in the reading room, so as to prolong the life of the originals.

White gloves and degree of complexity

According to the laboratory personnel, the Main Archive Department have not yet taken advantage of the Security fund, since there were no floods,  fires, or other emergencies happened. "If we have a microfilm of a document, in case of loss of the original we can make a paper or digital film copy. Occasionally, the Main Archive receives partially damaged documents. They experts restore them," the Main Archive Department explains.

White cloth gloves are obligatory in handling high-profile documents.  You cannot touch relics with bare hands. There is a gradation of the degree of damage to the document: from 1 to 6, where 6 are well-preserved specimens, and 1 corresponds to completely dilapidated ones.

"For example, this document is considered to be dilapidated, as its edges are bent and torn in places, its text is written in pencil and looks rather unclear. But we have to microfilm it without losing any information. So we should gently unbend all the creases, smooth it over and shoot it for several times with different settings," Natalya Kulak shows an old letter and explains.

240 meters in 5 minutes

After shooting, the film is placed in a light-tight container and took away for photochemical treatment, or development. In a dark room, it gets reloaded into the cassette and connected to the film leader, and the developing machine starts. The film passes through the developer, fixing solution and cleaning water.

"To facilitate the process, several films may be combined: one cassette takes up to eight films, or 240 meters. Development is a quick process, it takes about five minutes," explains leading expert Nikolai Semiletnikov.

Cool and reliable

We go down to the basement housing some of the Main Archive's holdings. There are spools with the microfilm negatives on the shelves. It is very cold compared to other rooms, as the negatives need to be stored in proper conditions, namely at about +15°C and about 50% humidity. It is a permanent storage place for film carriers. There is a lot of painstaking and important work ahead. The Main Archive has been shooting microfilms for over 10 years, but at the moment just a small part of archival documents has been shot.

Citizens are also allowed to take part in backing up past days. The Archive holds a free 'Moscow Cares for History' campaign, where every Moscow resident can hand over documents related to the Great Patriotic War to have them preserved as a microfilm.

Source: mos.ru

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