PMC Archives Report

Robert Górski and Anna Czajka, visiting archival specialists at the PMC this summer

For the past few years the PMC has collaborated extensively with the National Archives in Warsaw on projects related to creating databases and cataloguing our unique collections as well as scanning and preserving many hundreds of rare and precious items that have been entrusted to us by many different donors over the past 12 years.

Dr. Monika Płuciennik (right) was the first archivist to visit us in June 2014. Her month long visit resulted in the creation of archival catalogues for the Henry Vars [Henryk Wars] and Bronisław Kaper Collections. Following her visit, PMC Asst. Director Krysta Close spent a month training with Płuciennik at her branch of the National Archives in Gdańsk, learning details of the cataloging system. Then, for six weeks in October and November 2015, the PMC hosted Dr. Robert Górski, a Paderewski specialist who began to survey and describe the Paderewski Archive–Paso Robles Collection, focusing at first on the photographs in our possession. Dr. Górski returned in June-July 2016 to continue working on the Paderewski photos. Also during the last two weeks of July 2016, we were honored to welcome Anna Czajka, a UN-certified specialist in preservation and restoration of historical and cultural artifacts who came to assess our needs in terms of proper storage and preservation of our collections.

Recently, both of our 2016 researchers sent us their extensive reports that were presented to the National Archives in Warsaw. In order to illustrate the amazing (if not daunting) task at hand—and clarify our future needs in terms of material support and physical assistance—we would like to share the most important sections of the Górski and Czajka reports with our readers.

After an introduction describing the Paderewski Archive–Paso Robles Collection in some detail (including sources and provenance as well as types of items in the Collection), Robert Górski summarized his work so far as follows:

In 2015 I began to arrange and describe photographs that I consider to be the most valuable and important, especially for researchers. Most of these photographs were never published and remain unknown. I continued this process in 2016. Each photograph required special attention, because of the lack of any description, or incorrect descriptions provided by the donors. It proved to be the most time-consuming process that requires a great knowledge of Paderewski’s biography, international history, and history of Poland. I managed to identify about 93% of persons, places and events depicted on 892 photographs. We can find here photographs showing the interior and the surroundings of Paderewski’s villa, Riond Bosson [in Switzerland]. Some of them were taken during Paderewski’s name day in 1920s and 1930s, during various trips […], [during] Paderewski’s meetings with general Władysław Sikorski, General Tadeusz Rozwadowski, Prime Minister of Greece Eleftherios Venizelos, musicians (like Henryk Opieński), or his students – Henryk Sztompka, Leopold Stanisław Szpinalski, Aleksander Brachocki, Zygmunt Dygat and Albert Tadlewski. Photographs show also Paderewski’s leisure time […], the life of the Liibke family and her father’s work on the construction of the Trans-Siberian railroad, the life of the Strakacz family […], and more.

Bridge was one of Paderewski’s favorite pastimes, and the card game was also enjoyed by several members of his household, including Helena Liibke (L) and Sylwin Strakacz (R), pictured at the center of the photo

Because of the lack of professional descriptive tools, I was describing photographs in MS Access database FOTOGRAP, designed by Polish State Archives, but never implemented. The finding aid will be systematically updated with the information received by email and/or virtual drives, from PMC. All these details will be the basis for creation of personal, geographical and subject indexes.

There are still many photographs that need to be arranged and described, and these are photographs [that are] glued into the albums and loose photographs (about 100) donated by Anne Strakacz-Appleton in 2015, before she passed away. There are also 724 previously mentioned negatives that need to be scanned at much higher resolutions than photos due to their smaller physical size in order to produce the same size scanned digital image as a photo, that will serve as a security copy and a reference copy. Then, the negatives need to be properly stored. […]

We also discussed a possibility of implementation of the archival tool in the PMC that would allow for arranging and describing collections. Using Polish databases, still built in MS Access, is difficult because of language localization problems, and implementation of a new Polish information system needs permission from the General Director of the State Archives and a special certificate built in the web browser. I think that the best solution for the PMC would be implementation of the Archivists’ Toolkit, the first open source archival data management system to provide broad, integrated support for the management of archives. And it is intended for a wide range of archival repositories. This application supports not only accessioning and describing archival materials, but also establishing names and subjects associated with archival materials, including the names of donors, and managing locations for the materials, and exporting EAD finding aids (it should be easy to import this information to Polish databases). Also, it allows to attach digital copies of archival materials and make them available for researchers through Online Archives of California portal (http://oac.cdlib.org/). I also suggested that the PMC should definitely [continue to] cooperate with the Special Collections of the USC Libraries. […]

During the last two weeks, with my colleague Anna Czajka, preservation specialist from Central Laboratory for Conservation of Archival Materials in Warsaw, we have evaluated the physical condition of archival and photographic materials, and determined the storage needs for the PMC. Photographs and the other materials were put in temporary folders because of the lack of archival boxes, folders and envelops. In this situation we cannot say that our work at the PMC is finished. There is still so much to do.

Filed on August 8, Anna Czajka’s report is very thorough and extensive, with a number of photographs illustrating the points she has made. The following are excerpts from the 16 page original are taken mainly from the conclusions section of her report:

The examination of negatives in the Paderewski Collection covered 751 negatives that were stored in photo lab envelopes or ordinary mailing envelopes. […] These envelopes contain various identifying details; however after examining these it became apparent that these descriptions are not always fully accurate. […] Also 3 glass negatives, as well as about 5 acetate and 2 polyester negatives were also identified. […] Since it was impossible to test all of the negatives, one can conclude that the [Paderewski] Collection contains at least 741 nitrate negatives. […] The overall state of preservation is relatively good, when one takes into account the quick degradation of nitrate-based negatives in chemical process of auto-catalysis. The negatives in the Collection are mainly in the first stage of degradation (according to the accepted standards of description), whereby one can observe slight yellowing of the foundation and delicate silvering of the photographic emulsion. Although these negatives are still in good condition, the chemical degradation had already started and may accelerate (especially if they are not protected in special packing materials). […]

The nitrate- and acetate-based negatives should be stored individually (each negative in a separate package made from photo-preserving paper in the so-called 4-flap envelopes) that would be placed in cardboard boxes designed for storing photographs. These negatives cannot be stored together with the actual photos nor in the transparent sleeves made from plastic-based materials. They must be labeled “NITRATE” and the space where such negatives are stored should be dry and cool. Since nitrates are flammable, the storage space should be carefully chosen and be far from heat sources. Burning nitrates are impossible to extinguish and in the process toxic gasses are released. […]

An example of a degraded negative in the Paderewski Archive–Paso Robles Collection

After scanning the negatives, one could consider storing them in low temperatures lab freezer. In order to get there, however, the PMC staff would have to be properly trained and appropriate tool and materials be acquired. Freezing will retard the degradation of not only the nitrate-based materials but also all kinds of other negatives and all colored materials. […]

My short, two-week stay at the Polish Music Center allowed me to assess the basic needs of this institution in terms of preserving and conservation of the collections. These are:

• Providing archival-grade protective containers for all archival materials—both paper-based and audiovisual—housed at the PMC. It’s important for PMC to have such materials on hand during sorting and cataloguing of collections. Archival grade protective materials are needed for manuscripts, photographs, printed materials, non-commercial vinyl sound recordings, and other audio-visual materials. Obtaining safety boxes for memorabilia, beginning with Paderewski’s suitcase, is urgently required. Professional grade preservation materials will also allow for better use of space allocated by PMC for its archives. […] PMC must have boxes (or other protective materials) for protecting its archival holdings prior to work on segregating and organizing their collections because of their fragile condition. […]

New archival boxes for PMC items, provided by Anna Czajka and National Archives

• The examination of audio-visual materials will have to include the unit count, types of materials, and sizes required for creating safety boxes for these materials. […]

• Training of the PMC staff prior to the preparation of the materials for scanning, explanation of various methods of scanning and being able to assess the state of preservation of the materials prior to scanning; Help from conservators in preparing materials for scanning as well as knowledge of the PMC staff of appropriate parameters of digital archiving, necessary not only should the PMC decide to scan on its own using the equipment they buy but also if they hire an outside contractor for the task (that is if they were able to get a grant for this project)

• Preparation by a conservation specialist of materials before scanning. Many musical manuscripts and printed materials are based on highly acidified paper. They are fragile to the point whereby they cannot be scanned before basic conservation work is carried out. The situation is further complicated by the fact the University of Southern California (USC) does not have a conservation department in any of its campus libraries that could assist the PMC. The needs in this area can be properly assessed only after a detailed examination of the PMC archives with a decision which collections should receive priority treatment. Among the clear candidates here are the Paderewski Archive – Paso Robles Collection, the Zygmunt & Luisa Stojowski Collection, Henryk Wars Collection, Bronisław Kaper Collection and Roman Ryterband Collection. Digitalizing of each of these collections can be complicated by various technical problems, such as:

1. Scanning of the nitrate negatives: their atypical sizes mean that they cannot be scanned in standard negative scanning frames; also even though these negatives are not generally deformed (with a typical curling of the edges), some of them are not flat, which could bring complications in scanning

2. Digitalizing of very fragile materials based on acidified paper (printed materials and manuscripts) in the Stojowski Collection and other composers’ collections. They are mostly sized 36 x 29 cm, although some are on much larger format and are folded in half. These would have to be flattened first by a trained conservation specialist, since brittle paper would break after applying too much surface tension. The person scanning the materials should use of the A2 format scanner. […]

Anna Czajka preparing to preserve a very fragile and rare score by Henryk Wars
PMC Asst. Director Krysta Close using newly-acquired preservation skills to restore travel stickers on Paderewski’s suitcase

A large problem for the Center is its very small staff that really included only one full-time person (and a half-time director) as well as volunteers. The PMC staff are not trained as archivists—they are professional musicians. They will thus require technical assistance in organizing and cataloguing archival collections, creating databases and electronic catalogues, as well as in making decisions relating to the preservation methods for particular collection and setting the parameters for the scanning or conservation work. A continuation of practical training visits in Polish archives or in specialist institutions in the U.S. are strongly recommended.

During my visit in Los Angeles, I also recommended that PMC make inquiries regarding the feasibility and costs of sending the archives to a mass de-acidification by the Preservation Technologies Company that uses the Book Keeper technology. This de-acidification would have to be financed from a separate grant. Because a large portion of the archives is very fragile, de-acidifying paper at this point would extend its life only for a few decades, so the priority should be placed on the fastest possible scanning of the archived materials.

I was able to link the PMC with Getty Conservation Center’s Michał Łukomski, a former employee of the National Museum in Kraków, who currently works at the Getty [in Los Angeles]. There is a chance that with this connection the PMC will be able to secure professional consultation regarding the storing, preserving and digitalizing of the photographs. I have also indicated possible source of financing for such projects by various institutions in the U.S. (Council on Library and Information Resources, Grammy Foundation, Association for Recorded Sound Collections, and Institute of Museum and Library Services), but the PMC must decide if they are to become the beneficiaries of the services these institutions provide.

Anna Czajka’s report also dealt with the assessment of the PMC collection of piano rolls as well as various other memorabilia (artwork, personal items, etc.), providing details on their overall condition, sizes and needs for specifically-sized protective materials that would have to be acquired by PMC to further protect and preserve its collections.

Both of our visitors presented the scope of their work for us and their experiences at the specially-scheduled session for librarians and archivists working at USC. Held on July 25 at the Doheny Library, this presentation was attended by top-level representatives of the Music Library, Doheny Library Special Collections, and Shoah Foundation Archives. Clearly, these reports from our two experts from Poland are only a first step on the long process of cataloguing, preserving and scanning of the PMC archives and eventually placing them online for students and researchers worldwide. This task of many years has just begun and will take a lot of manpower and resources. We are very pleased with the partial support that we already received from the Consulate of the Republic of Poland in Los Angeles for this project this year. We also want to thank the National Archives in Warsaw for their continued generosity in assisting us for several years now and making an exemplary effort in contributing to a joint goal of securing these precious documents and artifacts for the benefit of future generations.