From Australia to Estonia. The Expatriate Estonian Literature Centre at the TLÜ Academic Library

August 21, 2013

Chairman Aleksander Peel of the Estonian Society in Australia had the idea to establish Estonian archives in Australia in 1952. Real work with the archives began in 1952 when Dr Hugo Salasoo became the head archivist and held this position for 38 years until 1991. In the autumn of the same year, just before his 90th birthday, the archivist passed away. The archives moved into the Sydney Estonian House in 1994 and Maie Barrow became the head archivist.

Thanks to the rate at which Hugo Salasoo received new materials, the archives received new valuable resources. Through his perseverance, he was able to find information about all of the Estonian material he collected. He often presented archival reports and appeals in Estonian publications abroad, where he explained the need for archival collection and preservation of Estonian writing. It was because of his endeavors that archiving among Estonians began across the world. As a research archivist, he was able to value international research activities. He acquired research monographs and reprints directly from the academics themselves or found published materials. He also reminded his correspondents frequently that archives must never be forgotten.

This is how most of the archival collection was put together, which Salasoo himself organised well. New life was brought into the archives when they were moved to the Sydney Estonian House in 1994. Materials began to be systematised, and research was done on paper preservation. There were many duplicates among the books and there was not enough room to preserve and store them in the archives. These books were then sent to Estonian libraries. The Tallinn University Academic Library received 355 books in 2007; of which 120 were the first copies in Estonia, along with 116 periodicals. Other libraries in Estonia also received books: the Estonian Literature Museum, the Tartu City Library, and the National Library of Estonia. The Compatriots Program paid the shipping costs of the literature.

The research papers at the Estonian Archives in Australia were one of the more interesting and unique collections. It is difficult to say how many Estonian researchers abroad or researchers of Estonian origin there are. In 1984 T. Künnapas edited the catalogue “Estonian scholars outside of their homeland,” which registered the details of 578 foreign Estonian academics. It is most probable that there was a larger number, most likely over 1000. For various reasons about 300 names were left out of the catalogue, but there were those of course who did not answer the questionnaire, as well as those that had details missing. Hugo Salasoo turned to Estonian expatriate newspapers around the world every year in search of researchers so as to include their work at the Estonian Archives in Australia. About 700 researchers responded to the call for papers and over 10,000 research papers and reprints were received. This is a unique collection, which shows how widespread Estonian research activities are and how seriously Estonians participated in the activities of the world’s universities and research institutions. This collection inevitably does not hold all of the researchers’ work, but there are top researchers among them, who are known throughout the world, like the economist Ragnar Nurkse, geologist Armin Öpik, astronomer Ernst Öpik, chemist Adolf Parts, mathematician Edgar Krahn, diamond investigator Arthur Linari Linholm, and structural engineer August Komendant.

The Estonian Archives in Australia, located in the Sydney Estonian House operates without a large storage facility. The future of the Estonian House is also problematic because the building is hard to maintain for the ageing Estonian population. There is a contract with the Australian National Archives, that if the Estonians cannot maintain their own archives, then they will take on those archives and print materials that are tied to Estonians in Australia. However, the majority of research work is not tied to the Australian Estonians at all. There is also a lack of volunteers and resources in Sydney. Through discussions it was decided to bring the research collection to the Centre of Estonian Exile Literature at the Tallinn University Academic Library. Interest in Sydney for the research papers was not big, whereas the collection in Estonia offers researchers much interest about what Estonian abroad have been doing and what they are doing now.

The research papers arrived in Tallinn in 2012. The Compatriot’s Program covered the shipping costs. The organisation of research is complicated and time consuming, for which we received monetary help from the Compatriot’s Program. In addition to the reprints, the shipment contained monographs and copies of articles. Currently we are dealing with the enormous task of organising this library – registering monographs, sorting reprints, and placing them into folders according to author name, after which they must be searchable in a catalogue and database, to truly digitise the material.

Much of the research work has been done by scientist Johannes Piiper, medical scientist and radiologist Jüri Kaude, folklorist and linguist Felix Oinas, religious scholar Arthur Võõbus, medical scientist Mart Männik, atomic physicist Indrek Martinson, botanist Elmar Leppik, physicist Rein Silberberg, medical scientist Matti Anniko, historian and archivist Vello Helk, linguist Jaan Puhvel, astronomer Ernst Öpik, sociologist Rein Taagepera, medical scientist and writer Enn Nõu, mathematician Jaak Peetre, linguist Ilse Lehiste, agronomist Elmar Järvesoo, medical scientist Peep Algvere, zoologist and ecologist Hans Kauri, biochemist Lembitu Reio, psychologist Endel Tulving, and linguist Alo Raun. The registry of researchers can be searched by birth year, specialty, and number of reprints.

It is important to also add the research papers into the electronic catalogue ESTER, which makes it possible to search for information internationally. The base material for the catalogue is still missing, but one can search the materials in the Expatriate Estonian Literature Centre at the TLÜ Academic Library.

Anne Valmas