Sunny Archival Days in Washington, DC

September 21, 2014

American Latvians held the second conference dedicated to the Latvian diaspora’s archives, libraries and cultural materials from September 11 – 13. The first such conference was held in the spring of 2012 in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the Immigration History Research Centre (IHRC). This year’s conference took place in Washington, DC, and was organized by the American Latvian Association, the Latvian Embassy and the Library of Congress.

The first day of the conference was held at the Library of Congress. Participants were welcomed by high-ranking officials: the Library Director James Hadley Billington, the Latvian Ambassador to the United States Andris Rasāns, Congressman John Shimkus and several leaders of American Latvian organizations. The keynote speaker was Grant Harris, the director of the European Section of the Library of Congress. He told us of the founding of the Library of Congress, of its collection policies and of its cooperation with Latvians in Latvia as well as the diaspora. During a break I had the good fortune to chat with the curator of the Baltic collection, Taru Spiegel, about the Estonian collections. Hopefully this will develop into a useful contact for VEMU.

Presentations continued about Latvian printed collections, archives and museums in North America. In the afternoon, we were acquainted with the historic Library of Congress Jefferson Building. After this, a reception was held at the Latvian Embassy where the exhibition of the Latvian artist Janis Šternbergs was opened.

The second day of the Conference reconvened at the Embassy. The morning was spent talking about the academic research of the Latvian diaspora and the resources that support this research. We were also introduced to an exciting web project about the Riga ghetto during World War II. Afterwards, both Estonians and Lithuanians made presentations. I introduced the work being done to preserve the history of the Estonian diaspora, describing the aims and achievement of VEMU and the Baltic Heritage Network. The vice-president of the USA Lithuanian archives and the Chair of the archive committee, Dale Lukas, gave an overview of the Lithuanians’ archives, museums and libraries in the United States.

Information was distributed on how to give guidance when old houses or flats are offered for sale so that old documents, photos, rare books, etc., are not destroyed. Finally, the National Library of Latvia representative described its information resources.

On the third day of the conference we drove to the Latvian Museum in Rockville. This small, likeable display has been set up in a Latvian centre that houses a number of other Latvian organizations, including a library, Latvian and Estonian schools, the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) and the World Federation of Free Latvians (PBLA).

After a tour of the museum, the activities continued in work groups such as the digitization and publishing of visual materials and tips for community organizations wanting to write their histories. Since these groups were working in Latvian, I was able to discuss work issues with the archivist of the Lakewood Estonian archives, Ave-Maria Blithe, who had just arrived to visit the museum.

I had interesting and useful meetings with both old and new acquaintances. Although Estonians might be a bit jealous of the work that American Lithuanians have done in preserving their heritage, they can still be an example to the Latvians. Although the Latvians in the US have a number of museum exhibitions, they lack archives where people may leave their own material for preservation. Also, cooperation between the Lithuanians and Estonians appears to be more advanced – both within the NorthAmerican communities as well as in their homelands. Latvians, however, are steadily moving forward with events such as these conferences. For this, we wish them success!

Piret Noorhani