Reopening of Libraries and Archives in Europe

By Jason Gart, PhD, Vice President and Director of Litigation Research

Contact us to receive up-to-date information about how to obtain the key materials you need to complete your time-sensitive project.

The 2020/21 COVID pandemic is transforming access to libraries and archives. Advance planning is now essential. Arriving unannounced at an archive or library, as one could pre-COVID, is no longer a viable option. Almost always, in-person services require prior contact via-email, website forms, or (less often) telephone.

Arranging face-to-face meetings with onsite archivists or librarians is more difficult than ever. Reaching out to HAI experts is easy. We know how to obtain the information you need as quickly as possible – in spite of the many delays and restrictions flowing from the ongoing pandemic.

Here is a brief update on accessibility at select European archives and libraries:

Facility Status
Bundesarchiv (German National Archives) – Berlin-Lichterfelde, Freiburg, Koblenz The German Federal Archives maintains an online booking system to allocate spots in Berlin-Lichterfelde, Freiburg, and Koblenz. Despite recent efforts to create more work spaces, reading rooms in Berlin and Freiburg remain fully booked deep into 2022. More places at the Berlin facility will soon become available once new reading rooms are opened there in September 2021.
Archives nationales (French National Archives) – Paris and Pierrefitte-sur-Seine Open. No health pass required as of August 2021. Spots in the reading rooms of these two facilities are currently booked into early November.
Archives de la ville et de l’Eurométropole de Strasbourg (France) Reading rooms now open from 9 am to 1 pm. Visitors should make advanced appointments by e-mail or the contact form on the archives’ website. Current waiting period (mid-August 2021) to secure a spot is 4-6 weeks.
The National Archives (London) Open. Current limit of 12 bookings in 12 weeks. Multiple bookings cannot be made for the same date. Hard to book the bulk order slots. Max of 3 days per 4 weeks, at 12 files per day, limits possibilities.
Historical Archives of the European Union (Florence, Italy) Open. Visitors must contact the facility prior to their visit and inform staff about the date and time of their arrival and departure.
Schweizerisches Wirtschaftsarchiv (Swiss Economic Archives, Basel) Open. Visitors have to preregister before their planned visit.
Archives of the Bank of International Settlements (Basel, Switzerland) Closed until at least December 31, 2021.
United Nations Library & Archives (Geneva, Switzerland) The archive has accelerated an ongoing project to digitize all collections and provide online access by 2022. Ongoing renovations at the Palais des Nations further restrict access limited by COVID and the archives-wide digitization project.
National Archives of Portugal (Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo) Open. Fifty slots available in August 2021.
Dutch National Archives (Nationaal Archief) Reading rooms currently open to a limited number of researchers. Reservations are secured via an online form (in Dutch). As of mid-August 2021, most visitors waited four to six weeks to secure an appointment.
Arquivo Histrico Ultramarino (Lisbon) Open 1:30-6:30 pm in August 2021, six work spaces if you book and order ahead.
Angus Library, Regents Park College, Oxford (Baptist Missionary Society records) Closed
Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham Closed to non-university communities.
British Library (London) Booking a slot works once you register with their booking office; an impediment to one’s work is the current 4-hour limit per session.
Polish Archive of Modern Records, Warsaw (Archiwum Akt Nowych) This repository recently increased the maximum number of visitors from 7 to 10. Visitors reserve 3-hour time slots online in advance; maximum of 15 files may be ordered per day.  One-month delay in securing a slot. Each visitor may visit a maximum of twice a week.
Polish State Archives in Lodz Prior appointments required at all three locations. The reading rooms at the main facility in Lodz may currently be used by a maximum of 6 guests. The branch in Sieradz breaks the working day into a morning and afternoon shift interspersed with a 30-minute break to disinfect and ventilate the reading room. Visitors may currently order up to 10 archival files per day. In the case of loose files, cartographic materials, population, notary, and mortgage books, this number is reduced to 5 items per day.
Archive of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (Warsaw) 3-hour slots allotted; 10-12 researchers allowed per day. During summer 2021 the waiting time to receive a slot has been reduced from 2 months to 2-3 weeks. You can order as many files as you want via paper forms (you can e-mail these forms or deliver your order in person). The archive is currently experimenting with online access to files from one’s own computer.
Polish State Archives in Przemyszl Only six users may visit the facility at a time. Visitors may order up to 10 archival files.
State Archives of the Russian Federation (Moscow) Access with a special daily pass issued personally to readers upon their visits to the facility. Visitors must appear in person to receive a daily pass and wear masks and gloves. Visitors can order up to 20 archival units (folders) per day. New orders must be submitted at least three days in advance.
Danish National Archives (Rigsarkivet) To access the four facilities of the Danish National Archives in Aabenraa, Copenhagen, Odense, Viborg, researchers who do not possess a Danish health insurance card must first obtain a personal guest card valid for a limited period of time. Upon each visit to a reading room, researchers must scan the guest card and register with
State Archives of the Pskov Region, Russian Federation Visits must be made by advance telephone registration. Visitors may only use the facility a maximum of 3 times per week. This archive has two locations open to the public. The first location currently permits a maximum of six visitors; the second, three.
Romanian National Archives, Branch in Prahova County As of mid-August 2021, reopening postponed due to an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.
State Archives of the Tomsk Region, Russian Federation Visits only possible by advance registration by telephone. Special plastic covers for shoes provided by staff; body temperature measure before entry to the reading rooms. Readers must bring own mask and gloves.
National Archives of Estonia (Tartu) Visitors should check records and communicate all research requests exclusively online.
National Archives of the Ministry of Justice in Georgia (Tbilisi) No pre-booking required. A maximum of 14 people may visit the facility at the same time.
Romanian National Archives, Branches in Cluj Three daily spots currently available at the two locations of the Romanian National Archives in Cluj. Lunchtime breaks for sanitation and ventilation. Gloves, masks, and mandatory hand sanitation required during visits.
Ukrainian State Archives of the Dnepropetrovsk and Vinnitsa Regions Work spaces are reserved in advance online on a first-come, first-served basis. The number of visitors has been reduced from pre-COVID levels.
National Archives of Latvia (Riga) Requests sent by e-mail require a secure electronic signature. On-site services, including acceptance of archive reference requests and consultation in reading rooms, are only provided in urgent cases.
Lithuanian State Historical Archives Detailed information on new pre-registration procedures will soon appear on the archives’ website (mid-August 2021).
Ústí nad Labem Municipal Archives, Czechia As of mid-August 2021, visits to the Ústí nad Labem Municipal Archives had to be personally approved by the director. Capacity is limited to one visitor per day (the archives is currently open on Mondays and Wednesdays).
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Belfast Open by appointment only. Bookings for new research appointments open via the archives’ website every Monday at 1 pm local time. Onsite advice from staff no longer possible. No access to GRONI terminals or printed reference materials in the reading rooms.
Belgian State Archives in Liège Visitors should use the online booking form found on the archives’ website to book in-person appointments to this (and many other) Belgian archival facilities. One can book only one research appointment at a time. If you wish to book a seat at the reading room of the National Archives of Belgium on 3 days, for example, you must make 3 separate bookings. On the form you can also request access to a maximum of 5 archive documents (5 item numbers). During your visit to the reading room, you can request access to 20 more documents.
Political Archive of the German Foreign Office, Berlin Readers must secure appointments via a special form on the archives’ website. The wearing of a FFP2 mask, which you must bring with you, remains obligatory, even if you present a medical certificate. The archive notes that, if the 7-day incidence rises significantly, it may be forced to close the reading room and that it may then be necessary to cancel the booked appointments without offering alternative dates. As of mid-August 2021, the current waiting period to reserve a work space in the reading room is three months. Exempt from submission of a point-of-care (PoC) antigen test are, on the one hand, fully vaccinated individuals whose last required single vaccination was at least 15 days ago (proof usually by vaccination certificate) and, on the other hand, convalescents who can demonstrate prior infection by a PCR test that dates back at least 28 days and no more than 6 months.
Archives of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna As of mid-August 2021, the reading room remains officially closed. Select access to particular collections is however possible. Arrangements should be made by telephone.
Archivo General de Indias, Sevilla (Spain) Nine works spaces are currently allocated on a first-come, first-served basis until full capacity is reached. Visitors may however request reservations for six half-day shifts (mornings 8:30 am – 2:00 pm) or afternoons (2:30 pm-6 pm), except for Friday afternoon) by email. Disinfections take place between 2 to 2:30 pm. Opening hours in August 2021 are from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm.
Archives of the Republic of Slovenia Relatively few COVID-19 restrictions in place. While spaces in the reading room have been limited to 10 per day, the archives was not fully booked in August 2021. In the reading room patrons are required to wear a mask and maintain at least 1 m distance from one another. Gloves are also mandatory but you receive them from archives staff when you visit the reading room.
Budapest City Archives (Budapest Főváros Levéltára), Hungary Closed until August 29, 2021, for summer holidays. Construction files inaccessible until September 6, 2021. Visitors must register in advance via an online form on the archives’ website.
National Archives of Sweden (Riksarkivet) The National Archives of Sweden maintains public facilities at several places in the country. As of mid-August 2021, all reading rooms were closed due to the COVID pandemic.

Additional Resources on Archives and Libraries Reopening in Europe

REALM Project

UK National Archives

Subject: Reopening Archives Safely (June 2021) | SAA

The View from Abroad: Lessons from the Reopening of Libraries and Archives in Europe

By Janet Holsinger, Senior Historian

Libraries and archives, like other institutions and businesses, are trying to figure out how to adapt to the challenges of reopening arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Because most serve on-site researchers and patrons, staff need to determine how to safely reopen to the public after months-long closures. At HAI, we’ve had a series of ongoing conversations among our internal staff archivists, as well as with contacts at archives and libraries, about what this might look like.

Here in the United States, we have not yet seen the widespread reopening of libraries and archives, but in many parts of Europe, archives have reopened or are about to do so soon. I caught up with Dr. Keith Allen, a historian and HAI consultant based in Berlin, Germany, where federal, state, and local archives have reopened. He spoke with me from his office on the grounds of the German federal archives facility in Berlin, where he was spending the day researching foreign investment in post-Wall Germany. Keith provided some insight into how the reopening has gone from a researcher’s perspective, shedding light on what we might expect in other countries, including the United States.

JH: How did German archives prepare for reopening to the public?  

Located on the grounds of a former US Army facility known as Andrews Barracks, the German Federal Archives facility in Berlin reopened on May 18, 2020. Source: Wikimedia

KA: After closing in mid-March, the German federal archives started to open back up during the third week in April. I was one of the first people back in the Berlin facility, but they had to shut it down about 90 minutes later. The decision to open the archives in Berlin had apparently been based on a state-level decision in another part of Germany. It turned out the facility had not gotten the green light from the public health authorities in Berlin. Just as in the U.S., state-level officials play important decision-making roles in Germany. Moving forward, archivists in Europe and the U.S. will need to work hand-in-hand with public health officials.

As you’d expect, the goal is to reduce contact between individuals to an absolute minimum. All archives, at least at the moment, require visitors to wear protective masks in order to enter the building. Everyone wears masks inside and ideally remains two meters (about 6.5 feet) apart unless separated by plexiglass.

To address concerns about air circulation, the federal archives in Berlin plans to keep the windows open all summer, although most buildings in the city don’t have air conditioning anyway. The Stasi Records Agency ventilates the reading room every 30 minutes. The Austrian State Archives’ facility in Vienna rebuilt its HVAC system.

JH: What does a typical day of research at the archives look like now? How has it changed from before the pandemic?

KA: One of the biggest changes is that you can no longer just show up to conduct research. You have to overcome the key hurdle of scheduling an appointment well in advance. The archives are operating on a first-come, first-served basis. Right now, there is a backlog of almost three months in some places.

There are a number of new policies and procedures designed to keep people as safe as possible. When you arrive at the archives, you sign a disclosure form and state whether you’ve experienced COVID symptoms in the last two weeks. If you have had exposure in the last 14 days or have general symptoms, such as a fever or cough, you won’t be able to visit. The archivists are keeping careful track of who is coming to each facility, and should the archives staff determine that someone there has COVID, the facility staff will alert you so that you can self-quarantine.

Overall, the research process is not that different if you already know how things work at the facility. Hours are often restricted, so you may need more days to work through a records collection than you did previously. Rather than archivists picking up your materials after you finish reviewing them as they did in the past, they now generally request that researchers return their materials to a specific cart or box so that staff can handle them safely.

The National Archives in London, England, has developed plans for its reopening on July 21, 2020. Read more about its new policies here. Source: The National Archives of the UK

All archives have reduced reading room occupancy and the number of people that can sit at each table. You can still bring in personal items, like laptops and cameras. Pencils used to be readily available; now you usually need to bring in your own. As in the past, in European archives you sometimes have to send out certain items to be copied by a vendor. The copy service may not be fully staffed, so it can take much longer than usual for them to turn your copy order around.

At several state and local archives, you can’t use the break room. Instead, you have to bring lunch with you and eat it outside. In the federal archives in Berlin, the vending machines in the break room are open, but only three people are allowed in at any one time. The archives assign lockers to researchers to help keep people spaced apart.

For visitors less familiar with archival research, the process is now more challenging. It is really helpful to know what records you want to look at before you arrive, as the need for physical distancing makes it difficult to have an in-person conversation with an archivist. I have been calling and emailing archivists to talk about things we previously would have discussed face-to-face. At several facilities, I’ve occasionally gone into an office or stepped outside the building to have a one-on-one conversation with archivists with whom I’ve had working relationships in the past, always with masks on.

JH: Did different repositories work together to devise the safety measures or plans for reopening?

KA: In Switzerland, the Association of Swiss Archivists put together a Zoom workshop on how to reopen. I didn’t see anything like that in Germany or the Netherlands, though. It is hard for the archivists to learn from each other since this is all new. There isn’t a body of professional knowledge on how to reopen. Archivists are getting to know local and state public health authorities as they look to them for guidance and requirements. The archives follow whatever instructions are currently in place, which will change as restrictions are relaxed or re-imposed if local COVID outbreaks necessitate further restrictions.

JH: Has the level of archival staff and services changed?

During the pandemic, the Historical Archives of the European Union in Florence, Italy, digitized materials upon request. Source: Wikimedia

KA: Some archives have made a push to digitize records, like the Historical Archives of the European Union in Florence, Italy. Early in the COVID crisis, they decided to digitize material upon request. This is something that smaller archives, in particular, may want to consider. Rather than having a lot of people onsite and interacting, they could have staff focus on digitization to provide materials as needed. With travel restrictions now in place, it unfortunately looks like it’ll be difficult for U.S. researchers to visit Europe for some time to come.

In Germany, the public sector hasn’t faced layoffs. Staffing has remained consistent at the federal archives, but fewer people are allowed within each space. Where there might have been two or three people working in an office before, now there is just one person at a time. When they aren’t in the office, archivists can work from home.

JH: What advice do you have for someone who has not yet conducted archival research during the pandemic and is looking to prepare themselves?

KA: It is important for us as researchers to understand the archivists’ concerns as they face new challenges and health concerns that accompany interfacing with the public. Archivists don’t know who poses a health risk and have to keep careful track of researchers: when we arrive, when we leave, with whom we interacted during our visit. This makes it possible to do contact tracing if they determine people may have been exposed to the virus. Many countries in Europe now have national apps to do this tracking, but it requires a lot of trust in how public officials treat sensitive personal data.

The Archives Nationales in France reopened to researchers on July 1, 2020. Source: Wikimedia

When you are planning your research visit, you should find out how much time you can schedule: can you reserve a day? A week? Before you visit, ask the archivists what they need. Is there a form to complete before arriving? Would they like information about the records you want to research ahead of time to reduce the need for in-person consultations? Do you need to set up an appointment for a consultation with an archivist?

In general, I’m getting used to the new way of operating. As most places in Germany are relaxing restrictions, it is getting easier. It was initially a relief to get back to some level of normality, but with that came the sobering realization that conditions are different than they were and will remain that way for the foreseeable future.

We would love to help connect archivists in the United States with those in Europe. Please contact us if you have specific questions about reopening that you’d like HAI to direct to archivists in Europe, and we will reach out to our contacts. If you need support with digitization planning, metadata creation and optimization, legacy finding aid encoding, CMS/DAMS consultancy, or staff training on MPLP strategies for busing your backlog, please get in touch with us about how HAI can help.

Soon after we published this post, the National Archives of the United Kingdom reopened to the public. Read more about their policies and safety measures here

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