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Access to Russian Archives

Access to Russian Archives is an online database containing descriptions of approximately 80,000 archival fonds (record groups) from more than 20 guidebooks on Russian federal archives and 40 regional archives published from 1987 to 2004. Both printed and handwritten guides are available in digital formats, providing the most comprehensive access to the holdings of the entire Russian archive system in one simple, user-friendly electronic format.

Access to Russian Archives is accessible free of charge via the World Wide Web, allowing students and scholars from anywhere in the world to quickly and efficiently identify important archival holdings related to their research or areas of interest.  The guides found in the database are fully enabled for full text searching and browsing in Russian and in English transliteration. 

In order to successfully conduct research on Russia, one has to have access to its archives. And an increased interest in Russian history and a revival of traditions has created the need for a freely accessible online database of Russia’s archival holdings.   Access to Russian Archives literally revolutionizes the way we access materials in Russian archives. 


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Using Access to Russian Archives

Researchers can now browse the content of the archives or use search tools to find arcane bits of information from throughout the collection of individual guidebooks. To make the search more useful, users can limit search results to fond title, annotation, reference and other fields individually and in combination. All electronic guidebooks and individual fonds have stable URLs for integration with online catalogs and web sites.  

Specifically, access to the information in the documents from archival collections of the Russian Federation is provided by the system of reference tools. This system comprises the following types of archival reference sources: registers, guides to archive collections, catalogs, indices, reviews, and databases. Each of the archival reference types is targeted specifically to contents and structure of items in the collections. Guides give a general idea on the structure and content of all the collections in an archive, or specific subject groups within the collections. Catalogs provide more detailed on the document contents, while indices provide information on the subject terms cited in the documents (names, titles, events). Reviews expand on the contents of documents in individual collections, or subject documents arrays, and provide their source analysis.

Research and reference tools can be provisionally divided into inner archival research and reference tools (un-replicated registers, catalogs, indices, reviews, databases at archive reading rooms and staff offices), and reference and information publications with a broader distribution. Guides and brief reference books can differ in completeness of the descriptive entry make up the core of these publications. Guides to archival collections are the mandatory reference and information publication of archives at all levels - from federal to municipal ones. The guides systemize the data on all the collections within an archive and are utilized by the patron before working in the archives. The publication of other types of archival reference books is usually connected with the demand from scholars for information on specific document arrays. In addition to reference and information publications prepared by archival institutions, additional reference works are published that are traditionally comprised of reference books on the history of government agencies and administrative and territorial division.


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Brief History of Russian Archival Holdings

The bibliography of reference and information publications of the Russian Federation includes individual reference books published by central state archives of the USSR, archives of RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic), republics, and districts (i.e. krays and regions) in the 1930-50s.

The most intensive efforts to publish reference materials occurred in 1960s-70s, when the archives processed documents that had been evacuated, or partially damaged during the World War II. In the 1970s, reference books on the structure and content of archival collections became a mandatory provision for the country's archives. Ten to twelve reference books were published annually, and as a result, by the early 1990s, almost all the RF archives had published reference guides to their holdings. Reference books were both published at printing houses for wider distribution, and at reprographic centers. In the latter case, due to little circulation and "Restricted" classification, the use of such publications was very limited. As a result, many reference books published before the 1990s became a rarity.

Beginning in 1991, significant changes took place in the network and structure of the federal archival agencies and regional archives, as well as in the structure of Archival Collection of the Russian Federation. According to the Presidential Decree No.83 of August 24, 1991 "On the Party Archives", the central and local archives of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (i.e. Central Party Archive of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the CPSU Central Committee, CPSU and Young Communist League Central Committees' archives, Communist organizations in the RF autonomous republics and oblasts) passed to the control of the Federal Archival Service. In order to house these former party archives, 80 centers and special depositories at the federal and regional levels were established within the state archives. The RF Archival Collection received over 50 million items from the liquidated Communist organizations. Those items, however, lacked finding aids that met current archival standards. About five million items lacked standardized records. This is a result of the fact that regulations of the Communist archives did not provide for the creation of guides as reference resources—these archives were for the Party, and not readily accessible to scholars and other interested parties. As a result, the federal and state archives holding these documents do not have reference guides to these collections.

In addition, in 1991-2001, 19 million were deposited in the state archives, including managerial and staff documents of liquidated enterprises and organizations (including enterprises established in the 1990s); documents of parties and social movements; private archives; cinema documents, photos, video documents and records; and, science and technology documentation. Planned declassification of archival documents was also being carried out, and as a result, 6.5 million items were declassified from secret holdings. This infusion of documents significantly affected the qualitative and quantitative structure of access to materials in the state archives of Soviet and post-Soviet periods. Additionally, some changes also took place in pre-Soviet collections because some collections were moved, or processed.

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Project Coordinators

The Access to Russian Archives project was managed by the University of Kansas Libraries and Rosarkhiv of Russia with the participation of East View Information Services. The project was supported by the Title VI Program of the U.S. Department of Education for Technological Innovation and Cooperation for Foreign Information Access, authorized under Title VI (Sec.606) Part A of the Higher Education Act.