Navigating the Jiangsu Provincial Archives

Another day, another archive. Today I spent the morning and afternoon reading reams of documents at the 江苏省档案馆 Jiangsu Provincial Archives.

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When you enter the main building (Building #1) of the Jiangsu Provincial Archives, you must deposit any big bags in a locker before you’re allowed entry into the Research Room. You are also asked to deposit your cell phone in to the locker, as phones are forbidden from being used in the reading room (presumably to avoid photography). This was annoying, at least for me, because I often use Pleco on my cellphone (especially the handwriting tool) to decipher foreign characters when reading documents. I also couldn’t live Tweet anything from the archives–so my normal workflow was slightly disrupted. Computers are OK and allowed in the reading room.

Registration was otherwise like other archives: present a passport, a letter of introduction, and, if asked, explain what you are researching. Each time you request files, you must fill out a new form with your name, danwei, research goal, and files being requested.

There was a bit of confusion after these formalities were taken care of. The Jiangsu Archives has a searchable catalog online at both the individual document level and at the folder level, so, before I arrived, I collected citations for several folders that looked to be of interest and printed this information out. When I handed my page of citations to the staff, a younger gentleman insisted that these files were not kaifang (open). He explained that not all files listed in the online catalog were open; his supervisor, the boss on site, later told me that information for both open/closed files was merely provided as a reference for users, not as a guarantee of access.

The young man and his supervisor directed me to the paper catalogs for each fond (broken apart by creator, or danwei), and explained that if a folder was listed in the paper catalogs, it was most certainly open. So trust the paper catalogs, and not the online database.

This was all good to know, but as I proceeded to search through several of the catalogs, I found in print every single file I initially presented to the staff–they soon admitted error and proceeded to retrieve everything I wanted to see.

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Browsing the paper catalogs, in the end, was not an inconvenience, but was absolutely necessary.

Based on my experiences, not everything has been indexed and added to the online searchable database, even files classified as open. For example, the records in fond 3030 (江苏省委精简办公室) are not listed online; it was only by a stroke of good luck that I saw the paper catalog for the “streamlining office,” decided to pick it up, and immediately found several entries that looked promising. The five folders I requested from fond 3030 ended up being the most useful (and voluminous) materials for my project. Honestly, had I not discovered that catalog, I could have probably finished my research at the archives in one day. Now I expect to be there for a few days.

There is one annoying part of using the paper catalogs: they are not arranged in any particular order. Whenever people have used them in the past, they’ve just put them back on the shelf haphazardly, so now everything is out-of-order. For example, I wanted to find the catalog for 3012 (the Communist Youth League), and I basically had to scan the entirety of three shelves to find it. Hopefully the staff will take the time to put everything back in order and prevent researchers from making a mess of the catalogs again.

Retrieval was fairly slow and took maybe 25 minutes. When my files were finally delivered, I also learned that photocopying is generally not permitted. So it seems that the Jiangsu Provincial Archives is a bit like Tianjin, in that lots of materials are available for consultation, but you need to type and review everything on site. I was able to see and read files forwarded from the Central Committee and State Council which I was told I could not see at other archives, including the Hangzhou Municipal Archives.

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The hours at the Jiangsu Provincial Archives are 8:30a.m.-11:30a.m. and 1:30p.m.-5:30p.m. Although you cannot request new materials during the lunch break, a staff member remains in the reading room so you can continue to browse anything already on your desk. If you need a break (I did), the archives is in a good neighborhood, overflowing with all sorts of restaurants and coffee shops. All-in-all, a good place to do research.

The Jiangsu Provincial Archives is located at 南京市鼓楼区青岛路1号; the gate and entrance are tucked away on a long driveway.

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