The W.V.S. Tubman Papers Collection

Liberian Archives Survey

Rescuing Liberian History: A Pilot Study to Preserve and Enable Access to Liberia's Presidential and National Archives
Liberian Collections Project
Supported by Grants from Endangered Archives Programme
Uncovering the Past
After making a trip to Liberia in 2004, Dr. Elwood Dunn discovered, to his great surprise, that many documents from Liberia’s past presidents, including Tubman, Tolbert, Doe, Sawyer and Taylor, were in reasonable condition. Despite the heavy chaos of the civil war that Liberia experienced for several years, numerous photos, papers and other documents were found intact. Dunn reported his findings back to Dr. Verlon Stone, Liberian Collections Project. Together the two planned another trip to Liberia in order to assess the documents.
During their visit, Dunn and Stone were able to closely review the condition of the documents. Dunn’s first assessment of the documents proved true. Well-preserved and in decent condition, most of the documents appeared to be in a restorable state. According to Mr. E. Wa-Valentine, Director of Liberian Presidential Archives since 1967, the documents were organized according to guidelines developed in the 1980s by the staff and UNESCO consultants. However, the small Archive staff was nearly overwhelmed by the mass of materials and lack of adequate staffing, shelving, space, materials and funding.
A visit was also made to the Liberian National Archives. The Center for National Documents and Records/National Archives building was looted in the early 1990s when civil war combatants ransacked the boxes of documents in search of valuables. Important papers were thrown outside, depriving the documents of much needed protection from the rain during wet season. Luckily, archive employees and other Liberians transferred the materials to the Old Executive Mansion where the National Archives were previously housed. Among the thousand plus boxes of rescued documents were government correspondence, communiqués and reports dating back to the early 19th century, when the colony was settled and the Republic of Liberia founded. .
The newly found materials provided much information on the founding and development of Liberia, as well as helped to keep the country’s history alive for Liberians. Liberia’s history as previously taught, inadequately addressed the connections and conflicts between the indigenous population and the neighboring European colonies. The history also paid little attention to the social networks created as a result of these connections and conflicts, and the resistance and rebellion that followed were never addressed. The 19th century documents that were uncovered on Dunn and Stone’s trip to the Liberian National Archives became the primary sources for establishing an integrated Liberian history.
Despite the determined effort of Director-General G. Narrison Toulee and his National Archives staff to preserve and restore the materials, the National Archives building was in poor shape. With a leaky ceiling and rain blowing through the air-circulation vent holes, storage conditions were not up to international archival standards. Following the looting, the archival organization was never fully restored and was in need of serious preservation. Again, lack of training, preservation materials and funding overwhelmed the Archive staff.
EAP026 Pilot Project
In summer 2005, Dunn and Stone traveled back to Liberia to survey and sample the post-1965 Presidential Archives, where they would determine the quantity and distribution of the Liberian presidential documents, confirm their organizational scheme and assess their preservation state. They also surveyed and sampled the 19th Century documents found at the National Archives.
Joining them in Liberia were Jacob Nadal and Philip Bantin. Nadal is the Head of E. Lingle Craig Preservation Laboratory and Adjunct Lecturer at Indiana University’s School of Library and Information Science. Bantin has 26 years of professional archive service and is the Director of the Indiana University Archives as well as the Director of the Archives Specialization in the Indiana University School of Library and Information Science. In 2003 he was named a Fellow of the Society of American Archivists for distinguished professional service to archiving.
Issues raised by microfilming projects like access and control, confidentiality, and preservation of the Nation’s records were discussed during workshops and seminars. The were learning experiences for all involved, including Liberian and international archive professionals, as well as archive officials and higher governmental officials. The information learned from the workshops and seminars allowed for better project proposals, and established a means for sustaining the Presidential and National Archives, their documents and the microfilms produced.
One of the aims of the pilot project was to teach the necessary skills to Liberian archive technicians to enable them to perform much of the work. This approach provided work for unemployed college graduates, trained a core of archive professionals, and allowed much of the work to be completed at relatively low processing costs.
Overall, the trip was a success. The combined survey of National and Presidential Archives yielded a database of 1,442 sampled items identifying content, date, creator, format and preservation status. Three National Archives archivists and three technicians received intensive training in survey, document recovery and preservation techniques. But most exciting of all was the discovery of the 2,400 linear feet of presidential materials in an Executive Mansion basement room.