Archive departments are too often neglected, says director of Saudi historical materials conservation center

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A specialist in restoration working on a historical material during the treatment process, at King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Center for Historical Materials Conservation. (Photo/Supplied)
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An archive room neglected in a governmental entity, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Center for Historical Materials Conservation team are collecting the documents. (Photo/Supplied)
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King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Center for Historical Materials Conservation team at a historical cite collecting documents for restoration. (Photo/Supplied)
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Umm Al Qura newspaper before restoration. (Photo/Supplied)
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Updated 13 January 2020

Archive departments are too often neglected, says director of Saudi historical materials conservation center

  • Historical documents are at risk — torn apart and forgotten — but now they are being restored

RIYADH: Historical documents at risk of neglect are being restored with the help of the King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Center for Historical Materials Conservation, with many government and private entities seeking the center’s assistance.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, the director of the center, Abdulrahman Al-Baiz, described how archive departments at many governmental and private entities are neglected.
“Documents are usually piled up in archive rooms without taking special care — they usually choose the worst place in the building to make into an archive room. They also hire employees ill-suited to work in their departments.”
Located in Riyadh, the center was opened by King Salman in 2004, when he was the governor of Riyadh. The center, which is part of the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah), was very small back then, but with the right technology, time, and development, they expanded.
One of the first projects was the restoration of documents for the Ministry of Justice.

Restoration work
“The first contract we made was with the Ministry of Justice, for the Holy Mosque expansion project during King Abdullah’s time,” said Al-Baiz.
He mentioned that when the government started the projects, they had to go back to old records and documents, created before the establishment of Saudi Arabia, and written in the Ottoman language, in Makkah.




Umm Al-Qura newspaper after restoration. (Photo/Supplied)

“We started restoring these documents one by one so that they could use them at the Ministry. The letters were in Arabic, but we didn’t understand what they were saying,” he said.
“We worked on almost 79 documents for four to five years. We later expanded our project and worked with a number of others, one of which was Um Al-Qura newspaper from its first edition until 1980. Most of the editions are now on the center’s website as an electronic archive for researchers,” he added.

Fun to work on
Thamir Al-Shuwaie, assistant director of the center, told Arab News how it was fun to work on Um Al-Qura’s stories. “It is history — the simplicity of the news and stories is amazing. It was also fun to see how advertisement pages were back then.”

FASTFACTS

• Located in Riyadh, the center was opened by King Salman in 2004 when he was the governor of Riyadh at the time.

• One of the first projects of the center was the restoration of documents for the Ministry of Justice.

• The center has recently opened its doors for training females in this field and has also trained people from other countries.

The center’s work is not limited to preserving the department’s holdings, but also extends to preserving heritage that exists among citizens, and public and private libraries. Its doors are open to the public to restore and retrieve personal documents, books, and manuscripts.
 “They can come with their personal materials and we start evaluating the pieces and decide on a suitable price. It’s then up to the client if he or she wants to save the document in the center or not,” said Al-Baiz.

Rare documents
“Some of the old documents (we restored) dated back to 1100-1200 AD, and others are even older, dating back to 970 AD.”
The center also has an agreement with the Ministry of Interior, where they are establishing nine institutes, to consult on purchasing and installing machines and training employees on how to restore their documents.
“Employees come and take courses here in the center, and then apply what they have learned in their labs,” said Al-Baiz.
The center has recently opened its doors for training to women in this field, and has also trained people from other countries such as Algeria and Oman. “We also have an agreement with the US Library of Congress,” Al-Baiz added.
Patience and calm are the two key factors that need to be taken into consideration when working in archiving. The process of which a paper is treated depends on the state of the piece itself — some arrive burned, while some have been eaten by insects. Others are faded, brittle, have deteriorated with time and need special care.

Documents are usually piled up in archive rooms without taking special care — they usually choose the worst place in the building to make into an archive room. They also hire employees ill-suited to work in their departments.

Abdulrahman Al-Baiz, Director, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Center for Historical Materials Conservation

 “One paper sometimes takes 2 or 3 days to work on; therefore, whoever works in this field must be patient,” he said.
“We usually work on papers one at a time, so imagine if someone brings a box full of papers or a script, it will take from 3 to 5 weeks to process it. Some could take up to 6 months,” he added.
Al-Shuwaie pointed out that 20 manuscripts used to take up to 2 years, when they used basic materials and had to do everything manually.
“Now we have developed our labs and we can take 35 manuscripts a year,” said Al-Shuwaie. “You can find interesting information in these manuscripts, but we have a strict confidentiality policy so we can’t reveal it to the public.”
Al-Baiz said that they have worked with Naif Arab University for Security Sciences’ Criminal Department, as they have a whole department for forged documents.
“We have worked on cases with them. We managed to get essential information about cases we worked on,” he said.


Saudi Cabinet voices support for the territorial sovereignty of Cyprus

King Salman chairs the Cabinet session on Tuesday. The meeting reviewed the Kingdom’s economic progress. (SPA)
Updated 1 min 28 sec ago

Saudi Cabinet voices support for the territorial sovereignty of Cyprus

  • Kingdom calls for security to be maintained in the region

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has voiced its support for Cyprus’ territorial sovereignty amid growing tensions following the discovery of oil and gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Saudi Cabinet, chaired by King Salman, on Tuesday said it was watching developments in the eastern Mediterranean “with great interest,” and called for security and stability to be maintained in the region.
The Cabinet also reviewed the Kingdom’s progress among 190 economies in the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2020 report, which placed it first among GCC countries and second in the Arab world on legislative reforms relating to women.
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program supports the implementation of reforms that enhance women’s role in economic development, raising the Kingdom’s competitiveness regionally and globally.
Minister of Media Turki bin Abdullah Al-Shabanah said the Cabinet reviewed several reports on developments in regional and international arenas.
The Cabinet reiterated the Kingdom’s assertion during the fourth session of the Arab Parliament in Cairo that its policy is based on the principles of peaceful coexistence and good neighborliness, full respect for the sovereignty and independence of states, noninterference in their internal affairs, and its belief that these principles are capable of resolving all conflicts, foremost the Arab-Israeli conflict.

HIGHLIGHT

The Cabinet reviewed efforts to promote political solutions to crises in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Sudan, calling on all to take action to address destabilizing foreign threats and interventions.

The Cabinet also reviewed efforts to promote political solutions to crises in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Sudan, calling on all to take action to address destabilizing foreign threats and interventions and to “move forward toward the aspirations of security, stability and development of Arab countries and their peoples.”
On regional affairs, the Cabinet condemned an attack on a military site in Niger, the bombing of a security checkpoint and a tax collection center in Somalia, and the terrorist strike by Houthi militia on a mosque in the Marib governorate, which resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries.
The Cabinet session also authorized the minister of foreign affairs or his deputy to sign a draft protocol on establishing diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe.
An agreement on social development between the the Kingdom and Tunisia was also approved along with a memorandum of understanding for scientific and technical cooperation with Spain.
The Cabinet also approved an agreement for scientific and geological cooperation between the Saudi Geological Survey and the Russian State Geological Company.