Treasures from Seven Centuries: The Vienna University Archive

by Kurt Mühlberger

Archives are the "memory of the state". They serve as a reservoir of intellectual power for tackling future tasks and problems by enabling critical examination of the past and ensuring the foundations of our cultural identity.

New stacks and an abandoned construction site

For almost a hundred years, the University of Vienna Archives were housed in the main building on the Ring. In 1980, it returned to its original location in Postgasse. Here in the "Old University", it was possible to provide sufficient space for the constantly growing archive holdings and to avoid costly relocations. At the time of the move, the holdings comprised 2,500 linear meters of shelving. The rapid growth of the archives necessitated an expansion and modernization of the storage facilities. In December 2001, new underground archive storage facilities with space-saving mobile compact shelving systems were moved into. External depots in Wasagasse, in the so-called Stöckl building (Postgasse 7) and in the main building of the university could be abandoned. Based on the promising planning, the space requirements of the continuously growing archive in the building at Postgasse 9 were to be covered in the long term.

The renovation of the "Old University" initially made gratifying progress. Then construction activity was suddenly halted halfway through. Significant above-ground areas as well as the building facades were left in a state of shell or decay. This led to massive endangerment of the valuable historical archive material due to water ingress into the new stacks in the basement area. The required indoor climate values (50-55% humidity at 20°C or less) were massively exceeded due to serious deficiencies in the building services. Large stacks and work areas that had already been completed years ago, as well as the new reading room including adjoining rooms, could not be put into operation due to existing construction defects. In addition to the endangerment of the historical material due to the structural framework conditions, the problem of accommodating sprawling file deliveries arose at this time due to the organizational changes within the framework of the UG 2002. Only the installation of a system for full air conditioning made the new basement depots suitable for the safekeeping of valuable archival materials as of 2011. The problem of sufficient space reserves, on the other hand, remains an ongoing challenge. The Postgasse site, however, would have all the prerequisites to enable short- and medium-term solutions.