Explore the treasures of the digital archives

Aalto has become the first Finnish university to digitise the majority of its theses from the 1960s onwards.
Kuvassa on Otto Meurmanin tekemä mittauspiirustus ”Antiikin tyylimuotoja” vuodelta 1911. Piirroskuvassa on koristeellisia yksityiskohtia rakennusten seinistä ja pylväistä.
The architectural measurement drawings, teaching visuals, and pictures documenting the history of the different Aalto schools are among the most viewed resources of the university archive. Otto Meurman's measured drawing ‘Antique styles’ dates from 1911.

A mighty task has been completed. The majority of the written theses of Aalto University and its two founding schools, the Helsinki University of Technology and the Helsinki School of Economics, have now been digitised. These extensive resources are now easier to access, and archiving space has been freed up for other collections.

The digitisation project took two years and was carried out by the university’s archive services, library and IT services. The project involve two sets of resources: firstly, the written theses from the different schools dating from the 1960s to the present day, and secondly, the archive’s historical collections of images, drawings and slides.

‘We are the first Finnish university to digitise its theses collections on such a large scale,’ says Records Manager Susanna Kokkinen.

The digitisation project has freed up 2.5 kilometres of shelf space.

A huge amount of data

The theses have been saved in a format designed for long-term storage, as the regulations of the National Archives of Finland state that they must remain permanently fit for use.

‘To ensure safe storage, each work is stored in three different formats: PDF, tiff, and xml. This has required an enormous amount of storage space, as one thesis can contain several hundred megabytes of data. In total, the theses take up hundreds of terabytes of storage space.’

The original paper versions of the theses are kept until the quality of the digitised copies has been verified. The objective is nevertheless to eventually dispose of these original versions.

Obtaining publishing permission from the author

The customer no longer needs to order the desired thesis from the archives; they can instead access it from the customer terminals of the Harald Herlin Learning Centre. Users can search through the electronic version more easily than before, and by means of machine text recognition, searches can also be targeted to the text content of theses.

The theses are not openly available online, says Susanna Kokkinen.

‘For the old theses, publishing permission was not obtained at the time, and it is impossible to request permission from each author at this later stage, because we do not have the current personal and contact information for all those that graduated over the decades. The matter has been resolved by making all the works accessible from the Learning Centre, where you can explore them using the Aaltodoc information system.’

Archives services are developing together with IT services a reliable way for alumni to log in and access their own thesis work.

‘This gives the author the opportunity to inspect the digitized copy and authorises its publication.’

Drawings and images released from the archive shelves

In addition to written theses, the Aalto University archive has digitalised over 175 000 teaching-related slides, thousands of photographs, and many drawings created by students.

Compiling the names of authors, dates of publication, photograph content and other information for these resources has been a demanding task.

‘There was little recorded information for some of the pictures, although the pictures of events and people connected to the history of the different schools were often carefully documented,’ Susanna Kokkinen explains.

Arkkitehtuuripiirroksessa on puutalon julkisivu ja sen yksityiskohtia

The architectural measurement drawings comprise a large group of their own. Over 5 000 construction drawings created by students have now been digitised.

‘Architectural education began in Finland in 1863 in our school, the Helsinki University of Technology – which was then called the Polytechnic School – so it is wonderful that the historical drawings have now been digitised and documented for open use.’

The drawings are a visually and technically valuable collection. It is also possible to find rarities within the collection: buildings that have been demolished or which have changed their appearance, as well as buildings that were destroyed in the war or which remained in Russian territory after the war.

The measurement drawings have been digitally available for over a year already and have been widely used. Last year, approximately 8 000 searches of the image archives were made online, and there were over 100 requests for information services and research related to them.

The material is available free of charge through the national Finna database. The Learning Centre and university archive provide guidance on the use of the archives and databases. 

Work to develop and expand the digitised collections will continue for many years, as only half of all the images in Aalto's archives have so far been digitized, and the proportion that is publicly available is smaller still.

Explore the Aalto Finna database.

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