A few months ago, The Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce handed out the 2010 Most Original Cultural Enrichment Award at the achievement awards gala at Regency Centre. The recipients were the dedicated group of the Swedish American Hall Library and Archives Committee: Susan Bianucci, Ulla Sabelström, Astrid Olsson and Muriel Beroz.

As you walk into the Library and Archives Room on the top floor of the Swedish American Hall, you are struck by the exemplary tidiness with which the locales are kept. You realize it must have taken a Herculean effort to bring out the well-kept, library-like qualities of the room—sleek beams, all in a deep brown color arching across the room and display cases, filled with volumes of Swedish books from the turn of the century. There is a certain air of enlightenment that comes with any book-filled room.

The group started in 2000 when the Swedish Society, owners of the Swedish American Hall, decided it was time to clean out the dust gathered over the decades. “At first we did not know about proper archiving,” Bianucci explains. It was not until a couple years later that the committee decided to start filing objects in chronological order, consigning some of the Swedish heritage in San Francisco to posterity by flat file archiving.
The Hall saw less and less activity when the Swedish community was being absorbed into mainstream American society. Bianucci, Olsson and Sabelström volunteered to help clean the slightly dilapidated building and in the meantime they looked into a way of preserving some of the heirlooms and random items that people have been dumping there since forever. Beroza joined the committee later, to offer her unique knowledge of Swedish history in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“We figured somebody had to take responsibility for this piece of history and make sure it does not simply disappear,” Bianucci says. People would typically bring in the personal items of a deceased family member only to leave it in the care, or lack thereof, of the Swedish American Hall. Now there is a chance that the old boxes are searched and saved by the committee and some of the more historically significant items are rescued.
“Sometimes we find real gems,” Sabelström assures. “You take a look at a picture and you look at the date and the event and you might find that it is really an important part of Swedish-American history and you archive it. You have to make the decision on a case-to-case basis,” Bianucci adds.

As they will tell you, they are not only a group of colleagues. “We have this great cooperation, we are really good friends but still manage to get things done,” says Olsson. The quartet's conversation seems frictionless as it bounces back and forth between them and they invariably complement each other’s sentences.

The biggest project of the committee used to be the diligent and careful archiving of the now defunct newspaper Swedish-American Vestkusten. Bianucci tells how they would find Vestkusten newspapers throughout the building, sometimes torn, sometimes in mint condition.
It was the city archivist Susan Goldstein who brought the committee down to the San Francisco History Center and showed them how to archive properly. Their work eventually led to a microfilm collection of the full run of the Vestkusten Newspaper, first published in 1887. This collection was later donated to the San Francisco History Center. The collection spans three centuries and is the largest existing compilation of this newspaper.

By Michael Strom and Katarina Bennich

The Swedish American Hall is located at 2174 Market Street. A plaque outside informs visitors of the more than 100-year history of the building. The Swedish American Hall Library and Archives Committee meets weekly to work at the Hall. The Swedish American Hall

The SACC San Francisco/Silicon Valley Bay Area Achievement Awards: What a night!