Vabamu has won a 2023 “Museum Rat” award for developing an innovative collection about Estonian IT history. These prestigious annual honors, awarded by the Estonian National Heritage Board in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and the Estonian Museum Association, recognize the work of Estonia’s best museum specialists and highlight different aspects of museum work for the public. Vabamu won in the category of “Developer of the Museum Collection.” Its collection policy broadly focuses on four topics: Occupation, Repression and Resistance, Recovery and Freedom.

In 2020, Vabamu launched “Collecting Digital Culture in Estonian Museums,” a project to revitalize its collection policy and give a broader meaning to museum’s collections. During the project in 2021, Estonian museums were invited to discuss the collection of digital heritage, and Vabamu hosted a seminar to learn from the experiences of museums in the Nordic countries.

In November 2021, Vabamu opened a new exhibition, “Why Estonia? 30 Years from the USSR to e-Estonia,” which looked back at the birth of Estonia as a digital nation, its achievements over the years and what the future holds in store. When considering what to display, Vabamu focused on the evolution of Estonian IT history. The exhibition was inspired by Director Karen Jagodin and curated by tech journalist Henrik Roonemaa.

Vabamu’s IT collection plan focuses on materials that deal with the policy and legislation of Estonian e-society, education and research activities, activities of start-up companies related to Estonia, computer games, failed or stalled projects, cyber security and the digital divide. The plan aligns with Vabamu’s collection principles, where the topics of contemporary collection are formulated as “citizen movements, growth and development of civil society, nature of democracy, freedom and responsibility, social stratification, joining international organizations, emigration, development of the information society, marginalization.”

To finance the project, Vaal gallery, in cooperation with Vabamu, hosted an auction following the exhibition to sell special items created for the show. The proceeds were used and will be used in the future to collect, preserve, and present material about e-Estonia’s success story to the public. A selection of materials collected so far is displayed on the first floor of the museum.

In May 2023, Vabamu hosted a workshop led by Liisi Esse, the curator for Baltic Studies at Stanford University, where employees of Vabamu, the Estonian National Archive and the Estonian National Library met Henry Lowood and Kristen Valenti from Stanford University Libraries. Participants learned about each other’s experience collecting digital culture. They also got acquainted with the principles of creating collections for IT companies operating in Silicon Valley at Stanford University Libraries, as well as its exhibition activities.

The creation of a digital society-themed collection is Vabamu’s most important development effort in recent years, and it brings the museum’s collections closer to the present. As a museum of recent history, Vabamu seeks to identify and map important topics in society that provide a context for studying our recent history.

*Computer-fed cows  (in the late 1970s, scientists at the testing laboratory of what was then the Estonian Agricultural University constructed a system that controlled a cowshed conveyor, issuing each of the animals with their own portion of feed. Here you can see a Konverter device built by dairy scientist and technologist Väino Poikalainen from parts he had on hand.)