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City Council Testimony:
Idilio Gracia-Peña, Former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Records and Information Resources (DORIS)

Good morning, my name is Idilio Gracia Peña. I served as Commissioner of the New York City De-partment of Records and Information Services from 1990 to 1995. Prior to my appointment by Mayor David N. Dinkins, I was the director of the Municipal Archives for 12 years. I worked for the agency for a period of 30 years from 1964 to 1994. I am currently, the Project Archivist for the Archives of the Puerto Rican Migration Processing Project of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College. I am also an Archives Management Consultant.

The New York City Municipal Archives was established in 1950 as a branch of the New York Public Library by the Mayor's Municipal Archives Committee, which was created by Mayor William O'Dwyer in 1948. It is important to notice that the Municipal Archives was established about 300 years after the establishment of the first city government in 1653. At a result, the Municipal Archives was actually born with a huge backlog of uncollected and unprocessed archival records.

Between 1950 and 1978, the Municipal Archives was the stepchild of three agencies: the New York Public Library, the Department of Finance, and the Department of General Services. These agencies had other priorities, like providing library services, collecting revenues, maintaining buildings, or pur-chasing supplies and equipment. During these formative years, the Archives was a malnourished foster child searching for his own identity.

In 1964, when I first started working for the Municipal Archives and Records Center, the total holdings of the Archives were approximately 16,500 cubic feet of archival materials. It had a staff two and a limited archives collecting policy. Archival records were stored under highways and carpenters shops and sometimes donated on "permanent loans' sometimes without "contracts". Today, the Municipal Ar-chives has approximately 150,000 cubic feet of archival records.

During my tenure, the Municipal Archives embarked in an aggressive policy of collecting and ware-housing tons of historical records with the mistaken idea that, once everybody became aware of their unique value, future administrations would provide a second to none state-of the-art facility, and suffi-cient expense funds to hire professional archivists to process, preserve and service such an extensive and important collection of archival materials.

In 1977, former City Council President Paul O'Dwyer answered the call and convinced the City Council to establish the Department of Records and Information Services. At that time, we were positive that, finally, the City was going to provide enough resources for the Archives. But, O'Dwyer remained skep-tical and created the New York Archival Society, just in case.

The recent controversy and public outrage about the delayed accession of the mayoral papers is not new. The only difference is that in the past, the criticism was against the Archives. I am happy to know that we turned the tide. Today the support is, with one exception, for the Municipal Archives. Hopefully some day all archivists will honor the "Archivist Code" and perhaps have more respect for each other. The Municipal Archives staff is one of the most competent, dedicated, productive, and loyal civil ser-vants. I know that very well, I worked side by side with them. I hope that the archivists, hired to process the Giuliani mayoral records, have similar experience with government records, or at least, the same ex-perience of the consulting archivist who drafted the work plan. Let's consider the facts:

The Archives inherited a huge backlog of uncollected and unprocessed records created during the last three centuries of the city's history. Some records were lost or taken by the British after the American Revolution.

The Archives has a staff of about 25 employees, (but only four professional archivists, to accession, process, preserve and service 150,000 cubic feet of archival materials.

The Archival facility, at 31 Chambers Street, can only accommodate the processing, con-servation, and microfilms, and research units and approximately 20,000 (16%) cubic feet of the most valuable records.

In addition to two magnificent courtrooms, the Surrogates Court was originally built as the Hall of Records. The Surrogates Court is the ideal place to build a complete archival facility; it currently has an empty floor that will be utilized for offices instead of prime archival storage space.

City agencies are always trying to establish their own archives, a costly duplication of efforts. I recently turned down an offer to be the consultant for a proposed Fire Department Archives.

There are several redundant records centers that duplicate the functions of the Records Management Division of the Department of Records.

If these records facilities are consolidated, perhaps the city can use some of the savings for its archival program.

The current budget of the Archives is approximately $1.1 million. However, almost $600,000 are use to pay rent. But only about one half million dollars is used to pay for a small archival staff to handle 150,000 cubic fee of archival materials. Let's be realistic.

It is my sincere hope that the current wave of support for the city's Archives is not ignored and soon forgotten, as it's been the case many times in the past. Rather than just pointing out the problems, I am also compelled to offer the following solution to the problems of the Archives. I strongly suggest that the City Council appoint an independent commission of concerned citizens, city officials, and archives and records management professionals to review the City's archives, records management and informa-tion policies and practices; make recommendations to make changes in the current laws to ensure the proper disposition of city records; the construction of a long-overdue archival facility; and propose other ways to fund the City's archival program. If Paul ODwyer, Peter Vallone, and the entire City Council roused to the occasion during the nation's bicentennial, this Council can do no less. Thank you.

Thank you.


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Add your Name to the Petition | Press Conference, Feb. 6, 2002 | Protest Letters | News Articles | Testimony at the Feb. 20, 2002 City Council Hearing |
Defending the archives contract: Saul Cohen, President, Rudy Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs