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 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
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.