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Letter From Archivists and Historians to Mayor Bloomberg Regarding the Giuliani Papers

February 5, 2002
Mayor Michael Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, New York

Dear Mayor Bloomberg:

As members of the professional archival and historical communities, we write to express our concern and dismay over the recent removal of the mayoral records of the Giuliani administration from the custody of the New York City Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS). These records belong to the City of New York and are a valuable public resource. While we understand that the records remain the property of the City, the practical effect of the current arrangement is that they are now out of reach of both the city archivists and the public.

We recognize that the arrangement may raise a number of legal issues that you may be asked to consider, or perhaps are considering. The purpose of this letter is not to raise, at this time, legal questions, but to bring to your attention the ramifications of this arrangement from the point of view of historians, researchers, archivists and members of the public.

It is the mandate of DORIS and its commissioner to preserve, classify and make readily available all city records of "historical, research, cultural or other important value." These records, in the words of current Commissioner Brian G. Andersson "serve as the collective memory of our civilization…. Individually and collectively, these records are priceless, unique, and are among the richest of our legacies. DORIS has the honor of guarding and providing public access to this legacy." We believe that for a number of reasons the current arrangement does not permit DORIS to properly fulfill its mandate.

First, we understand that under the current arrangement, former Mayor Giuliani will have the right to block public access to any documents in which he deems he has a "private interest." We maintain that such decisions can only be made by professional archivists employed by the City and responsible to the public. The Charter makes it clear that the decision should not be left to the former mayor.

Second, we are troubled that the City appears to relinquish to a third party its responsibility for "guarding…this legacy" through the preservation and care of these important documents. Again, we maintain that those obligations properly should be fulfilled by those employed by the City and responsible to the public.

We are concerned about segregating these documents from the Municipal Archives. These records should be organized and stored in the same manner and same location as other city documents. The website for the Municipal Archives boasts of the benefits of "centralized access to the wealth of material deposited in the Archives…." We do not believe those benefits should be withdrawn from researchers and historians.

We also understand that the agreement does not require public access to the documents (except pursuant to a FOIL request), and may, in fact, require written approval by the City before granting access to the public. This could provide a barrier to researchers that does not currently exist with respect to similar city records.

Finally, we are concerned that the current arrangement essentially gives a private entity priority of access to important documents of civic and historical interest: documents that belong to all of us. At the present moment, the Rudolph W. Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs has unfettered access to all of these records, while the public has no access at all. We believe that this kind of preference is inconsistent with the obligation of DORIS to provide public access as swiftly as possible.

DORIS does provide access to city records, including mayoral records, at the earliest possible time. While full processing of a mayoral collection of a comparable size to the Giuliani records can take as long as two years, certain sections of the collection can be made available earlier by using a rapid screening and listing process. This is a common practice among archives, all of which have to deal with researcher demands, lack of funds, and sizable backlogs.

We believe that DORIS has in the past met professional standards and will, with sufficient funding, continue to do so in the future. Moreover, DORIS archivists are the most skilled and experienced at appraising, processing, describing and making available City records. If DORIS's efforts have been hampered by a lack of funding, the City and the Mayor's Office must bear some responsibility. If additional funds are needed to expedite the processing of the former mayor's papers, then the City should seek additional funds, through grants or other means, in order to accomplish that goal.

As Steven L. Hensen, the current president of the Society of American Archivists, stated in an editorial published on December 16, 2001, in the Washington Post, on the subject of the recent Executive Order 13233 regarding presidential records:

Those of us who labor in the nation's archives are entrusted with ensuring that citizens and scholars have access to the records of human society and culture, as well as to the important records of our government. The guarantee of such access is a cornerstone of the Constitution and of democracy in general.

In the spirit of that message, the professional archival and historical communities call upon you to fulfill your responsibility to the people and scholars of the city, the country, and the world by terminating the current arrangement, and regaining custody of these important records.

Sincerely,

THE ARCHIVISTS ROUND TABLE OF METROPOLITAN NEW YORK
THE GOTHAM CENTER FOR NEW YORK CITY HISTORY
THE MID-ATLANTIC REGIONAL ARCHIVES CONFERENCE
THE NEW YORK ARCHIVAL SOCIETY
THE SOCIETY OF AMERICAN ARCHIVISTS

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For more information contact the Gotham Center at gotham@gc.cuny.edu
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