A Short Retrospective
Robert W. Arnold III
NEW YORK ASSOCIATION OF
LOCAL GOVERNMENT RECORDS OFFICERS
Hunter, New York
11 June 2007
New York was among the first states to enter the Union and one of the last to establish a state archives, in 1976. Before that, the State Library and other agencies had exercised many of the tasks now assigned to the New York State Archives, collecting historical records, including some sporadically and poorly documented transfers from local governments. The great Capitol Fire of 1911 destroyed unknown quantities of such records and gave rise to what I call the "Cask of Amontillado" school of state oversight for local government records, lots of patronizing advicea bout fire protection, indexing and filing and vaults.
By the 1980s, centuries’ accumulation of statutes, regulations, customs, civil procedure and folklore had created an impenetrable morass of obsolete, obsolescent, weak, contradictory, vague, inconsistent and clumsy practices regarding local government records. No one knew what to do, least of all the State Archives. There was little help available anywhere.
There were no Regional Advisory Officers. There were few people in the State Archives who understood anything at all about local governments and their records. There were no grants beyond a piddling few dollars from the State Library’s discretionary grants program and the NHPRC. Records Retention and Disposition Schedules were printed in miniscule type – the State Archives alone was responsible for the boom in bifocals during the 1980s – and were minutely detailed, hard to use and in fact were mainly not used. There was no training program. There were no advisory publications to speak of and those that existed were badly out of date. There was no Local Government Records Advisory Council to advise the Commissioner of Education.
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