City Council Approves Plan to Create City Archives Commission

Sep 20, 2012

Pittsburgh City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to give preliminary approval to a bill that would create a Commission on City Archives.
The legislation is up for a final vote on Tuesday.

Sponsoring Councilman Patrick Dowd said the commission would be tasked with establishing a standard practice for archiving across all city departments, which currently have disparate and unofficial policies for storing old government files.  Dowd described the basement of one city building as a multi-story warehouse for "cages and cages" of dusty maps and papers.

"The first step would be a survey of the documents, then a survey of practices and policies," said Dowd.  "Those things would be brought to this commission, which would ultimately approve those policies and bring them to this Council.  We can begin, in this city, to actually have a policy for archiving. That means that we will determine that some documents are valuable and need to be saved, and some documents are not."

Dowd said the commission would bring together all city department directors, as well as a professional archivist and a preservation expert.  The city clerk would chair the commission.

Dowd acknowledged that his archiving plan "is not a minor undertaking" in terms of cost. He said it's possible that at least one full-time city archivist might be hired, and suggested that a full City Archives Department could eventually be created.

Councilman Bill Peduto said this issue has some urgency.

"The administration looks to sell 200 Ross Street," said Peduto, referring to the Civic Building, which houses the City Planning Department as well as some city authorities.  "We have to make sure that when the building potentially does get sold, that the records within it stay, and that those records are not just warehoused, but are used and utilized and accessible."

Many city documents are currently stored in other Pittsburgh institutions like universities and museums, said Councilman Dowd.  However, he said the documents' locations don't matter as much as the city's ability to find them.