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Special Library in Focus: The National Archives at New York City


Bowling Green, New York City, Digital ID 836087, New York Public LibraryI was super excited to tour the National Archives at New York City (part of the National Archives and Records Administration or NARA) on February 12, 2013 because I thought that it would be a terrific experience for the staff of the library. I became even more convinced that it would be a great experience when I saw a photo of the new location of the NARA library at a METRO (Metropolitan Library Council of New York) conference. The architecture in the building is spectacular! The new location is as follows:

National Archives at New York City
Learning Center, Welcome Center and Research Center (3rd floor)
1 Bowling Green
Hours for the Public: (free admission)
Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
First Saturday of month 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (computer and microfilm research only) 

No appointment is necessary for the public to use computer or microfilm resources, but an appointment to research original records is encouraged, especially if NARA needs to obtain some of the material from another location. It can take up to ten days for archivists to respond to an email request for the public, and there are sometimes some emails back and forth to clarify the research question.

Military Records, Native Americans, Immigration and More: NARA has 44 locations in the United States, most of which are around the coastal areas, which collectively house 12 billion records. The organization was created in 1934 during the New Deal era. There are regional offices, Presidential Libraries associated with NARA, and the St. Louis, MO and Washington, DC locations of NARA have many military records. The DC office has the Charters of Freedom on display, including The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, and the Constitution. There was a copy of The Bill of Rights given to each state, and NYPL has a copy. Only about 2% - 5% of government documents are deemed to have permenant historical or legal value to be archived at NARA, such as the Chinese Exclusion Files from 1880-1940. Approximately 1% - 2% of NARA materials are digitized at this time. Most of the items that are digitized have a high reference use.

There are also many materials in NARA related to the military and Native Americans. Some other interesting records that NARA has includes court cases from maritime disasters such as the sinking of the Titanic, immigration records including naturalization records and passenger lists, and historical records. NARA has records from copyright and patent infringement cases that include figures such as Thomas Edison, and criminal cases such as charges filed against the Rosenbergs.

U.S. Generals--1864.,United States Generals--1864., Digital ID 831470, New York Public LibrarySpectacular Architecture in NARA's New Home!: The National Archives at New York City office started moving to its new location in October of 2012, and it finally opened to the public in February 2013. The reasons for the move included making the collections more accessible to the public and meeting preservation standards in terms of temperature, humidity, etc. The location covers government documents of interest from New York, New Jersey, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. There are 14 full-time staff at the NARA NYC location. Three of the staff are in the education department, nine are archival staff, and three of the staff work with different federal agencies. Most of the archivists have a master's degree in library science and history. They offer tours for school groups and educational programs for the public, such as "Introduction to the Census" and "Passenger Arrival Records." They also offer a "Student Hands-On Archives" program. The learning center is located on the third floor, and they have original materials on the fourth floor. They allow visitors to photograph, photocopy and scan archival materials after staff has inspected the equipment and the condition of the records. They currently have 22 public access computers that do not have time limits.

Presentation for Library Staff: One of NARA's education specialists gave the staff of NYPL a most excellent presentation and tour of the library. He started off by giving us five minutes to explore the collection. After reading through the selected archives that were displayed in the presentation room, we reconvened and he asked participants to talk about what they had seen. I saw a letter from Ho Chi Minh to President Truman dated February 28, 1946. A staff member mentioned that some of the records reveal what daily life was like for citizens of a particular time period. She viewed an older food chart next to a newer food chart so that she could compare the citizenry's nutritional habits in different time periods and learn about the government's role in regulating food. Another person saw a photography of a civil rights march on Washington. Someone else saw an image of Apollo that they had not seen in other media. A participant saw a letter that Fidel Castro wrote as a child to President Roosevelt, in which he asked for a $10 bill so that he could see American money. In fact, our presenter found a letter that he wrote to the President George Bush when he was in first grade in the George Bush Presidential Library.

United States., Digital ID 1572783, New York Public LibraryI asked what the role of the Chief Archivist of the United States was. Our presenter mentioned that the current Chief Archivist, David Ferriero, formerly worked for NYPL and his role was to set the direction of NARA. Part of that includes using social media more often to connect with consumers of the information. Another agency, the National Park Service, used Facebook to connect with customers during Superstorm Sandy. A question is how to preserve information generated from social media, and whether to preserve comments and re-tweets.

I asked how FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) affects NARA's holdings. The Office of Government Information Services within NARA serves as a resource to review FOIA issues and resolve FOIA disputes. Our presenter said that some of the National Archives at New York City's governmental records are classified or closed, such as grand jury testimonies. Our guide knew of two such testimonies that were opened by a federal judge. In order to gain access to closed records created by executive branch agencies, individuals must submit FOIA requests.

Accessing Electronic Archives: Our presenter showed us NARA's Online Public Access Catalog (OPA) ( we were able to search for records on dogs in the military. We found an intriguing entry labeled "Canine College." There was a video associated with this entry. NARA has some videos on YouTube as well, and there are millions of views from YouTube.

The last likeness taken of Andrew Jackson., Digital ID 423739, New York Public LibraryUsers of the NARA library: The clientele of NARA include citizens seeking entitlements, genealogists, academic, historic and legal researchers, the general public, and educators and students. In 2012, visits to the NARA NYC location were as follows. About 4,000 researchers visited the library and there were about 9,000 attendees to the institutions programs. Web site hits to the umbrella web site of NARA were around 20 million in 2012. NARA also has a variety of social media pages, including Facebook pages for each office, Twitter accounts, blogs, and most recently, a Pinterest page.

Tour of the NARA library: After the scintillating presentation, our presenter gave us a tour of the Research Center on the third floor. They have a Welcome Center which directs people where to go. There is an exhibit space, and the exhibits are changed annually. The archivists and volunteers in the research room help researchers find the materials they need and also monitor the activities in the room.

The staff at NARA loves visitors, and they hope to see you there soon!


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