August 7, 1998
Archivist of the United States Hosts Open Forum on Space Planning
New York. . .Last night John W. Carlin, Archivist of the United States, spoke at the Public Meeting held at the NARA Northeast Regional facility in New York City to discuss the NARA Space Planning Initiative. The following is the transcription of his opening statement which preceded a three hour question and answer period.
Transcript of Opening Remarks by
John W. Carlin, Archivist of the United States
Public Meeting, NARA Space Planning Initiative
Thursday, August 6, 1998, 7 p.m.
12th Floor Cafeteria, 201 Varick Street, New York, NY
I'm John Carlin. I'm Archivist of the United States and I am very pleased to be with you this evening to discuss a topic which I can sense is of interest to the audience, and I can assure you on behalf of the National Archives and Records Administration we appreciate that interest because it is our intent to put together a plan that best serves the most people we possibly can. And so with that in mind I would like to first of all make a few comments. The bulk of the time I want for you to ask your questions, share your concerns, etc., because we are literally here to listen and to learn primarily because we are at the stage in planning where there is little concrete developments we can share because we are still gathering information.
Before I go any further, I want to introduce Rich Claypoole who is from the Washington office and runs the regional field operations across the country of which this facility is a part of, but it is from Atlanta to Anchorage, from all the way from here to several facilities on the west coast. And Rich is co-chair of the Space Study Committee. And I have Diane LeBlanc with me who is the regional director which encompasses facilities here, the one that was in Bayonne, and up in Boston, as well as Pittsfield. Have I accurately described your territory? [Yes]. And they will assist me if the questions are specific in terms of something that the committee has discussed in some depth that I am not aware of or if you have questions from an operational basis that I might not be aware of, they will assist me.
Let me begin by saying this, the one thing I can assure you, long term, is that the status quo is not acceptable. And I hope you understand and appreciate that so the dialogue we have this evening can be most productive. The status quo is not acceptable. Now, listen carefully as to why I make that statement.
First of all, we do not have enough space period. I say that agency wide. I say it for every single facility in the field. I say it will very shortly be the case in Washington in terms of headquarters records. We have to have more space. That applies here because part of the plan I can share with you is that we have committed ourselves to pre-archival records being stored in archival space. That has never been the policy of the agency. That is a change. That significantly alters the space needs. But it makes no sense to me as the Archivist of the United States that we store what will be records that will be accessioned into the archives in temporary locations where we have no humidity temperature controls. That does not make good sense. If the records are valuable, they're scheduled permanent, they should be treated as valuable and permanent all through the lifecycle of the record. We have enough space in this facility, right here, for about half of what is already in the category of either accessioned or pre-archival. So when I say, the status quo is not acceptable, I'm not satisfied that your pre-archival records should continue to be stored in inappropriate space. Because it is a situation where we not only need more space, but better space. Too much of our field operation, almost without exception, is in standards far below what a state archives or any archival facility would consider appropriate. And I am committed, as part of this space plan that will take a long time to put together but a much longer time to implement, that at the end of that time, we will have archival records in archival space. That will be true here, as well as any part of the system around the country.
The goals of our space study: one, more space; two, better space; three, more access for more people; and four, to do it in a cost-effective way. When I say cost effective, I don't mean low bid. I simply mean we have to take into consideration cost issues. They vary from one part of the country to another. We know that. But they also vary within communities. And its our responsibility, as public officials spending tax dollars, to do it wisely. Again, not low bid, not doing it cheap, recognizing all factors. We need more space. We need better space. We want more access for more people. But in the context of those principles, we also want to do it in as cost-effective way as possible.
One of the interesting aspects of the development of this study has been the incredible creativity of rumors. And I would say to you that you not only have great baseball teams and wonderful entertainment and the financial capital of the world, you also have an incredible amount of creativity. Because whether I'm in Denver, Colorado, San Francisco, or Atlanta, and a rumor comes up that has absolutely no basis in truth, I can almost without exception trace it to New York City. So I compliment you for your creativity and one of the reasons I am anxious to be here tonight and address you and answer your questions is to try to eliminate some of these rumors which have absolutely no basis starting with the fact that all of the decisions have already been made, and that we are just out here pretending.
Now, I will tell you this. There are some facts that we're not going to ignore. Like if we've got a long term lease, it's unrealistic that we're going to have the resources to buy ourselves out in the next 20 years. So that is a factor that we will take into consideration. We are not ignoring the fact that we have a few facilities that have been recently constructed, either for our purpose that we signed a lease for, or that we actually own, and that will be taken into consideration. But that aside, there have been no decisions in terms of number of locations or where any locations might be. We are gathering information, trying to learn not only from people that we now serve, but people we don't serve very well now, to see if there is a better configuration or better locations or a better overall delivery of services that we can provide because we're serious about providing more access to more people. But the bottom line is it's wide open. When I addressed Rich and his co-chair and the committee back in March, I said one thing I want understood we have made no decision on numbers of locations. No decision on where those locations should be. We will honestly gather the information. And to those of you who might say, yes, but you have a strategic plan. Yes we do, and generally we follow it, but we don't follow it blindly. And so we will research and be able to document and provide an end product that we feel comfortable gives us more space, better space, serves more people, and a plan we can take to the Administration and Congress and get the resources to implement it.
The next thing I would share with you is that, well let me add this in terms of rumors, that I've enjoyed the fact that some people think the whole operation is going to move to Manhattan, Kansas, as if we have a facility there that I want to expand. We are not in Kansas, nor will be in Kansas. That is one thing I can assure you. No study is going to come up and suggest that's where we should be located. We're going to build off of and take advantage of concentrations. We're not going to move to rural areas. That's a given. We are not moving everything to the Kansas City caves. Those caves are for temporary records. Any pre-archival records there now are there only because we do not have enough archival space and it is the best temporary space we have because we have natural humidity and temperature control within a relatively close fluctuation, far superior to any other temporary facility we have in the country. So we have not made any decisions that are of interest to you at this point specifically.
I also want you to understand that when we talk about the word consolidation, if we refer to it in any way as the study goes along, one of the things we're looking for and we want the input of users obviously to make this decision is, is there a better configuration of where specific records are located, and if moved, could provide more access more effectively to more people? I'll give you an example. I'm not saying we made the decision, but it'll communicate to you what I am talking about.
The court records, and they're the most used as you know, of the state of Virginia, by our current system are in Philadelphia. The people of Virginia drive through the Washington area where we have large facilities to Philadelphia to have direct access to primary documentation. That, at a glance, does not sound smart. If there are collections we can put together that would assist researchers, we want to hear about it. Because again, the ultimate goal is more access for more people. Having a collection spread in many facilities may not be the best course, but for some it might be. So it is not just finding locations and keeping the status quo as far as what's been there. It's what records should best be there to best serve the researchers that use those records.
Another area where there's been a lot of speculation and nervousness is that we talked about the word digitization. Now, there are times when I cannot even spit it out, much less understand it or explain it in a scientific way, but there have been a lot of rumors that we've got this idea that we are going to scan, digitize, put the records up on the Internet, destroy the originals, and that's our space plan. That is absolutely untrue today, tomorrow, five years from now period. I say that rather confidently because it would not make any sense. We can't afford it. We could not even come close to taking that approach. That would be the most expensive route to take and highly, highly risky. So, if you hear the word digitization, it is in the context of a modest sample cross-section, and you will have a chance later to have a demonstration of this, of our holdings so that in about two years, and it will take a little longer to populate it totally, we will have a catalog up on the Internet, so that you will know what we have, where it is, and how to access it. If you just have access to a terminal to the Internet, regardless of where you are, that catalog will connect to about 120,000 of the most requested as well as a representative selection of documents across our entire system so that people can link to and see a sample, or see some of those records that we’ve had requested in huge numbers just to simply make it easier, to give school children something to download that will be helpful in their preparation of reports for school. And let me put that in perspective--120,000. We have in our entire holdings, on the permanent side, 5 billion pages. 120,000 is just not even a decent start. What I call it is a nice brochure that helps people understand what we have and entices them to the great opportunities of using primary documentation for a whole long list of reasons, all of which you are very well aware of in this room. But we are not moving toward using digitization to solve space. We're not moving toward microfilming to solve our space. Lesser but still too costly. Too scary. You know, the challenge in microfilming is getting it done so accurately you know you captured the record. And when you take on the challenge of being able to assure someone everything is there, it is far too costly to do so we use microfilming for preservation and access, but we don't throw away the primary documentation. That way we can microfilm with some efficiency and if we miss something, we're sorry, but we haven't lost it. We still have the original record.
Then I would only add before we go to your questions and comments that again this will be a long study and by that I mean we're talking 12 to 18 months, and I get used to saying that, and time goes by so I should probably be saying 9 to 15 or something like that because time does go by, but this is a study we take very seriously. And the implementation we know will take many, many years. Another thing I can assure you is that regardless what the conclusion is, for your interest, it is highly, highly unlikely, even if the conclusion is to move to a facility right across the street, that you will come very early because we have many, many challenges far greater than this that we would have to start with. I back up what I say. Here we don't have enough space, it should be better space, we don't like to be on the 12th floor of a building that has a history of a leaking roof. That's not smart. We know that, but it’s not leaking right now, and not just because its not raining. Let me add to our friends from GSA who are in the audience I'm sure we have a very good working relationship. They've been very supportive and good to work with, but the reality is this is what they call a class B facility and it's always going to be somewhat vulnerable. So we are going to at some point be looking, I can assure you, for a better facility. Regardless what the plan says, the status quo right here is not acceptable. We don't have enough space. It is too risky to permanent records. And we will move at some point, but probably several years down the road. With that, I'd like to go to your questions.
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