Housing Complex

Why D.C. Needs to Do Something With Its Archives

When scanning through the capital budget the other week, I noticed a curious line item: Half a million bucks for a "state of the art" facility to hold the District's archives. What's wrong with the current facility, exactly? And don't we have enough places that want to serve as repositories for D.C.'s historical artifacts?

At the moment, the closest thing D.C. has to a central archive is 1300 Naylor Court NW, an historic alley dwelling in Shaw. It hasn't been renovated since 1985, and it's too small: The city's repository of birth and death records, marriage certificates, and other documents of historical importance keeps getting bigger, after all. At the moment, a significant amount of material is stored in a General Services Administration warehouse in Suitland, which costs the District $750,000 every year (on top of the Office of Public Records' proposed $1.035 million budget this year).

The planning funds will help figure out how best to digitize a lot of that stuff, as well as scope out a new location that could more securely house the hard copies that really should be preserved (Duke Ellington's birth certificate, for example). Perhaps the answer ends up being a remodeled Martin Luther King Dr. Library, which needs to be re-thought as well.

Picture by Lydia DePillis

  • Marie

    Some of DC's holdings are in Suitland, MD in a federal records center.

  • Tom M.

    Wow. The "DC" is actually going to "digitize" some paper records. In time, we may actually make it to 1990!

  • Cap City Records Panhandler

    The best place to see photos of Marion B. & Ronald Reagan!

  • Tom M.

    "The Prez set me up...." Not just photos, but video and sound recordings. Is there a special Barry felony trials archive section??

  • Lily

    Put the deed books and other historic stuff at MLK Library and create a genuine and centrally located research center that buildings on the Washingtoniana Division. After all, they say that the library is too big for its present purpose.

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    FWIW, I made the point about a combined archives, museum, and library in 2005 here:

    - http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2005/12/central-library-planning-efforts-and.html

    The only thing is that archives management is partly about figuring out what you need to keep generally and what needs to be close and easily accessible, and what doesn't need to be as accessible, given minimal use.

    So you don't want to use space on the 900 block of G St. NW to store minimally important documents.

    This does remind me of the tenor then, when the City Museum went into its first failure cycle, and comparable issues with the DC Archives, concerns about Sumner Museum and Archives, and Moorland-Spingarn, which went through some serious cutbacks too.

    Another reason to have a wide-ranging cultural resources plan.

  • LongTimeRez

    Planning? Are you crazy, Richard Layman? You're much too visionary for this parochial 'burg.

    As long as John Hill--spokesperson for the growth machine--is running the show at the useless library board and picking stupid fights with Marion Barry and the Mayor, you can forget any progress.

...