City archives describe people and actions
Note: January is always the time to look toward the future by reviewing the past. It is when we organize tax return data and resolve to clean out another closet. It seemed appropriate to have a story from the person who has one of the biggest "closets" to keep organized--the City of Alexandria Records Administrator and Archivist. Happy New Year!
-- Pam Cressey
Last fall I began a new job with the City of Alexandria as the Records Administrator and Archivist. I soon began to realize how certain activities in my home life parallel my tasks at the City’s Archives & Records Center. In both places I find that we have limited space and time to deal with filing and preserving records.
Documents which we maintain as records have different life spans, or retention periods. Some of these retention periods are set by others. For instance, the Library of Virginia establishes the retention schedule for City government records. While in our personal lives, the IRS dictates how long we must maintain our tax return documentation. There are other items which families elect to keep permanently, such as pictures of children. I am just beginning to understand the enormity of this task as we organize photographs of our 18 month old daughter, Anne.
I started going through my old high school and college papers in my attic (not the optimal environment to preserve records) last fall. I tried to decide what was worth keeping and what would be of no future value. I selected a cool month, since summer conditions in my attic are not the most hospitable, much like portions of the Archives & Records Center. Located at 801 South Payne Street in the old City incinerator, the Archives & Records Center could have a more favorable environment for both records and humans during certain times of the year.
The archives and records in the Center span from the day-to-day business items to collections donated by City officials. Since January 1996 I have been working on the arrangement and description of the papers of our former mayor, Senator Patsy Ticer. Along with files on various subjects and reams of correspondence, the collections includes invitations from President Clinton to the White House and items from her trip to Groton, Connecticut for the launching of the submarine USS Alexandria [SSN 757].
The City’s records are an important part of the community’s heritage and should be well preserved. I have taken courses over the past year from the National Archives and Records Administration and attended training sessions sponsored by the Mid Atlantic Regional Archives Conference. I am becoming more aware of many the factors involved in preserving records, both textual and non-textual. With this knowledge, I am now working with architects and engineers to study how we can improve the environment and physical layout of the Archives & Records Center for the increased preservation and use of the City’s records. This study, authorized by City Council and Capital Improvement Program (CIP) funds currently allocated for improvements over the next few years should go a long way to improve conditions.
The solution to my archives problem at home is a bit different, but still requires the allocation of some new capital. We are looking to move to a larger house. Of course there are other reasons to move into a bigger home, but it couldn’t hurt our effort to preserve important items.
The Archives & Records Center accepts volunteers interested in the field of archives and record management to assist in the care and preservation of the City’s records. Contact the staff at 703-838-4402 if you are interested in volunteering.