In a great bit of news for lovers of New York City history (and everyone else, for that matter), the New York City Municipal Archives recently announced that its new online gallery, featuring a staggering 870,000 plus historical images of New York, is now open and accessible to the public. In addition to historic photographs, many of which have never been released before, users are also able to access maps, moving images, and audio recordings through the online gallery.
Through this project, which took four years to complete, the Municipal Archives has done us all an indispensable service by enabling unprecedented access to New York’s documentary record and appealing to a wide variety of historical interests (social, cultural, political, architectural, industrial, environmental, economic, criminal, etc.!).
Deservedly, the unveiling of its online gallery has brought the Municipal Archives some generous media coverage (including pieces in The Gothamist and The Atlantic, as well as on CBS and Yahoo), which in turn has helped make the digital gallery immensely popular since its introduction. So popular, in fact, that the Municipal Archives has had to temporarily suspend access to the gallery in order to ensure that its infrastructure will be able to accommodate such an overwhelming response.
The gallery’s site is still down as of this writing, but be sure to check it frequently for the gallery’s re-launch (in the meantime, Alan Taylor’s coverage in The Atlantic provides over 50 great images from the gallery to give you a sense of what to expect once it returns in full form). This tremendous achievement, as well as the overwhelmingly positive response that has greeted it, is a testament to the crucial service that the Municipal Archives provides to the New York City community and beyond. It also, unfortunately, comes at a time of uncertainty for the future of the Archives itself.
The New York City Council’s recent legislation proposing to revoke the autonomy of the Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS, of which the Municipal Archives is a part) and merge it with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) is still pending and, if passed, threatens to drastically undermine DORIS’s professional resources and its ability to provide public access to the historical record of New York City.
If such valuable initiatives as the Municipal Archives’s digital gallery are to continue, it is imperative that DORIS remains an independent agency within the New York City government. Please refer to the website of the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York (or the Round Table’s earlier post on this blog) for more information on the legislation concerning the future of DORIS.