June 21, 2018
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Portland eyes deal with public library to store, digitize city archives

Seth Koenig | BDN
Seth Koenig | BDN
The Portland Public Library on Congress Street.
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland City Council on Monday night laid the groundwork for a deal in which the Portland Public Library would store and digitize city records.

The collaboration is being touted by city officials as a way to better preserve and allow public access to historic city documents and videos locked in a vault with strictly limited access.

While talks began between the city and library in early 2013, much remains to be ironed out between the two sides, such as prioritizing which documents and records will be transferred to the library first, working out a budget for the storage and digitization, and cementing procedures for handling confidential documents and responding to requests for access to public information.

“From a statutory perspective, it’s a very serious responsibility handling city records,” said Stephen Podgajny, outgoing executive director of the Portland Public Library, on Monday. “This has been a concern of the city for quite a while, considering the status of the records and the accessibility.”

With an 7-0 vote on Monday night, the council approved an agreement pushing talks to another level of intimacy, allowing City Manager Mark Rees and library officials to develop the details of an implementation plan.

“The city of Portland’s archives are valuable historic records that could be readily available to the public and to city employees as electronic scans,” said city attorney Danielle West-Chuhta in a memorandum to city councilors in advance of Monday’s meeting. “Historic records, including City Council orders, are stored in a vault and accessed only by city clerk personnel. It is hoped that both the archival preservation of those records and their scanning will be made possible by this collaboration.”

Under the agreement, the city would, at its own pace and convenience, begin turning permanent records — including paper documents, as well as VHS tapes and DVDs — over to the library to form a new special collection. That new special collection would be kept in a secure, climate-controlled environment, either in the library’s Portland Room at 5 Monument Square or at its Collections Management Center on Riverside Street.

“It doesn’t do a lot of good to have records preserved if they’re not accessible, and that’s what the library excels at,” said City Councilor Ed Suslovic Monday night.

“What the real payback here is for citizens to be able to get to city materials in context, with photo collections and other documentation in the library collection,” said Podgajny.


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