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DC Records at Archives: Matthew B. Gilmore Responds

Matthew B. Gilmore Responds

The National Archives’ response to the concerns recently raised is disappointingly non-responsive. Clearly the National Archives does not (nor do members of the local DC historical community) have an awareness of the special responsibility the Archives it bears as the holder of the largest collection of historical archival materials related to the District of Columbia.

The specific issue raised of transferring District of Columbia court records to Kansas City was not addressed. Indeed, the example of the Bankruptcy Court records which have been consolidated in Kansas City is a very disturbing precedent. Evidently all bankruptcy cases, including DC cases, are now only available by electronic request.

“On-Site Review Services have been Discontinued: The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is now providing access to court records exclusively by online ordering or by mail or fax. NARA will no longer provide on-site court case review services to the public at its Federal Records Centers.

This change applies to all closed bankruptcy, civil, criminal, and court of appeals case files that remain in the legal custody of the courts but are physically stored at NARA’s Federal Records Centers.

The National Archives is making this change because records can now easily be ordered electronically. It is no longer cost-effective to operate satellite research rooms to provide access to these records.”

This may sound reasonable and even an improvement, but the request is only for copies; it seems the actual records are not available to consult. This makes research a very expensive proposition. If the case is a large one it will be a very expensive request. Request multiple cases and the cost mounts. Monetizing records in this fashion — is this a policy the National Archives stakeholders approve? Who decided and approved that “cost-effectiveness” determination?

No criticism of the care of the District of Columbia government records held by the Archives was suggested. They comprise Record group 351. The Archive’s website also has a page listing that and other DC-related records, but it is simply not even an attempt to describe all the DC-related records in the Archives.

Important record groups like those of the Records of the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital, the National Capital Planning Commission, National Capital Housing Authority, Commission of Fine Arts, the Rent Commission of the District of Columbia are not included. For a fuller picture just consult the “Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States” -– online under ‘D’  and under ‘W’.

The concern is that these and other record groups which document the District of Columbia should continue to be housed in the National Capital Region and that the court records not be sequestered off in Kansas City and inaccessible for free research consultation.