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Jax Daily Record Monday, Aug. 20, 200712:00 PM EST

39 years of City history archived one clipping at a time

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

Pick up any newspaper any day of the week and you’ll find stories related to City government and the people who are its noisemakers, then clip out the story, put it in a file and file it in a cabinet. There will soon be quite a collection on the shelf.

Do that with every newspaper every day of the week for 39 years and you’ll have a collection equal to the newspaper clipping archives maintained by the City Council’s research department.

“We have literally tens of thousands of clippings in our archives representing anything that deals directly with or might potentially relate to anything City government is – or even might be – involved with. Assuming it was written up in a newspaper – and anything important is – we can find it,” said Chief of Research Jeff Clements.

He said the collection is primarily used to determine the historical context of issues that arise concerning contemporary legislation.

“We can research the history of a piece of property that is now a City park. We have files on everyone who has ever been on the Council since Consolidation. We have a file on every public event that has involved the City. We even have a file on the history of how bright people think streetlights should be.”

From the time the collection was started almost 40 year ago and until the early 1970s, after the item was clipped out it was taped to a piece of standard office paper and filed. As soon as copy machines became widely available and affordable enough for City government, the method changed. The clippings were copied and then discarded with only the more stable photocopy retained for the archive.

“Retrieval has been the tricky part. I’ve been working for the City for 18 years, so I’ll have some recollection that will be a starting point for where to look in the archives for just about any topic. If it’s a topic that’s before I arrived, I can ask several employees who have been here many, many years. They are the institutional knowledge of City government,” said Clements.

The collection is currently stored in a huge shelving system at City Hall, but that is about to change.

Clements said in the next few weeks, his staff will no longer use the old methods to harvest news items. The mouse will replace the scissors and every applicable news item will be archived electronically and stored on a computer server. Eventually the older documents will be scanned and converted to digital files and posted in the new virtual collection.

“We decided to make the change for several reasons. We were running out of storage space and the Council is going paperless for all documents in order to save money. The new electronic archives will also include a database (currently being developed by the City’s Information Technology Department) that will be searchable by keyword. That feature will make retrieving information much faster and easier than it is now. It will be able to be searched by subject or by publication name or by date of publication or range of dates,” said Clements.

He predicted, however, that with so much information already archived and more being added each day, even the best keyword system will often require some poking around to find a specific document.

“Even though the file folders and file cabinets are officially obsolete for City Council research, the excitement of discovery will remain part of the system,” said Clements.

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