A Guide to Documenting Environmental Affairs in New York State
People will bring to this guide different degrees of knowledge and experience, different perspectives, and different needs for information and guidance. Therefore, we invite you to look through the Table of Contents and go to the places that most interest you. Read the guide straight through if you want the full picture in the order we conceived it, or jump around, following your own logic, questions, and trains of thought. A brief summary of A Guide to Documenting Environmental Affairs in New York State can also be found on the New York State Archives website. The summary provides you with a brief overview of the guide's the main points.
If you are engaged with environmental affairs or you represent an organization that collects historical records, this guide is for you. We hope Documenting Environmental Affairs will alert you to the importance of preserving this part of New Yorks history and show you ways that you can become part of the effort. The following lists highlight the kinds of people and groups for whom this guide is written.
Most people who use this guide will be or represent either:
Creators of records People and organizations who are involved with environmental affairs from all points of view and all facets of this vast and complex subject and who generate records in the course of their daily activities, some of which may be of historical value; such as:
- Environmental organizations and other organizations related to environmental affairs
- Activists on all sides of environmental issues
- Legislators and legislative committees and their staffs
- Lawyers on all sides of environmental issues
- State and local government agencies and other entities that address environmental issues
- Environmental businesses and businesses that deal with environmental issues
- Environmental scientists, historians and other scholars
- Entities, public and private, that fund environmental affairs
Custodians of records Archivists, librarians, and other information specialists who work with organizations such as archives, libraries, historical societies and museums, and colleges and universities that collect historically valuable records and make them accessible to the public for research; such as:
- Records managers and archivists in:
- State government
- Local government
- Federal government
- Colleges and universities
- Private and non-profit environmental organizations
- Corporations and businesses
- Public and university librarians
- Museums and historical societies
- County and Town Historians
Some readers will be users of records who need environmental documentation for their research and want to ensure the survival of critical information; such as:
- People engaged in environmental affairs in:
- State government
- Local government
- Federal government
- Private and non-profit organizations
- Lawyers on all sides of environmental issues
- Environmental policy researchers and analysts
- Environmental action and advocacy groups
- Environmental scientists, historians, and other writers
- Artists and writers
- Students and teachers
- Regional and local historians
Because the creators and custodians of records have different roles to play in the documentation process, some sections of the guide are addressed especially to one group or the other.
Most people and organizations that generate historically important records in their work are unaware of their enduring value and may feel they dont have the time or resources to deal adequately with even their current files, much less archival records they dont use regularly. As a result, all across the state jewels of our environmental heritage are at risk.
- The founder of an organization that has been working to maintain the human and ecological health, safety, and beauty of her part of Western New York in the face of a high concentration of landfills, some of them toxic, has 30 years worth of the organizations records boxed in her attic. She wonders whether they would be of interest to anyone besides her are they worth saving at all?
- An organization that has pioneered environmental action and litigation in New York since the 1960s has a new director and board and wonders what to do with the boxes of records from its early years that it no longer uses. It doesnt have room for them anymore, and they are of no use to anyone stacked in a back office.
- At the end of a long and distinguished career working on environmental affairs with non-profit organizations and numerous state government agencies and programs, one man has recently pared the collection 150 boxes of documents in his garage down to 40. This distilled legacy of a lifes work contains information and perspectives that would help illuminate the history of environmental affairs in New York. But what is he to do with these records? How can they be made an accessible, useful resource for New Yorks citizens and researchers?
- A former staff member for a legislative environmental committee remembers her frustration as she stood before boxes containing administrative files, testimony, and analysis from public hearings on vital environmental issues held a decade earlier. The office was moving, more space was needed, and she was concerned that historically important documents might be slated for recycling.
- An environmental consulting firm that has advised businesses, governments, and non-profits on a wide range of sometimes precedent-setting environmental issues is moving to a new facility. Some of their records from earlier decades contain important scientific data or document perspectives and positions on issues that cannot be found elsewhere. Unless someone identifies the historically valuable records and finds a new home for them, they will be recycled and lost for good.
- Many organizations and businesses, large and small, find that amidst the mass of files in their offices, it is difficult to locate a particular document when it is needed, and old files no longer used, some of which may be historically valuable, are taking up too much valuable space. The temptation to throw them out is strong.
If these conditions persist and large sectors of the environmental record are lost to the recycling bins and the dumpsters, the history that survives will be skewed and misleading. Will your organization and its contributions be remembered? Will your side of the controversies be fairly represented? Will people in the future be able to base their decisions and actions on an accurate, balanced picture of what happened in their past?
In How to Document Environmental Affairs you will see that devoting even a modest amount of time and resources to dealing with your records can bring significant benefits to your organization and help preserve your contributions to the history of environmental affairs in New York.
Collecting records pertaining to environmental affairs can make sense and be good policy for many kinds of repositories, from the smallest county historical society to the largest institutional libraries and archives. As you will see below in What to Document in Environmental Affairs, this topic is vast and varied, and the need for improved documentation is enormous. Because environmental concerns permeate a vast range of organizations and fields (education, business, recreation, economic development, land use planning, and health, to name a few), documentation in this area allows a repository to develop relationships with many kinds of constituents, selecting those that are most appropriate to its mission (see Organizational context). Finally, the generally high public profile of environmental issues and the State Archives emphasis on this area may facilitate raising funds, gaining organizational commitments, and generating public support for documentation. Here are a few ways different kinds of repositories might approach documenting environmental affairs:
- A county historical society or museum might decide to document and present an exhibition and related public programs on an environmental issue in the county. If the controversy were a recent or current one, they could draw on historical trends or events leading up to it, and gain the cooperation and participation of parts of the community that were involved in the issue. The documentation component would contribute to the historical record, complement the public programming, and draw new people into the organization to use the records for research.
- A public library system could pick an environmental theme, such as land use, or one of the major events/issues described in the guide (for example, the New York City/Croton/ Catskill/Delaware water system) that is pertinent in the systems region and document the topic in one or more of the libraries in the system. Related lectures, exhibits, or other public programs would draw attention to the collection and strengthen relationships with the surrounding communities.
- A repository might build on an existing collection by documenting an environmental component not yet represented in the collection. For example, an organization with a collecting policy that focuses on business could decide to document environmental businesses and the impact of environmental issues on businesses in the area.
- A university or other institutional archives that collects primarily the records of the institution itself may find that the institution has launched important environmental innovations through research, a commitment to "green" buildings, new technologies for waste management, or cooperative projects with the surrounding community. The environmental focus of a documentation project would further the archives collecting mission, bring credit to the university for its innovations, and help remedy the statewide gap in documentation of environmental affairs.
The possibilities for documentation projects in environmental affairs are innumerable. Many organizations that are custodians of archival records will be able find ways to both further their own collecting policies and missions and contribute to the historical record of environmental affairs through documentation projects.
The State Archives believes that preserving a more complete and balanced historical record of environmental affairs is extremely important, and we invite you to join us in this effort.
If you are interested in environmental affairs and want its history to be preserved in the documentary record, then this guide is for you. As you will see, the challenge is enormous. No one organization or group can do it all, and it will take a long time, but everyone can do his or her part.
- The State Archives collects government records of environmental affairs and can help people in local government and the non-profit world through advice, technical assistance, and grant programs.
- Repositories, such as libraries, historical societies, museums, and other large organizations with archives, can integrate environmental affairs into their collecting policies, seek out partnerships with records creators, both organizations and individuals, who have important documentation, and preserve and make accessible the records they collect.
- People and organizations who generate or hold environmental records can pay attention to caring for them and seeking appropriate, publicly accessible repositories for them.
- People who use records can make their concerns known to repositories, records creators, funders, and government officials and encourage greater support for this effort.
Ultimately, it comes down to individual people to your taking the initiative in whatever ways make sense to you in the context of your work and your life. We urge you to read through this guide and think about what it might mean for you. Then be sure to ask for help or clarification.
The staff in Archival Services at the State Archives are ready and eager to assist you as you think about how this guide might apply to your work. We can answer questions about the guide itself, and we can offer information and advice all along the way as you contemplate and undertake efforts to improve documentation of environmental affairs as part of your regular work. We are also eager for your comments and suggestions as to how we can improve this guide and make it more useful to you and others. So please feel free to contact us any time.