New York City Hall Library

The New York City Hall Library offers an online search page that one might say lacks all character.

City Hall Library website.

There is no indication that this site is the reference collection for the Mayor of the City of New York.  It looks like a library student’s computer 101 project about a children’s reading room in a small midwest community.  The images on the home page are of giraffes in the African desert and kids in bright educational settings.  It would take a Situationist to figure out the collage of meaning. 

There is something amiss at the City Hall Library website.  The logo for Mandarin Oasis, the “library automation solutions” company which designed the site, is larger than “New York City Hall Library,” which in limp font acts as a title.  The browser of the site saves search items with a cutesy function called “My Bookbag.” The “Visual Search” page shows cheapo animation graphics straight from the online 99¢ store.

Mayor Bloomberg has promoted the gainful enterprise of technology and venture capital under his administration, having appointed a Chief Digital Officer, Rachel Sterneand recently released a Digital Jobs Map of the city that points out the locations of digital companies and tech investors at work in town.  They may not be hiring but have supplied jobs at the bottom line. 

The City Hall Library is operated by the Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS), which holds government records and city archives.  Late last year the City Council proposed to transfer control of DORIS to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), which oversees such things as Energy Management, Facilities Management & Construction, Real Estate Services and Fiscal Management & Operations.  Municipal Archives will heed the same boss as Municipal Supply Services.

The Information Science community has voiced opposition to the move to amend the Local Charter, which seeks to shore up resources by merging the maintenance of public agencies.  The worry is that collection management of records, which includes vast document and photo resources, will not gist with the bureaucracy of DCAS, whose 2,000 employees include engineers, carpenters, plumbers, lawyers, mechanics, information technology specialists, custodians and managers.  It is proposed that archivists and librarians will join these ranks.

It took NYC over half the 20thcentury to create a comprehensive and accessible department of records, chiefly by the ardent work of city librarian Rebecca Rankin.  Since 1977, when the city was broke and sought frugal alternatives, the city’s reference library, archives and records center has operated under DORIS.  Now, in a similar effort to save money, the department may be subsumed under a larger administrative entity, which in general seems likewise in objective but in the details might majorly conflict. 

Records Clerk Office, 31 Chambers St.

The sense of inadequacy inspired by the City Hall Library website is compounded by a recent scandal involving the computerized upgrade of city payroll.  For the job, the Mayor hired CityTime, “an automated workforce management system that covers some 163,000 New York City employees in 65 agencies and that saves the city time and money every day.”  But it turned out CityTime bilked NYC in a scheme that involved “kickbacks, systemic overbilling and an international money laundering conspiracy.”  CityTime was forced to pay back “the bulk of the $652 million it spent on a project that began as a $63 million attempt to automate employee timekeeping but ballooned tenfold….” CityTime is based in Virginia and not listed on the Digital Jobs Map.

Mandarin Oasis also is not listed on the Digital Jobs Map, with a postal address in Boca Raton, Florida, where many New Yorkers have decamped.  It seems an act of anti-information science to search “Robert Moses” and “Jimmy Walker” on this joyless platform.  The site serves as a jarring contrast to the hallowed opulence of the building in which the collection is harbored.  The facade of the Surrogate’s Court Building is filled with statues of past Mayors like DeWitt Clinton and Cadwallader David Colden.

31 Chambers St. ca. 1910s.

Readers can sign or not the petitionurging the failure of DCAS to take over the NYC Dept. of Records.

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