The Archivist’s Lament, Part 2


Alas, we don’t know who most of these people are, but we are working on it

Photographs provide a visual window into the past. They serve to document the people and places that shaped history, as well as embody a medium for creativity and social change.

Unfortunately, preserving photographs can be difficult for archivists. Sometimes we may discover flawless photos that were stored in optimal conditions and left untouched for decades. More often, photographs may be in state of deterioration from inappropriate storage and handling, water damage, or mold accumulation. These photographs require professional assistance from qualified conservators to stabilize and help preserve the images for future generations.

A year ago the archives staff discovered photographs that were especially in need of preservation treatment. Two undated and uncaptioned  images of Luther Gulick and founding members of the Bureau of Municipal Research (later Institute of Public Administration) were partially adhered to glass from past water damage. One photograph also contained trace elements of inactive mold, usually represented by dark powdery spots on paper-based materials.


Gulick, seated second row, second from left, with colleagues from the BMR in an undated and uncaptioned photo with mold and water damage.




A closeup of mold damage, with glass fused to the photo.

Another group image measuring about 8 x 26 inches of Gulick and BMR founders was found in three separate pieces and contained several tears. The panoramic photograph was fragile to the touch and conservation work was needed in order to stabilize the image.


A torn photo that needed re-attaching

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Baruch archives sought help from conservators at The Better Image. The conservators successfully stabilized the panoramic photograph through a number of treatments:

  • The surface was cleaned with solvents on cotton swabs.
  • The photograph was placed in a humidification chamber and flattened between polyester sheets.
  • Tears on the image were mended with wheat starch paste and Japanese tissue paper.
  • The print was mounted on an archival mount for easy access.
  • Areas of loss were painted using watercolors.

Voila, the restored photo!

In order to remove the two photographs that were adhered to glass, the conservators cleaned the photos to remove any mold that on the emulsion, placed them in a local humidification chamber and carefully removed the glass. Portions of the image were also painted to fill in the lost emulsion.

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We also received digital copies of these two images previously adhered to glass. One can see the attention to detail in replacing the structures lost to water damage on the digital copies below.

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After restoration: the fused glass removed and damaged area painted over.

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The careful work on these three photographs took several months in order to ensure that the conservation treatments did not do any further damage to the images. Now archivists and researchers can handle the panoramic image with ease and Gulick and his associates can be preserved for generations.


To Shoot, But Not to Kill (Books)

This post was written by Deborah Tint, digitization project manager for the three-member archival team preparing the IPA Collection for online access.

In July, Baruch began a one-year project, with generous funding from Carnegie Corporation of New York, to digitize treasures from the IPA Collection for widespread scholarly access. We are now well into the process of documenting IPA publications from the key years 1920-1959, a period that saw great changes in the shape of public institutions from the state to the local level.

Capturing images of these multifarious items has presented some interesting challenges. Like shooting the materials — without killing them.

The collection consists of reports, frank assessments of the successes and shortcomings of governmental organizations in a period when institutional oversight was still a revolutionary concept. These reports appear in several forms, from their first iteration as internal documents; to painstakingly typed carbons on onionskin paper, bound together with brass grommets and tied with ribbon; to the later published books.

A sizable number of the carbons

The carbon copies are fragile


The carbons bound with ribbon make photography a challenge.

A sizable number of the carbons may well be the only extant copy and must be recorded. Though remarkably resilient for such thin paper (and 80-year-old paper at that), they still need to be handled with great care for scanning. Because these items cannot be unbound, our faithful flatbed scanner will not do the job. These can only be safely photographed with the help of a dedicated book scanner that holds the book open at a gentle angle that does not strain the binding of the book.

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No books were harmed in the making of this production.


Not the Bat Cave, just our Atiz BookDrive Pro

Newly acquired for the IPA project, our Atiz BookDrive Pro came to us in pieces and was assembled in an afternoon by our trusty IT team. Learning the ins and outs of the software took a little longer and we are continually exploring new ways to safely prop up the books.

Once set up and sporting its fitted hood of black fabric to control lighting conditions, this state of the art device looks like it comes from the early days of photography. Our BD Pro carries two Canon EOS Rebel Ti5 cameras on adjustable arms, angled to each shoot one side of the open book. An L-shaped acrylic platen slides down to gently keep the book open and allow the cameras to record the pages.

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The Atiz in action

Later the individual images are cropped and arranged into a book file for long-term storage and public access on the project website which will be created in the coming year. The carbons present some added wrinkles (but no wrinkling the materials please!).

onion skin

With such flimsy pages, a paper backing sheet needs to be inserted behind every transparent page, and static renders the platen useless, so we fashioned custom binding grips out of foam to support the most fragile books and keep them open for shooting.

initial stage

our workaround: homemade foam sleeves

The initial stages of setup involved a lot of problem-solving but we are now in the groove and producing hundreds of scans a day towards our goal of rendering 30,000+ pages of IPA materials view-worthy for scholars and researchers by July of 2016.

Stay tuned.


The Rich Blue Line: NYPD, 1952


New York’s Finest, circa 1952. Note the quaint dome light. – – N.Y Daily News

Last December we posted on the miserably underpaid New York police of 1913, with the inevitable consequence of graft. https://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/ipaprocessing/2014/12/the-poor-police-of-a-century-ago/

Well, what a difference four decades made.

Our archival team digitizing key printed materials in Baruch’s Institute of Public Administration Collection under a Carnegie grant — Deborah Tint, Hilary Clifford and Sarah Rappo — highlighted a striking find: a 1952 IPA study of NYPD and Fire Department salaries and career practices. From it, a different picture emerges. By then, as the IPA’s forerunner Bureau of Municipal Research had recommended in 1913, pay had risen appreciably, reaching levels almost comparable to today’s — but other serious problems remained.

The 1952 study was part of the effort to modernize New York City government by the Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey (a yawner of a name perhaps designed to mask its revolutionary mandate.) Of course, the committee’s director was Luther Gulick.

Career and Salary Features for

In 1913, as we wrote, New York’s rookie cops were earning about $800 a year — in today’s dollars about $19,186. That, as we noted, was less than their cost of living, meaning, no doubt, that they were making up the different somehow, probably illicitly. (Today’s officers start out at $44,744, including benefits.)

But by 1952, the IPA study reported, police officers were starting at $3,725 and going up to $4,780 (in today’s dollars $33,544 and $43,044, respectively) — leading the nation in police and fire salaries. And it wasn’t because New York was the most expensive city. Far from it. Out of 34 U.S. cities in 1950, with Seattle the most expensive, New York ranked close to the bottom — 25th.

Cops made more in uniform than in previous jobs, and they had more vacations and sick leave than employees in private industry. In fact, the study found, through the Depression and early 1940s, police captains were earning more than doctors or lawyers, although the situation reversed during and after World War II.

Policemen and women — females having joined the ranks in 1918 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_New_York_City_Police_Department — also earned more than most other city employees. And the others couldn’t retire after only 20 years with substantial pensions, or even three-quarters pay for service-connected disabilities (which an inordinate number of members, then, as now, seem to incur.)

And yet the NYPD was rife with problems, the study found. There were no educational requirements — applicants needed only write and read English “understandingly.” The written test questions could easily be crammed-for. There were long delays between the exams and appointments. Medical tests were perfunctory. Background checks were haphazard. Of 4,000 applicants appointed in 1947, “character questions” were raised in 249 cases. Only 50 would-be cops were dropped. The other 199 survived, with a total of 267 various charges on their records. Furthermore, the police commissioner had wide discretion on appointments and promotions, opening the way to favoritism and politicking.

Rotten apples in the department didn’t have to worry. “Disciplinary action has reached the vanishing point,” the study found. From more than 5,000 charges brought against officers in 1928, by 1950 the number had dropped by 90 per cent. From close to 90 dismissals in 1937, fewer than 10 officers were dismissed in 1950.

Whether drunk on duty, firing their weapons while drunk, assaulting civilians, or disappearing from their posts, officers were rarely punished. Awards, on the other hand, were dispersed with abandon.

And surprisingly the IPA found, police work at the time was less dangerous than widely thought. In fact, death rates showed that agriculture, construction, mining and quarrying were all more hazardous than policing. Accidents among the police were less frequent — and less severe — than in the city’s purchasing department.

The IPA offered a lot of recommendations, many of which were stymied by the increasingly powerful police and fire unions.

The NYPD cracked down on abuses. But following decades revealed just how far the department still had to go.