Board to push document preservation process

WESTFIELD – The Historical Commission is seeking to move the process of preserving municipal documents forward as quickly as possible with strong support from Mayor Daniel M. Knapik and the City Council.
Knapik requested the Historical Commission last fall to begin developing a document preservation plan, working with the City Clerk’s Office, as well as other municipal agencies that keep documents of the city and its residents, past and present.  The plan would address the preservation of existing and future documents in as many formats as possible.
The issue is that preservation effort is a broad spectrum responsibility that will involve municipal departments throughout city government, and a municipal goal without a comprehensive funding source.
“We’re looking to award contracts as quickly as possible,” Commission Chairwoman Kitt Milligan said Monday night. “We’re looking at a three year preservation program, and probably longer than that because we need to divide it into different areas, which is going to take many hours of planning and the need to have several companies to complete each area.”
Milligan said that the planning process will involve many of the city departments, especially the City Clerk, developing comprehensive document preservation goals and objectives.
“The Westfield Historical Commission recognizes the enormous scope of this endeavor,” Milligan said in written communication to Knapik and the City Council. “However, before more of our city’s history is forever lost, it is time to put a process in place and protect the historical documents that piece together what has become our City of Westfield.”
“The (commission) believes that the protection and preservation of the city’s historical documents is an important responsibility of city government,” Milligan said in that Nov. 19, 2013 communication. “The (commission) believes that is is critical that Westfield officials provide the necessary steps to ensure protection of such documents and records.”
The commission has already initiated discussions with documentation preservation experts as it begins to define a plan to accomplish the goal of preserving those historical records.
“We’re the catalysts to get this process moving forward, but other departments, especially the City Clerk, will have tremendous input when that process is defined,” Elizabeth Butcher said Monday.
“The next step is that we’re planning is to hire a consultant to see what the specific needs are for Westfield and to get a cost estimate for preserving those records,” Milligan said. “We still have not identified what the sources of revenue will be for that, which departments will be responsible for funding specific preservation activities.  We do intend, at least for the initial phase, to seek Community Preservation Act funding, but it will be up to the mayor and City Council to decide how the city will fund the long-term program,” Milligan said.
The Historical Commission has engaged in discussion with officials of the Town of Southwick, which is in the third year of a historic records preservation program and plan to bring a consultant to one of the commission meetings to begin assessing the scope of work for the city’s record preservation approach.
Milligan said that as the project planning process develops, the Historical Commission will have a better handle on the funding required and will return to the CPC to submit a formal funding request.
“There are historical records of the city scattered throughout City Hall, some are at (Westfield Vocational Technical High) School, some at other locations,” Milligan said last week when notifying the Community Preservation Committee of the pending request for preservation funds. “There is no back-up to those records, if lost, the history of Westfield is sunk.”
“It is a priority of the Historical Commission to ensure preservation of our historical records,” Milligan said. “Eventually, we will gather all that matter, some of it will be organized and bound, but all of it will be scanned and electronic copies kept off site in case something catastrophic happens to this building.”

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