Saturday, November 5, 2011

Is rough handling of JFK documents making some disappear?

The weekend after the Berlin Wall forum at the original National Archives I spent getting JFK documents at Archives II where I encountered a problem I'l like to bring to your attention.  

In my opinion, the entire JFK collection is in a fragile state.  Many documents are onion skin copies from old carbon copy forms.  They were very thin to begin with, a piece of carbon paper between each sheet so that one strike on a typewriter key would leave an impression on the additional colored carbon copy  as good as on the original document's surface.  These sheets came in different colors, red, yellow, blue and green, etc.  Ironically, they use the exact same type of form when you request JFK documents at Archives II.  Your documents are placed on a cart.  A green copy is attached to each box containing the file(s) you wanted to look at and the pink copy or copies are stapled together under your name when you sign out a cart.

These carbon copy documents are nearly 50 years old, and in some cases more than 50 years old.  They are somewhat removed from their original FBI "bulky" folders, though often those original folders are in the archival boxes on your cart, and they have a RIF stapled to each document, sometimes to an individual page.

These documents get bent and folded to photocopy them.  And they get handled when scanned and digitally photographed.

Every folder in every box I looked at had documents in a rough state.  And this brings me to my point. I have often come across a document that had two different RIF sheets, with two different RIF numbers attached to it.  I think sometimes one of the two RIFs will get separated by rough handling from the public.  And this may have happened to a document I was looking for, 124-10027-10007.

This document was listed in the Additional Release section of a Federal Register Notice on January 2, 1996. ( Federal Register Notice Vol. 61 No. 1, Tuesday, January 2, 1996 pages 48-52.)  

Now I had previously acquired most of the documents in this release, what I called The 11th Batch, but not all.  So, I picked up where I left off.  Now I had a RIF for 124-10027-10007.  And I noticed that this document was like the next one after it, 124-10027-10009.  It had two different RIF numbers for the same document.  While I noted the two RIF numbers for 124-10027-10009, I did not do this for 124-10027-10009.  I don't know why.  Anyway, I went looking for 124-10027-10007.  This is what the RIF for 124-10027-10007 originally looked like:

This is what it looks like now:

By the way, the paper they are using now in their photocopiers is of a slightly heavier paper stock and has a slight blue tint to it.  So, let's zoom in on the original RIF description:

And what the RIF says now:

I used the JFK database and did a search using the FBI agency file number 62-109060-542.  There were only 3 hits.  I believe 124-10087-100338 was the other RIF number attached to this 124-10027-10007.

I do not want to inhibit the public access to JFK documents by any means.  I notice that in many instances the archives has placed many documents like the ones I am describing in a protective Mylar sheet.  I thank them for doing so.  But, I feel there needs to be a budget busting increase in the purchase of Mylar sheets to protect more documents.  While this solves the protective issue it creates two more problems.  One I have already mentioned,  the cost.  The other is that protecting every onion skin or equally fragile JFK document, and many are just disintegrating, would increase the size of the collection.  Boxes that are already bursting at the seams from being jammed full of documents will have to be broken down into 2 or 3 new archival boxes.  The cubic feet of the collection will increase.  And this maybe a storage problem.  How much room would Archives II have to give to the JFK Records Collection should it double or triple in size just for the sake of purchasing protective Mylar sheets?  And what about the man hours needed to accomplish this task?

NARA has taken some steps towards addressing this problem.  There is a form to use when you notice a box of documents that needs attention.

So, when you're in Archives II and you see some documents in distress please use this form and bring it to the attention of the JFK Access Staff.

Two other items to bring to your attention.  The rules for scanners:

And news about new copiers NARA is going to get

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