PORTLAND — Research into city history and government could soon require a trip to the Portland Public Library instead of City Hall.
On Aug. 4, the City Council unanimously approved an agreement to move archived documents from a City Hall vault to the library’s Portland Room at 5 Monument Square.
“It is what we do well, we take care of collections and make them accessible,” library Executive Director Stephen Podgajny said Aug. 8.
In the coming months, city and library staffs will devise an implementation plan to determine which documents will be shifted and how library staff will handle Freedom of Access Act requests.
Podgajny said Abraham Schecter, who leads the library’s Portland Team, will likely coordinate FOAA requests. Some material taken from City Hall will also end up stored by the library on Riverside Street.
“We have a lot of planning to do with the city staff, it is going to take a few months,” he said.
Transferred materials will include CDs and DVDs, according to the agreement, and Podgajny said scanned hard copies will be saved.
“We are not going to digitize and throw things out,” he said.
The idea to transfer documents dates to 2013, when Podgajny said library teams were looking to expand collections about city history.
“We could buy books or improve indexing,” he said, but adding city documents to the Portland Room collection puts “the business of government more in context.”
Podgajny said municipal statutes are not violated by transferring documents. Building permits, for example, have to be on file at City Hall for a certain period of time, he noted, and it will not be practical to digitize all the documents stored in the vault.
The library has been receiving copies of some items, Podgajny said.
“Over the years, we have picked up an odd copy or two – we regularly got council packets – but other things are hit or miss,” he said.
In order to store the documents, the Portland Public Library had to be designated an Alternative Repository for Local Government Records by the Archives Advisory Board of the Maine State Library.
There is no estimated financial cost for the planning stages, but Podgajny said the library may need to upgrade its scanner technology.
“It is pretty clear that if there are preservation strategies put into play, we may have to get more equipment,” he said.
Now registered as a nonprofit organization, the Portland Public Library was established in 1867 and operates with an annual budget of about $4 million. About 86 percent of the operating budget is funded by city, county and state government sources. The current city budget allocates $3.6 million for library operations.
Podgajny will retire in about 11 months, but said he expects to see the project get underway.
“I see us beginning to do practical work during my tenure,” he said.