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For the record


A city archivist charts a new future for OKC’s past.

Ben Felder April 1st, 2014

It’s not uncommon for Jennifer Day to get lost in her work.

An interesting photo, document or book waits in every vault, drawer or box she uncovers at City Hall in Oklahoma City.

Jennifer Day
Photo: Mark Hancock

“This is really fascinating stuff,” Day said. “But I also might be a little bit of a nerd.”

As the city’s archivist, Day is tasked with organizing the documents and artifacts that date back to the city’s founding 125 years ago. Hired in 2012 as OKC’s first archivist, Day has spent the past year scanning old records, creating exhibits and planning for a future museum that will welcome guests and researchers.

“The gap that I’m trying to bridge over is access for all sorts of audiences,” Day said. “What the archive hopes to establish is to allow scholars, students, historians, people doing family history and just people doing historical research of any kind to come and access these records. Right now, there isn’t a way to know what we have or how to access it.”

Day works in the city clerk’s office, which has the responsibility of managing records at City Hall.

“One of my main challenges as city clerk is records management,” City Clerk Frances Kersey said. “Because of my other duties, I just didn’t have time to develop a citywide records management program for archives.”

Kersey said she discovered OKC was home to many archivists and later gained budgetary approval to create the position. Day has spent the past year surveying the records stored at City Hall and meeting with various city departments to find out what archival needs they have.

“During her first year, [Day] has become familiar with the records in the city clerk’s office, and now she is going out to the other departments and talking with them,” Kersey said. “The goal is to have kind of a one-stop records management facility where everybody knows where their records are.”

The decision to hire an archivist follows the path of many other cities in which archive departments have been in existence for many years. Dallas began its archival program in 1986. Dallas opens its archives to the general public, allowing citizens and researchers to explore the history of the city, which is OKC’s goal.

“We want people to use these materials; they are not here to gather dust,” said John Slate, archivist for the city of Dallas.

Oklahoma City’s archives are open to the public, but the plan is to create a more inviting and organized space, Day said. Plans are in the works for a future museum, and exhibits that showcase certain historical artifacts have been created in City Hall.

While a museum might be the goal, Day’s focus now is to organize the records and make digital copies of city ordinances. The city did not start digitizing its ordinances until 2007, so that means Day and other staff members have to scan over 25,000 documents.

“We started at ordinance number one, scanning them individually,” Day said. “We are about to 4,000, which is 1930 or so.”

The work can be painstaking, but Day often finds enjoyment in reading about an unusual city ordinance or coming across an old campaign poster.

“This stuff is really interesting,” Day said. “I want to make it open to everyone.”

 
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