If there is a silver lining to the library’s recent loss of several decades’ worth of home-grown newspapers, documents, and newsletters which told the Island’s history as a residential community, it’s that we may end up with a better preserved and more easily accessible archive as a result.
After The WIRE reported, in its January 6 issue, about the destruction of the historical archive at the Island’s local New York Public Library branch, a search began to recover as much of the lost material as possible. Thanks to a team of sleuths – which included a New York Times reporter; Roosevelt Island Historical Society President Judy Berdy; Main Street WIRE founder and owner Dr. Jack Resnick; library staff, led by manager Carlos Chavez; and many residents who reached out to help – much of the historical archive has been, or is in the process of being, rebuilt.
“I thought I was going to be run out of town,” Chavez says about the library’s mistake. “But I got a lot of support from residents, especially Judy [Berdy], Dr. Resnick, and [RIOC president] Susan Rosenthal.”
Carlos Chavez, manager of the Roosevelt Island NYPL branch, and Judy Berdy, president of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, have been working together to reconstruct the lost archives.
One sore spot is the The Roosevelt i, the Island’s first newspaper, which ran for about six months of 1976. The library has been unable to acquire any copies thus far.
One of the co-founders of The Roosevelt i, Sue Cina, says her two partners at the paper, Rose Carol and Myrna Perlman, are both now deceased.
“Looking back on it, I know I had back copies of the paper at one time. However, when I moved from Island House to Rivercross in 1996, I had only two weeks to pack up and leave my apartment after 21 years and lots of things got overlooked and inadvertently thrown out. I guess those copies were among them.” She says she would periodically go to the library to read the archived copies there.
Berdy is hopeful that she will be able to track down copies from a former Islander who now lives in Texas.
The Island View fared better. Between Berdy and the NYPL Steven A. Schwarzman Building – “the place with the lions,” explains Berdy – the library has recovered most issues. That includes volume 4, comprising only two issues, which they hadn’t previously had at our branch. Chavez explains that there were only the two issues of the Island View that year. “The following month,” he says, “The Main Street WIRE had their first issue.”
The Island View was started in January 1978 by Paula Crandall and Laurie Guilfoyle. On that first front page, they outlined their editorial policy, writing, “Did you have trouble finding out what was happening on Roosevelt Island in 1977? If you did, we hope that The Island View will make us better informed in 1978...Troubled residents need a voice. We believe they will find it here.”
Guilfoyle suffered a stroke about ten years ago, from which she sustained brain damage. The WIRE reached out to Crandall, but has not heard back.
Berdy has donated her own copies of The Main Street WIRE from 1981 to 1996, which were never digitized. Whatever is missing from that collection, Chavez hopes to make copies of from the archives of Dr. Resnick, the paper’s founder, who has a bound copy of the issues.
“We are going to professionally bind ours in the end when our collection is complete,” says Chavez.
In addition to the Island-produced papers that were discarded, the lost collection included a binder and folders of news clippings from other papers about the Island as it was becoming a community. Chavez says he has plans to recover all of that, through newspaper database ProQuest. The New York Times, which was in the process of reporting a story they planned to write about the loss of our archives, offered their archive as well.
Right now each volume, comprising one year of each newspaper, will be kept in a blue folder in that back corner. Chavez says, they are being ordered year by year and decade by decade. Once the collection is complete, Chavez said, “We are going to put them in a binder.” He says they are catalogued much better than before and he and his staff are working off a spreadsheet to determine what they have.
The ultimate plan is to move the archives to a new location, next to the reference desk. Chavez says, “Residents will know what we have, and it will be better organized than before.” He also points out that the new location will ensure the collection is better taken care of, because it will be visible to library staff. “Back there [where they were located], it was hard to maintain and keep an eye on it.”