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New Project Will Make Pittsburgh’s City Archives More Accessible To Public

Archives & Special Collections
University of Pittsburgh Library System
A new project by archivists at the Pittsburgh City Clerk's office will organize and digitize maps, meeting minutes, and other historical documents.

For more than three years, employees at the Pittsburgh City Clerk’s office have been identifying and cataloguing historical records and important documents as part of ongoing efforts to better manage city records.

This summer, those efforts are getting a boost with more than $140,000 in grants. The department received funding this month to make records more accessible to researchers, historians, and anyone interested in learning about Pittsburgh’s history.

“There is a lot of material here, and it’s going to take years to go through it,” said city archivist Nick Hartley. “This is really going to help us do that.”

Hartley and others have already collected about 10,000 cubic feet of reports, maps, meeting minutes, and more from multiple city departments, including City Council, public works, and city planning.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission of the National Archives awarded the City Clerk’s office with a two-year grant. Hartley said the money will allow the office to bring in a project archivist and two interns. They’ll work to rehouse seven collections spanning about 750 cubic feet of historical records in acid-free boxes and folders. The archivists will also organize the collections and create “finding aids,” or descriptions that tell researchers what they might find in each collection.

The project will also work to digitize about 50 years of City Planning Commission minutes. Documents from 1918 through the 1960s, including documentation of thedemolition of the Lower Hill in the 1950s, will be available online for the first time.

Hartley said he hopes the grant projects will make existing records easier for historians and the public to use.

“One of our goals is definitely to increase the accessibility of all this material,” he said. “So these projects are definitely going to enable us to do that far more quickly than we otherwise would have.”

Hartley said a second grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) will help archivists build on their existing efforts to digitize City Council proceedings.

Pittsburgh Municipal Records from 1868 to 2000, which include Pittsburgh City Council meeting minutes, legislation, correspondence, and more, have already been digitized and areavailable online. But this project will allow city archivists to digitize earlier records, some dating back to 1816, and include legislation and meeting minutes from annexed municipalities.

Not all of the department’s documents will be digitized. Because the digitization process is expensive and time consuming, Hartley said they’ll have to be “selective” about their choices and are starting with highly requested records.

“You can really learn a lot about a city by looking at its records,” Hartley said. “Everything that the city has done is going to be reflected in some way through the records that it’s creating. And for the most part, the public [and] historians have not been able to review these records in order to tell the story of the city. I hope that we’ll be able to make these available to them.”

The digitized documents will be searchable and available online through the state’s Power Library. Hartley said the first batch of documents will likely be published in December.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at