Greetings from the Brooklyn Navy Yard Archive! I want to begin by explaining a little of what I do here, since I think many assume (and rightly so) that the collections I work with are predominantly focused on naval history, and therefore the scope of my work is firmly rooted in the past. It is true, a lot of what I do is gather, preserve and arrange materials that relate to the Yard’s life as a naval shipyard – a period of significant innovation and growth that lasted from 1801 to 1966 – however, many people are surprised to learn that the Brooklyn Navy Yard is still a site of ingenuity and development, and that my archive plays an important roll in those activities as well. In fact, the contributions I make to what’s happening in the Yard of today is pretty much my bread and butter, and so this is what I would like to speak about today.
In a nutshell, the company I work for, The Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, is a leasing company that offers the one thing that most people cannot find in New York, the space to do business. From the smallest start-up developing in our Pratt Incubator program, to the green innovations created at Duggal Energy Solutions, our Navy Yard is a center for innovative industrial activity smack in the middle of Brooklyn. My part in that story is to provide access to the 40,000 historic maps and plans our company uses to transform our 300 acre swath of land into the thriving 21st century green manufacturing center it has become today.
What does my job look like on a daily basis? When Brooklyn Grange was brought in to build a rooftop farm on Building 3, the archive provided the 1918 roof plans that illustrated what loads its roof could handle. When we refurbished the 1858 Commandant’s house, which now makes up the museum and visitor’s center, BLDG 92, it was plans from the archive that identified an unused sewer pipe we later capped off and made into a cistern for the building’s greywater system. This feature along with 63 others awarded us LEED Platinum status in green design. Although this was a group effort, and my role was relatively small, I take a great deal of pride in that achievement.
All of this is to say that no matter how hard we archivists and librarians try to keep the broadest possible audience in mind, the true value of our collections is mostly unknown to us. The only way I’ve found to deal with this shortfall is to remain as open as I can, to seek out innovative mentors to learn from, and to stay current-from the tech side of the profession-so I can continue to provide access to our materials in as many formats as possible. All this looking forward can be exhausting, but I think it’s what makes my job so much more than the finding aids and catalog records I create. It’s a 21st century Navy Yard after all, it deserves a 21st century archivist, no?