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Locating and Using Historical Resources

Historically valuable official school records should be located within the school itself. The key records series should be available in the Superintendent's or Principal's office or with the District Clerk. Often, older records are stored in separate rooms, attics or basements, or other storage areas, and locating them may require some searching and inquiries to the clerk and to building custodial personnel. Town, city, and village records containing information on schools or educational matters are in the custody of the official clerks of those local governments. Nongovernmental historical records and published versions of minutes, reports, and other education-related materials, may be located in local libraries, historical societies, and museums. There are no statewide guides to historical records, although Cornell University's New York Historical Resources Center has for a number of years been conducting a statewide survey and inventory of historical records repositories. By mid-1984 this Historical Documents Inventory (HDI) had covered the Southern Tier, Central and Western New York, and Staten Island, and was beginning to survey the remainder of New York City and the North Country. The HDI produces a listing of historical records and a detailed index for each county. For more information, contact the New York Historical Resources Center, Olin Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14850, or the State Archives. Officially appointed town, village, city, and county Historians can also be helpful in locating and interpreting materials. Furthermore, Historians often know, and are willing to share, information on educational developments in their community. In that sense, they themselves are "resources" as well as being helpful in locating source materials. 

The following suggestions may be helpful for locating needed materials: 

  • Call offices in advance so that you can find out whether it could be useful to look for materials there and to arrange for a time convenient for the office. 
  • Tell people the kinds of resources you're looking for and what you're going to do with them. This will save both of you time, and may prevent your having to search through old -but irrelevant -records. 
  • Check to see if there are indexes or other guides to the historical records or other material. These can take you directly to the information you want, but don't expect that they will exist for most records. 
  • Check about the possibility of making copies. Usually you can't -and shouldn't -bring the originals into your class. You can photocopy many documents. For large, colored, or fragile documents, a 35 mm camera will make adequate slides or prints to photocopy. If all else fails, and the information is particularly valuable, you can type or recopy documents. 
  • Above all, be patient. It may take a while to find who has records, and to locate the information you want. Take advantage of the knowledge of your school staff, local clerk, local historian, historical society, and librarians. They can save you time and trouble by directing you to the right places.