NYU to digitize more than 100 years of city records


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New York University plans to digitize more than 100 years’ worth of issues from the city’s official journal.

The university’s Tandon School of Engineering won a $260,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to electronically file 1 million pages of data from the New York City Record onto a portal on NYC.gov. 

The more than 1,700 hard-copy volumes of the City Record contain data on city employees, City Council minutes, homeless statistics and public utility contracts. The record also includes the first public traffic law, enacted in 1901.

The project aims to bring issues published between 1873 and 1998 into the portal — issues after that date are already available online. To digitize the records, researchers will scan microfilm of the City Record to create PDFs. Then, researchers will use “optical character recognition” to make the words searchable, Jonathan Soffer — historian and chair of the engineering school’s Department of Technology, Culture and Society — told StateScoop.

“We are writing our own programs to tag certain kinds of data,” Soffer said. 

The microfilm was created by Columbia University preservationists in the 1990s, who received a similar grant.

The City Record was started to promote transparency after city scandals, and even today it publishes online, listing reports, regulations and appointments to office as well as other notable public information. Officials said in a release that digitizing this tool will only increase openness.

Ultimately, researchers hope to create maps of the recorded addresses and transactions. The searchable database would provide “limitless” opportunities for research, the release said.

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Open Data, Open Government, State & Local News