Inside of a creaky old safe are pieces of the city’s history. It is all part of the city’s Municipal Archives at the Department of Records and Information Services, or DORIS.
Assistant Commissioner Ken Cobb has worked there for 44 years.
“Gathering these records so that they can be made accessible, preserving them so they are available forever, and then helping people find out what we have and then use the stuff,” he said of his job.
What You Need To Know
- Kenneth Cobb is one of seven New York City civil servants to win the Sloan Public Service Awards
- Cobb is assistant commissioner of the Department of Records and Information Services, which includes the city's Municipal Archives
- Cobb has been with the agency for 44 years
- The Municipal Archives feature records dating back to 17th century Dutch colonial settlers in New York
Cobb is one of seven civil servants to receive the Sloan Public Service Awards, considered Nobel Prizes for city civil servants. He works with the Municipal Archives, located inside the landmark Surrogates Court Building on Chambers Street.
The building was constructed in 1910 as the Hall of Records. Many records and other items are also kept at a new facility in Industry City in Brooklyn.
Cobb started at DORIS as an intern after touring the archives with his professor from Columbia.
“He said we could volunteer here instead of doing a paper. I thought, 'Sure, why not?' And so that was October 1977, and one thing led to another, and here we are,” Cobb said.
Inside climate controlled storage rooms, there are historic atlases, birth, death and marriage certificates, and items from mayors and city agencies.
For example, there are records from the Town of Flatbush from 1819, before Brooklyn was part of the city, with familiar names like Wyckoff and Ditmars.
Staff also works to conserve items like 10,000 pieces of the original plans for the Brooklyn Bridge. Many of the records have been digitized and made available online, giving researchers and the public better access.
Cobb says one of his favorite parts of the job is unveiling history within the collection.
“It’s very satisfying to be able to help someone find something that explains about their family and the history of New York City, the city that is our home,” he said.
Cobb says it is all about making sure all of this material is preserved now and available forever.
Other winners of the Sloan Public Service Awards include: Eric Smalls, chief technology officer for the NYC Emergency Management; Anita Reyes, assistant commissioner of health; Dina Maniotis, executive deputy commissioner and chief of staff for the NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner; Jennifer Lenihan, senior adviser and assistant commissioner for the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment; Yolanda Johnson-Peterkin, executive director of housing initiatives for the NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice; and Sergeant James Clarke, NYPD community affairs officer.