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One aspect of Debs's reorganization that would have a lasting impact con­cerned how responsibility for management of the collections would be divided between the museum and the library. Specifically, responsibility for management of the prints, photographs, and architectural drawings was shifted from the library to the museum. Unlike the extensive discussion on the topic that had taken place at the trustee level during the early 1970s, when this step was discussed and re­jected, this time the action was an administrative decision. In the opinion of many members of the Society's professional staff, the prints, photos, and architectural drawings had been neglected by the library. Debs believed that the leadership in the museum was better qualified to make use of these collections. She did not regard her decision to move the collections to the museum as a permanent step; in fact, she thought the prints, photos, and drawings would eventually be relocated to their own department, under leadership with proper experience in the special care of these types of materials.

Personal communication, Jan. 18, 1995.
Nevertheless, in the long-standing rivalry and competition for resources between the museum and the library, the change in organizational responsibility for these collections was a victory for the museum and was seen as an early signal to staff about which part of the organization would be emphasized in the Debs administration.

In April 1989, the advisory committee issued its report and presented it to the Society's board of trustees. The report could not have been more positive about the importance of the Society, its collections, and the progress that had been made during Debs's tenure as interim director. In its introduction, the report commented on the Society's improved prospects. "Morale is higher, there is a clear sense of direction, and a small but important improvement has been made in the Society's financial situation. There is no substitute for leadership and Dr. Debs has been providing that in a very effective way. . . . Our experience with the Society leads us to believe that the Society is capable of thriving and fulfill­ing its important mission."

The advisory committee's report identified three overriding issues the Soci­ety had to face: What is the Society's mission? Can that mission be financed, and if so, how? And what are the organizational implications of these decisions on operations? As part of its report, the committee proposed a new revised mis­sion statement; identified short, intermediate, and long-term financial goals; rec­ommended that the Society develop a multiyear capital budget for renovating its building; and take steps to develop its real estate assets only after the other rec­ommendations had been implemented.

The advisory committee recommended that the Society adopt the following new mission statement:

The mission of The New-York Historical Society is to promote research and provide education concerning the social, political, economic, and cultural his­tory of New York City, its environs, and the State of New York from earliest times to the present; and of the American experience from the early years of the nation, with a primary focus on the strengths of its 17th, 18th, and 19th century collections on through the Civil War period. To attain this mission the Society shall collect, preserve, and make available materials that document that history. This mission will be carried out through programs including research services, publications, exhibitions, and other education programs. In the pursuit of its programs, the Society should cooperate and coordinate its activities with appropriate institutions. Achieving this mission will contribute to a broader understanding of the history of the region and nation.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, The new-york historical society: lessons from one nonprofit's long struggle for survival. OpenStax CNX. Mar 28, 2008 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10518/1.1
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