Public Records Request

For folks who are interested in the backstory behind the article recently published in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, this blog post will fill you in.

After lengthy deliberation and extensive work in the University Archives, I’ve decided to write a literary history of Iowa City to be called City of Literature.  I have already repeatedly consulted the papers of Paul Engle, George Starbuck, and John Leggett, but material from the Conroy era was under restriction.  According to the online finding aid, this material was accessible with permission from the Writers’ Workshop. In March, I decided to request permission for access to these records.

To my surprise, I was instructed to make a request through the Transparency Office. When I wrote them to confirm they agreed that this was highly unusual; indeed they later confirmed that they had never received a comparable request and have never worked with the University Archives. Here is their portal:

After some deliberation, I decided to go ahead and submit the request. A few months later I received this cost estimate:

Professor Glass,

Below are descriptions of Series IV-VI, the approximate number of pages to be reviewed in each series, and the estimated staff time involved with reviewing each page for confidential information or other information exempt from disclosure.

This estimate includes only the time it will take to review all of the records and to identify which ones are subject to disclosure (in full, or with redactions) under the state open records law. If you decide to proceed with this request, we will send you an invoice and begin the process of reviewing the records after we receive your payment. Once the initial review has been completed, we will send you a second estimate for the time it will take to then copy or scan the records which may be disclosed and to make any necessary redactions. At this time, we are not able to provide you with the second estimate because we won’t know how many records will need to be copied/scanned or redacted until the initial review is complete.

As we have previously informed you, and as the descriptions below indicate, many of these records are likely to contain information exempt from disclosure under Iowa Code Chapter 22, such as confidential personnel information or student/FERPA records. Although we are estimating that a considerable amount of time will be required to review all of these records, please be aware that many records may still end up being withheld.

The review times below were calculated based on an average rate of 8 seconds per sheet for Series IV, and 10 seconds for each sheet for Series V and VI (due to greater complexity among the records in the latter two series).

Series IV (Faculty series)

Description: Letters of recommendation, evaluations, criticisms of submissions, applications, appointment sheets (which contain hire and separation dates, position description, date of birth, salary, SSN). Arranged alpha by name.

1 box containing approximately 3,240 sheets

Time estimate for review: 7.2 hours

Series V (Director’s files series)

Description: Administrative correspondence of Workshop director Frank Conroy, which includes correspondence regarding faculty and staff appointments, internal funding, external fundraising, personal professional development activities, and letters of recommendation

1 box containing approximately 3,240 sheets

Time estimate for review: 9 hours

Series VI (Administrative series)

Description: A wide range of records, such as financial aid records, Ida Beam Professorship files (including applications, evaluations of candidates), gift acknowledgments, correspondence including letters of recommendation, award competitions, self-studies.

21 boxes containing approximately 63,720 sheets

Time estimate for review: 177 hours

Total time estimate for initial review: 193.2 hours (billed at a rate of $30/hour, with the first hour free of charge)

Please let us know if you would like to proceed with all or part of this request, and we will send you the first invoice. We will begin reviewing the records once we receive your payment.



As you can see, this adds up to at least $6,000, and that doesn’t include the cost of acquiring the records I need for my project. I am currently looking into funding possibilities. In the meantime, I will be posting my progress, since this entire process is now a matter of public record and public concern. Feel free to post comments and suggestions.

More to follow!