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A Revolution in Archives, continued from page 7

Before I delve more deeply into what we are accomplishing with Archives of Maryland
Online and how much more we could be doing if we could find adequate financing, I
should note that not all Archivists share in my enthusiasm for placing archives online.
Many of the old school are afraid of losing control over their holdings and even more are
rightfully concerned that the medium itself is far from archival. Indeed the electronic
record is fragile and, if not maintained in what proves to be a very expensive fail-safe
system of redundancy, can be lost or corrupted with blinding speed. Some archivists also
expend an extraordinary amount of time attempting to encapsulate, code, and otherwise
minutely describe their collections in painfully labor intensive ways, slowing to a crawl
the production of finding aids and wasting resources that otherwise could be
concentrated on making archives accessible through a simple hypertext markup language
approach such as we use. As long as you ensure that that what you present in electronic
form is preserved in a secure, well maintained, and authenticatable electronic archive (we
are about to launch our second terra byte backup server and have funding for a third),
and as long as you are willing to use the least expensive existing resources to move
images and text of archival material out for the public to use, the risk of loss is roughly
equivalent to the threat of fire in any modern archives. As to the elaborate schemes for
coding and encapsulating the archival record, they have merit but serve only to make the
process of accessing archival material far more expensive than need be at a rime when
resources for Archives are in greater peril than they have been in decades. At our
institution, for example, we are forced to earn one third of what it costs us to keep our
doors open. It has been out of that one third that most of what we have been able to
accomplish on the web has been financed, and to top it off, as we become more
successful at earning income for essential archival functions, we find the state attempting
to take more of what we earn. Just this last year, we were assessed ten percent of our
income as "rent" for our building.

In sum, we can't afford to engage in overly elaborate schemes of describing records for
the web. As I pointed out thirty years ago in a series of articles for Perspectives, the
newsletter of the American Historical Association, archivists and librarians need to make
the most of existing resources. Then it meant spending less time on elaborately printed
finding aids and more on cheap inventories of collections. Today it means putting as
much material on the web in text and image form as possible, as swiftly and as
economically as possible, knowing that if placed there within a system that allows ease of
improvement and dynamic updating, that which begins at what may not be the best
effort, can gradually be improved until it meets the highest standard of editorial and
intellectual competence—some of which may even be supplied by the user, if the system
is designed property.

With Archives of Maryland Online our objective is to maintain and expand an
intellectually sophisticated and technically elegant site that provides public access to the
records that form the constitutional, legal, legislative, and administrative basis of
Maryland government. The project provides a state-of-the-art model for delivering a
vast quantity of documentary material that is logically organized, easily accessible, and
fully searchable. Documents are stored both as OCR or keyboard text and as original
images, giving users the ability to verify all text. Editorial enhancements add value to the
original documents by providing historical context and links to related materials. Because
Archives of Maryland Online is a dynamic repository, enhancements to individual volumes
or series of volumes can be made at any time, as new scholarship becomes available or as
logically related volumes are added to the site.

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