[color photograph, State Archives, Hall of Records Building, Rowe Blvd., Annapolis, Maryland] State Archives, Hall of Records Building, Rowe Blvd., Annapolis, Maryland.

A Revolution in Archives

Over the past five years, the Maryland State Archives has confronted a revolution in the very nature of government records: how they are created, stored, and made accessible. Almost overnight, the paper world has been overtaken by the advent of the electronic record, a medium that has grown far faster than the ability of archives all over the world to cope with it. The move to electronic communications at all levels of government presents this and all archives with enormous challenges and exciting opportunities. The challenges are to find the resources to store and to make accessible the huge volume of electronic records that are being created by government each day. If the challenges can't be met, the present time may turn out to be the least documented period in all of recorded history. If the challenges are met, basic services and records that relate to the lives of every citizen, and the interaction between Maryland citizens and their government, will be available at the click of a mouse.

Electronic Archives: Protecting Citizens' Rights & Property. To meet these challenges and take advantage of the opportunities, the primary objective of the State Archives in 2002 is to create and maintain a truly viable and permanent electronic archives. An example of how Marylanders benefit from such a facility is found in the matter of land records. The Archives has initiated a program, called, to scan and place on-line all subdivision plats and condominium records for all counties in Maryland. These oversize paper records are difficult to store and deteriorate over time from repeated use. In one instance, county officials placed such oversize records in plastic sleeves, a storage method which resulted in almost complete destruction of these records essential to the documentation and protection of owners' investments in their properties. Of some 151 municipalities in Maryland only one-third have schedules that control the retention and protection of such documents. It is the job of the Archives to assist these localities in preserving and making permanently accessible such valuable records. To place all such records on line, however, will require far more resources, (especially expensive equipment and bandwidth, and the technical expertise to manage them) than the Archives has to date. Yet, subdivision and condominium plats represent just a small portion of the thousands of records, many of them vital to the lives of our citizens, which require preservation in an electronic format.

Archives of Maryland Online: Documenting Maryland History & Laws. Another important on-line initiative, for which we no longer are fully funded, is the electronic Archives of Maryland. Through this program, we have placed on the web several hundred volumes of official documents that relate to the history of Maryland and its laws. Today, historical texts of Maryland can be searched by word, and transcripts of some of the most difficult to read documents in our collections can be read, all through the Internet.

Public Records: Providing Citizen Access on the Web. This approach to automating archival records allows the wide use and appreciation of archival material and greatly enhances public access to documents without damage to original records. The change has come about in the last five years. In 1994, the Archives reached about 30,000 people annually, through visits to our public search room or by mail requests for information or documents. Today, the Archives' website gets about 38 million hits per year, most of which are answered by information that we have on the web. To assist on-line visitors, as well as researchers who come to our public search room, we have placed most of our finding aids on the Internet. Now, many requests for further information can be answered via e-mail. The on-line world is the future of the Archives' reference services program which, until very recently, was based primarily in our public search room and mail answering system. Because of the lack of financial resources, we plan to depend increasingly on web-based information for serving our constituencies. They include title searchers, attorneys, historians, genealogists, and members of the public seeking records crucial to their lives to document birth and death, marriage and divorce, property rights, and judicial proceedings.

Government Information: Providing Government Access on the Web. We also use the on-line world to provide basic information about Maryland government, as well as research and archival information to assist the public and government officials in their work. Some of these programs include:

Special Collections: Scanning Images of Plats & Art. Aside from government records, the Archives also is making Special Collections and other nongovernmental records available on-line. Among these are: Student Internships: Introducing Youth to Archives & History. Many of these initiatives benefited greatly from the Archives' outreach program to Maryland schools and colleges through its summer internship program. In summer 2001, a group of 20 talented Maryland students, worked for 10 weeks at the Archives. In addition to making important contributions to the projects mentioned above, they also worked in other areas, including: Outside sources supported many of these intern projects, partially or in full. Funding came from the Maryland Commission for Women, the Anne Arundel County Courts, a private researcher with special interest in Somerset County, the Society of the Ark and the Dove (for the St. Mary's City career files), and the Office of the Comptroller. Without such outside assistance, these projects would not have been possible, as the Archives is not funded for a large internship program. Aside from the invaluable information these projects have made available, the program provides students with valuable experience in historical research, archival methods, and the creation and preservation of electronic records.

Additional Support. The Archives' work has also been supported by its constituent users in other ways. We have received donations to the Endowment Fund and a generous bequest by one of our search room patrons. Special collections of manuscripts, some of which provide invaluable sources on the history of the state, also have been donated. One example, the Horsey Collection, contains original letters from George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, Dolly Madison, and Robert E. Lee. All of these letters have been scanned and placed on-line. Thanks to gifts such as these, our holdings are rich with interesting and informative documents and artifacts that enhance and enliven official records. .

Private Funding for Public Services. The Archives is actively seeking income-producing projects to support its public services. In FY2001, was a major source of revenue for these services, contributing $2 million to our income, or one-third of our operating costs. As revenues from this project are expected to decline in future years, we are working to find new sources of income. A major new initiative in 2001 as been, a project that will place on-line probate records in all Maryland counties and Baltimore City. An example of a public service that is being supported with such private funding is the Archives of Maryland On-Line, a major project to place over one million pages of the basic documents of Maryland legal, constitutional, administrative, and judicial history on the web.

Baseline Funding Requirements. Preservation of the historical records of Maryland government, and making them accessible through the electronic media to the public, is our core mission. The need to constantly seek private sources of funding to maintain to fulfill this mission is of increasing to concern to Archives' management. Because of the fragility of the electronic record and the ever growing technology needs of state government, we must incur new and expensive costs for equipment and staff. The need for programming support to develop database applications for the Electronic Archives is a matter of great concern, as the acquisition of electronic data at the Archives has accelerated. In its FY2003 budget submission, the Archives requested additional appropriated funds to assist with these expenses, most of which stem from an increase in the volume of electronic government records and the dramatic surge in reliance of government agencies on access to the Internet. The elemental information technology functions of the Archives need to be included in its baseline appropriations.

Another source of growing concern to the Archives are the unfunded expenses of adjunct archival facilities, the acquisition of which has been necessitated by lack of storage space for paper records at the Hall of Records building in Annapolis. Records now are housed at three separate off-site locations. To make the most effective and efficient use of these facilities, additional shelving is required. Also, in the past year, the storage of all of the state-owned art collections that are not on display in the Annapolis Complex has been moved to a private fine-arts storage company.

If the Archives does not receive an increase in appropriated funds for basic information technology functions and adequate electronic and paper record storage, we will be required to try to continue to find outside sources of income. At the present, despite growing demands on our computer equipment and technical personnel, the Archives is operating with a budget that is $150,000 smaller than it was before the current recession and downturn in state revenues.

It is, however, inherently unstable to fund essential archival services through revenue producing projects such as these. In future years, will not continue at current revenue levels, and it is becoming more and more difficult to find similar sources of income. The economic recession and downturn in state revenues have made this method of funding even more problematic.Without a recognition on the part of budget planners that the costs of such basic services as information technology and the storage of records must be considered to be essential elements of the Archives' baseline functions - with a consequent increase in appropriated general funds  - we will not have the resources to deal with the tidal wave of records, both electronic and paper, that threatens to engulf us all.

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© Copyright February 09, 2004 Maryland State Archives