State Agencies Adopt Historical Archiving to Place Data Online

State agencies start putting public data online.

The state of Washington’s historical archiving system is a model for other states. Washington began digitizing its archives in 2001 and formally went online in 2004.

By this June, the Washington State Digital Archives held more than 23.6 million online records, and an average of 3,858 searches were being conducted on its Web site on a daily basis, says Adam Jansen, Washington’s deputy state archivist.

The archive holds birth, marriage, death, census, military, naturalization, historic and business records, as well as maps.

The digital archives in Washington were stored in a mostly home-grown system based on Microsoft SQL server databases and Microsoft Biz Talk, but Washington has since transitioned to a combination of Windows Workflow and Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Integration Services.

The archives utilize a storage area network environment that can grow exponentially as records are added, says Steve Excell, Washington assistant secretary of state. Redundant arrays of independent disks and an Advanced Digital Information Corp. robotic tape library are used for redundancy.

The state of New York is only at the beginning of its digital journey, says Ann Marie Przybyla, manager, records service development, New York State Archives. The state archives provide advice and funding to local governments because New York law provides that these bodies are the custodians of their own records.

Changing this would require either revising the law or interpreting it broadly, Przybyla says. However, the state has digitized databases of photographs and put them online in what’s among the most actively used parts of its Web site.

The counties in the state of Washington imposed a surcharge of $1 per page of recorded documents, which was used to build and maintain the statewide digital archives. New York charges a fee per document, but the money is returned to local agencies in the form of grants, Przybyla says.

Historical archiving projects also generate intangible returns to the community. “I attend historical society, genealogy and service club meetings all around the state, and people are just delighted with having access to these records,” says Sam Reed, Washington’s secretary of state. “It shows our citizens how a concerned government can help them.”

Digitization brings benefits

  • Boosts productivity. Manual searches would require a larger staff or pose delays in disseminating data to citizens.
  • Preserves the original documents. When digitized, the originals are handled only once and then stored in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment.
  • Better utilizes space. Without digitizing, the records would have to be stored in offices rather than less expensive warehouses.
  • Meets judicial demands and deadlines for records. Being able to e-mail records to legal professionals and courts is more expedient than having to find, photocopy and send them by postal mail.
  • Aids cleanup of dumps and brownfields. States are beginning to preserve in digital format records that show what lies beneath environmentally contaminated sites.
Jul 03 2007