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July 17, 2009
Contact: Matthew Dunlap

Maine Participates in Multi-State Preservation Partnership Conference Hosted by Washington State Archives and the Library of Congress

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON— Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and State Archivist David Cheever traveled to Seattle this week through a Library of Congress grant to meet with other state officials, industry experts and representatives from the Library of Congress to discuss the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, a multi-state partnership whose mission is to enhance and accelerate the preservation of digital government records.

Librarians and archivists from a dozen states participated in the discussion, which preceded the annual National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA) conference being held later this week in Seattle.

“The use of technology for government and business purposes has exploded in the last twenty years,” said Kerry Barbour, Washington's head of Digital Archives. “In less than that amount of time, we've seen the Internet grow from around 600 websites to over 160 million. Ten years ago, IPods didn't exist. As the technology changes, the records of how we do public business changes, too, and archivists, librarians and records managers have an enormous challenge keeping up.”

The NDIIPP was initiated to enhance the preservation and availability of important government records, said William LeFurgy from the Library of Congress. “The mission of the program is to handle the burgeoning amount of digital information—especially information that only exists electronically—for use by the public now and in future generations,” he said. “The states are vitally important in executing the long-term mission of records management, and we all have an interest in each other's work being successful.”

During the meetings, states compared notes on projects to facilitate digitization of records and make them available to the public. The group also received information on the newest technology in creating searchable audio and video records, and heard about extensive research on the architecture of database information management from Robert Kahn from the Corporation for National Research Initiatives.

Cheever said that despite a scarcity of resources, the importance of maintaining accurate and accessible records does not diminish. “The periods in Maine history where we have some of our most comprehensive records are also reflective of periods when resources were scarcest,” he said. “To make sure money was paid out accurately, good records were a must.” Jerry Handfield, Washington State Archivist, agreed. “We lost a third of our staff in the last round of cuts (in Washington ),” he said. “Nonetheless, the Legislature funded an additional five positions in the digital archives. Our work is important to everyone.”

Dunlap said that the challenge of preserving records is not only one of space and technology, but trying to understand what may be important to the future. “In the 1830's, the Maine Legislature passed the Land Bounty Act to take care of indigent Revolutionary War veterans,” he related. “In order to qualify for the land grant, the veteran had to provide an affidavit as to what their service consisted of during the Revolution. Almost by accident, that's how we compiled our record of what Maine soldiers did in the Revolution.”

The preservation and accessibility of digital records—especially electronic mail—has been an issue of growing national concern. The Secretary of State's office has been working closely with Governor Baldacci, the Legislature, and the Judicial branch on building a digital archive that will preserve electronic records for the future. Likewise, the National Archives and the Library of Congress have pursued a number of initiatives to better preserve and catalogue electronic records. Dunlap also noted that increased access and transparency in government activities is not only an issue that lawmakers are grappling with, but has also been stated as a priority issue for the Obama administration. “Resources are very tight, but interest in building a long-term solution to the problem that we are facing—possibly losing all the information of an age—is obviously very high.”

States participating in the meetings include Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, Indiana, Maryland, Kentucky, Louisiana, Colorado, North Carolina, Idaho, Montana and Washington. Also participating in the meetings were industry representatives including Microsoft, and faculty from Eastern Washington University, where Washington's Digital Archives center is located.