The digitization of state government records and communications makes it easier for them to be retained, archived and retrieved, but not necessarily cheaper.
Books and boxes of permanent and historic records fill shelves and drawers at the state's library department, but more often today state agencies are managing records themselves, said Jan Davis, the department's administrative archivist.
“We're looking at a small microcosm of the total number of records,” she said during a tour of the storage cages on the third floor of the state library building. “The majority of the records are actually maintained by the agencies themselves, particularly the active records.”
Paper records on file at the library department cover about 26,000 feet and date back to statehood days.
These records are accessed sometimes by historians, researchers and state agencies. Typical record requests filed with state today are managed by the individual agencies.
For example, hard copies of inspection reports for each of the state's county jails are kept in files at the state health department. If a reporter or member of the public wants to review them, they can either arrange to physically go through each of the files or pay to have the department make copies and put them on a disk.
But if you want to read the papers of the state's former governors or any other correspondence or meeting minutes beyond three years old, this is the place. Here they also keep confidential files state agencies are required to keep forever, like personnel records and financial transaction reports.
A records disposition schedule dictates what must be kept and for how long, Davis said.
Claims and invoices, including travel vouchers, must be retained one year after an agency audit is completed. Employee time cards must be kept three years, meeting minutes must be kept two, and correspondence must be kept and reviewed on an annual basis until they are three years old.
In the age of email, it's just easier for state agencies to manage correspondence.
John Estus, spokesman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, said most emails sent or received by government employees are automatically stored on an agency's email server.
They can then be retrieved through simple keyword queries, Estus said.
The difficulty in responding to records requests is not in locating and pulling the documents, but in reviewing and redacting them, he said.
“The agency review is obviously the far more time-consuming process than the electronic search,” Estes said. “It requires careful review of every record whereas the server search does not. Depending on the volume of records retrieved, it could take days, weeks or months for agencies to adequately review them.”
Davis said storing documents digitally does indeed take up less space, but that she believes it costs more than keeping hard copies in the archives.
It costs about 30 cents a month to keep a box of 2,500 time sheets in the archives, she said, or about $3.60 per year.
For digital records, the state pays for servers, for time deleting the records and the costs of migrating the information from old technology to new, she said.