to have Word or Excel installed on their computer, he said.

"We do not alter any of the original information sent," he said. "We create what we call a Web-readable open standard version of that file so that we can carry it forward years from now."

Capturing Snapshots

Besides focusing on information from remote agencies, the Digital Archives also captures agencies' Web sites for the database.

"We're saving them as blobs -- binary images -- in a single server database," said Jansen. "We're maintaining all of the original scripting, but we're doing it into the database itself so that it can be pulled out and restructured or reconstituted as needed."

To archive Web sites, the Digital Archives uses a custom-created Web-spidering utility, which grabs streams of binary Web information to save the information to the database, said Jansen. A Web spider begins with a single Web page then branches out to subsequent pages through the links connecting them, weaving a web of seemingly endless data retention.

The facility's Web spiders automatically capture participating state agency Web sites at specified intervals and can be configured with certain parameters, such as how deep a spider capture should delve or how to handle links leading to external Web sites.

Before the Digital Archives' efforts, he said, it was impossible to view a site as it appeared in any given moment of the past, before small, incremental changes gradually altered the site and irrevocably replaced what was already there.

"There were no snapshots in time," Jansen said.

Now, sites are being captured in different stages, providing a historically accurate glimpse of government activity.

"Increasingly the Web is becoming the public interface for government," he said. "That's how we're disseminating information to citizens, which is why it is becoming more and more important to capture those Web pages because they are the face of the government that people see."

Storing Public Policy

The need for a successful, standardized archival program derived from state legislation enforcing an open government policy, which mandates that the public have full access to all documentation and records relating to government.

"We needed to come up with a solution to ensure transparent government by preserving electronic records and making them available to the public years from now," Jansen said. As a result, the state hopes to ensure public confidence in state government and reassure the public their interests are being met.

State-required archive information includes: land records; court records; maps; vital records (such as birth, death and marriage certificates); retirement documents; census; codes, ordinances and statutes; government correspondence and documentation; and any additional records with legal or historical significance.

"We don't store records just to store them. We store records which are important -- that need to be kept forever, which really allows us to focus on the records we take in," said Jansen.

Moving Forward

The Digital Archives' first project migrated historic census information and marriage records for three pilot counties -- Spokane, Chelan and Snohomish -- to its centralized database. Now, with the gradual acquisition of electronic information such as Locke's Web site, the Digital Archives Division is expanding and fine-tuning the system for future stability.

"Within two years, we hope to have fully evolved the system and developed the policies and procedures for both accessing and ingesting data to the point where we can really open our doors to the entire state," Jansen said.

The Digital Archives plans to double storage capacity annually, growing from 5 terabytes to 30 terabytes within the next four years.

By merging record management and technology, the Digital Archives offers users the ability to access information anytime, from anywhere, he said, noting that by merging these two worlds, digital archiving allows the state to "blend the traditional archival science of preservation that successfully provides access to the public with the best practices of IT storing and migrating data."

"Our goal is to continue to grow and evolve the system to prove that its fundamental conception is correct and that our execution is right; that the retrieval is smooth and effortless and gives a very robust user experience while still preserving the information for long term," said Jansen.

History will advance alongside technology through digital preservation, continually made available to the future as an untarnished link to the past.

To access the Digital Archives, visit the Web site.

Sherry Watkins  |  Contributing Writer