Kentucky

Ky. history kept safe in Public Records Division

FRANKFORT — Kentucky's history in records is tucked safely away in the Public Records Division of the State Department of Libraries and Archives.

Barbara Teague, the state archivist, oversees miles of records — 310,000 cubic feet of paper and 220,000 rolls of microfilm and electronic data. The holdings include papers of governors and other state officials, land and election records, court records and other important documents dating to the 1780s, when Kentucky was part of Virginia.

"We have one of the largest physical holdings of any state archives in the country," Teague told The Courier-Journal of Louisville. "We care for records. That's 100 percent of our job — caring for records and being able to retrieve any one of them when it is needed."

The agency has felt the effects of declining revenues, which forced a cut in its state appropriation to $11.3 million next year from the $14.7 million originally appropriated for 2008. That is a decline of 23 percent.

The Public Records Division's staff has been cut from 58 three years ago to 45, but Teague said the remaining employees have assumed other tasks to avoid further losses.

Hours have also been reduced. The archives' research room is open to the public on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., opening two hours later than previously.

"We can't do many things we'd like to be doing ... but we continue to focus on our core mission of preserving and providing access to the records of Kentucky," Teague said.

Teague's boss, state Librarian Wayne Onkst, says officials are often asked why the records need to be kept.

"But if there's some legal record you need a copy of, you'll be glad we've kept it," he said.

More than 15,000 inquiries come to the state archives each year. The electronic archives, e-archives.ky.gov, had 542,711 visits last year. The main Libraries and Archives Web site, kdla.ky.gov, had more than 13 million page views last year.

With guidance from the 17-member State Archives and Records Commission, the Public Records Division produces a "retention schedule" that determines how long a record must be kept.

Commission member Richard Belding, a former state archivist, said the retention schedule takes into consideration a record's administrative, fiscal, legal or historical value.

Official correspondence and executive orders from the Governor's Office are among the records kept permanently, for instance, but applications from people wanting to become Kentucky Colonels can be destroyed after a year.

Paper records won't be going away anytime soon, even with the advances of electronic storage. Teague said documents often originate in paper format and would be expensive to convert to digital.

Also, the limited resources for digitizing records are mostly used to make available online more significant records that wouldn't be destroyed anyway because of their historical value.

"We're seeing more paper, but we're seeing more of all formats," Belding said. "We have more of everything except resources to deal with it."

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