A GUIDE TO GOVERNMENT RECORDS
This Guide includes all permanent government records at the Archives. It is derived from eight databases which comprise the management system for records created by state and local governments since the founding of Maryland in 1634. It is an overview of records from provincial, state, county, and municipal government agencies which fulfills two basic tenets of an archives: stating clearly and concisely what records are in its custody, and providing a systematic way to retrieve and re-shelve those records in an efficient, cost-effective manner.
The creation of this finding aid on the Archives' web site is an essential component of the Archives' efforts to provide effective reference services. To successfully deliver information, an archives must provide the means for patrons to learn about available resources before visiting to do research or writing for assistance. Conversely, precise descriptions of these materials will indicate to patrons when they should inquire elsewhere for records. These are not casual concerns arising from adherence to some obscure archival methodology. Reliably furnishing answers to 15,000 researchers who visit the Archives each year, providing responses to nearly 30,000 letters and 10,000 telephone inquiries requires disciplined efforts to make our collection comprehensible.
The electronic records, of which this Guide is a derivative, are an integral part of the Archives' ability to respond to reference requests. Through the use of relational databases, staff can incorporate the agency and series titles of records into photo orders and record requests. This not only eliminates thousands of keystrokes formerly required to generate responses, but insures a degree of uniformity for citations. This electronic Guide is the first step in the development of an automated circulation system for the public visiting the research room.
When first published in 1991, the Guide was perceived as the foundation for a more detailed analysis of government records at the Archives. Efforts to secure funding for the preparation of agency histories and series descriptions resulted in a grant later that year from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. The publication of A Guide to State Agency Records at the Maryland State Archives is the first comprehensive analysis of these record materials. This work provides descriptions of 2,351 record series and histories of 220 provincial and state agencies, some current and some long since defunct, whose records are found at the Archives. It offers a detailed examination of the arrangement, quantity, relevant finding aids, and character of record series. It is hoped patrons will attain a further understanding of the records and the functions of the agencies responsible for their creation. This historical information has been incorporated into this finding aid.
A similar undertaking with the county and municipal records at the Archives is sorely needed. The only concerted effort to deal systematically with these materials was conducted by the Work Projects Administration of the Historic Records Survey during the Depression. While the quality of the work done on the counties they finished is exceptional, not all the counties were completed. Since then there has been a substantial increase in the number of functions that local government has undertaken, resulting in a dramatic growth of records.
A Guide to Government Records at the Maryland State Archives is produced from a computerized collection management system developed to organize the transfer of records to the new Archives building in the summer of 1986. This analysis of records series follows the model established by the Historic Records Survey. Former Assistant State Archivist Gust Skordas applied this descriptive model to the state agency records of the Archives in the 1950s. This work was further refined by the State Archivist, Dr. Papenfuse and Patricia Melville, then Director of State and Local Records, between 1973 and 1984. The introduction of personal computers during the 1980s allowed the Archives to move a paper based inventory of its records to a database management environment. The resulting hierarchical analysis of accessioned material proved immediately useful, not only in assigning locations for records in the new building before they were moved, but also as a finding aid before and after the move. Since 1986 the system has been expanded to include microform holdings, special collections, the reference library, state publications, and unprocessed material.
The Guide is derived from eight basic series level databases and many thousands of series unit level databases. The eight series level databases include original state records, state records on microform, original county records, county records on microform, original municipal records, municipal records on microform, and unprocessed records of all jurisdictions, either in the original or on microform. Included in each series description are four elements: the agency responsible for keeping the series, the series title, the date span of the series and the control number of the series.
Approximately one third of the records in the Archives are described in two databases: TRANSER (transfers of original records) and TRANSERM (transfers of microforms). They describe where materials are stored and what preliminary finding aids are available. The six other databases are maintained for record material which has been more fully described through archival accessioning procedures. When records are accessioned, the summary information is moved to a state agency, county agency, or municipal agency database, depending upon what agency generated the files. These databases (their names confined to the eight character label permitted by the management software) are called STAGSER (State Agency Series), COAGSER (County Agency Series), and MUAGSER (Municipal Agency Series) for original materials and STAGSERM, COAGSERM, and MUAGSERM for records available on microform. Each summary description of a series contains the name of the agency creating the series, the period of time encompassed by the series, the arbitrary series number assigned by the software, and the beginning stack location. From these descriptions the user can then request (by series number) the next level of analysis called series unit listings which for accessioned records are databases, and for recent transfers are often hand-written inventories of the contents of document containers. Series unit listings provide dates, description, accession number, and location for each unit (container) within a series. A series unit may be a volume, box, folder, or item found in the original or on film. The series unit analyses for accessioned records generally are more complete and descriptive than the preliminary inventories available for unaccessioned materials.
The distinction between the levels of description discussed will be clear to the researcher who uses the records. For those items found in TRANSER, the patron may have to go through many boxes or volumes of records to find the information desired. The records which have been described in STAGSER, COAGSER, or MUAGSER afford the patron more precise access within the series. This publication offers a detailed starting point for a more complete understanding of the records at the Maryland State Archives. The Guide will be updated quarterly in order to accommodate the frequent transfers of records to the Archives.
Some of the records found at the Archives are restricted. Certain vital records, personnel records, adoptions, and similar confidential material usually are not accessible to researchers. Some restricted records are available with permission or under specific circumstances.
The Guide permits the researcher to determine the materials available from a specific agency, such as the Governor, or for a specific type of record, such as assessments. On a broader scale the Guide and the database from which it is produced provide a management tool for enhancing the accessibility of information. By having all government records described at some level, the Archives can examine all its holdings from several perspectives and establish priorities concerning the processing, description, and conservation of record series. The information in the Guide is as accurate and complete as possible. Comments and suggestions are welcome.