Editorial: Preserve state’s history with new archive, library

By The Herald Editorial Board

It might sound like a nightmare scene from “Hoarders,” the A&E reality television series about homes overflowing with stuff that owners can’t part with.

It’s been 12 years since the building on Olympia’s State Capitol Campus that holds the Washington State Archives — three underground floors with 47,900 square feet of space and records stacked 32 boxes high — ran out of room. Since 2005, the State Records Center in nearby Tumwater has shuffled and rotated overflow, but it too is now packed, as The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield reported in February 2014.

Unlike in the TV show, the owners — Washington state’s residents — really can’t part with what the archives hold and protect, including records dating back to statehood in 1889: signed bills, the journals of past governors, state Supreme Court decisions, birth and death certificates, maps and historic photos.

One example of its use: The state is using records from the archives and the Washington State Library in its Legacy Washington project, building a collection of histories about the state’s leaders in politics, business, law, agriculture, art and culture, tribal leaders, its veterans and more.

The state is getting closer to finding a new home for its archives, which also will serve as a new location for the Washington State Library. The library, itself, safeguards collections of books, historic newspapers, its Northwest Collection of books, maps, audio and video records relating to state and territorial history and the collection of Territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens, who launched the library in 1853.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who in addition to her election duties oversees the archives and library, was asked by the Legislature two years ago to evaluate potential sites for a new archive and library facility and begin early design work. Wyman’s office considered locations on the Capitol Campus in Olympia, and in nearby Lacey and Tumwater, where other state agency offices are located.

While some, including former Secretary of State Sam Reed, envisioned a Washington State Heritage Center on the Capitol Campus, Wyman told The Herald Editorial Board this week that option proved too costly, as much as $140 million, and not likely to succeed as lawmakers confront other expensive priorities this session.

Wyman is proposing a combined facility in Tumwater, about three miles south of the Capitol, that would cost about $79 million to build. Of the $79 million, Wyman said, $52 million would be funded through capital bonds, $22 million from general obligation bonds and $5 million from grants. About 70 percent of the bond payments could then be paid with about $2.9 million that the state now pays annually to lease properties used by the archives and library.

The new combined facility, Wyman said, would eliminate costs associated with running and staffing multiple locations, allow state records to preserve documents to modern archival standards, allow construction of more energy-efficient facilities and significantly improve the access of historical documents, public records and government publications to the public and lawmakers.

The combined facility also would be used by the Secretary of State’s corporations division, which registers corporations and trademarks and offers other services to businesses and nonprofit agencies. Relocating it to Tumwater, Wyman said, will put it closer to the agencies it works most closely with, including Labor &Industries, Licensing and Revenue.

Funding for the new archive and library facility wasn’t included in Gov. Jay Inslee’s capital budget, but Wyman said she is working with senators to include it in the Senate’s capital budget.

Much of what state agencies, the Legislature and courts generate in paperwork is also preserved digitally. Existing archive records also are being turned into digital formats. The archives’ digital service allows for records to be searched online by name and other keywords. And not all paperwork is kept. Much of it is destroyed after it is processed and then held by the agency for three to eight years.

But we have a duty to preserve for ourselves and future generations the documents, records, photos and other ephemera of history that tell the story of Washington state. The Secretary of State’s recommendation, coming as it has from a legislative request, should be included in the capital budget.

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