LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Archives of Michigan is using a state-of-the-art and inexpensive option — the Internet — to store and preserve a growing collection of digital records that includes everything from 40 years' worth of election results to an index of thousands of proposed designs for the state's quarter released 10 years ago.
The move to the cloud is expected to bolster a plan to help the public easily access some historical records without having to trek to the Archives' facility in Lansing. A cloud-based service being used by Michigan saves money and, archivists say, makes sure that important electronic records — documents, audio and video files — don't go obsolete as formats change.
The company Michigan contracted with in 2012, England-based Tessella, plans to release its first version of a public access interface on April 30. Within the next year, people will be able to visit the state website to access historical records stored with the company's Preservica technology.
For state officials, finding a way to store electronic records was crucial because more government records are being produced electronically — emails, photos, video and the like.
"When dealing with something in a format that isn't permanent and yet the content is permanent, you have a challenge. It's an international challenge," said Caryn Wojcik, a government records archivist for the state.
The solution for Michigan after years of searching — cloud computing — refers to the practice of renting computing accessories over the Internet instead of buying more machines, the applications running on them and servers to store and backup files. The $13,000 annual cost is a fraction of the Archives' yearly budget that totals around $850,000, said state Archivist Mark Harvey.
A key component of the technology used by Michigan supports the conversion of files to newer formats so they remain usable.
Examples of Michigan records being stored in the Amazon Web Services cloud include aggregate historical data on K-12 students, legal briefs filed with the state Supreme Court, meeting minutes kept by state bodies and recently digital audio recordings of Michigan House of Representatives sessions. If asked by a researcher, archivists will also convert old cassette recordings of legislative sessions to a digital copy.
"As we convert traditional records to digital formats, we are making case-by-case decisions about whether to store the digital version in Preservica," Wojcik said.
Despite the emphasis on preserving electronic records, less than 1 percent of Michigan's archival information is being kept in the cloud. Harvey said he recently logged 40 to 50 boxes of records involving tribal affairs, all but one filled with paper.
"We're not at the point of where all of a sudden everything we're seeing is electronic," he said.
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