What Does it Mean to be the State Archives of Ohio? (Featuring a Local Government Records Archivist!)

What Does it Mean to be the State Archives of Ohio? (Featuring a Local Government Records Archivist!)

If you haven’t heard yet, October is Archives Month. As part of our celebration here on the History Blog, I’ve been checking in with other archivists at the Ohio History Connection to hear all about their work. Today I talked to Amanda, an archivist in the State Archives department at OHC.

The collections that are available in our Archives & Library at the Ohio History Connection are split into three main departments:

  • Printed Materials- This is anything that was published. This could include books, newspapers, and pamphlets.
  • Manuscripts- Unpublished papers and audiovisual materials. This is the department I work in!
  • State Archives– While Manuscript and State Archives material often appears to be very similar there are some very important differences. The Ohio History Connection serves as the official State Archive of Ohio. Read on to hear from Amanda about what that entails!

1.The Ohio History Connection holds the State Archives of Ohio. What exactly does this mean? 
The State Archives maintains the permanent records, or records of enduring historical value, for the State of Ohio. We hold the records that document the activities and functions of state offices and local governments.  The main difference between the State Archives and the Manuscript collections is that instead of receiving donated collections of records from individuals or organizations we are transferring records directly from government agencies and local governments based on their retention schedule.  Records are maintained according the agency or department from which they are received.  For example, the Secretary of State’s records would be separate from the Adujutant General’s records.

 Ohio Adjutant General’s Civil Defense Collection held by the State Archives.

2. What kind of records is a State Archives required to hold? 
There are some records that we are required to keep per the Ohio Revised Code, including the Constitutions of the State of Ohio adopted in 1802, 1851 and the Amendments adopted in 1912.

Other records are transferred to us because of their enduring value, as identified in their records retention schedules.  We have two primary components to State Archives, state government and local governments.  From the state government we’ve received legislative records, Office of the Governor records, Supreme Court records, and records from state agencies.  We also have records from the Ohio Penitentiary and Ohio State Reformatory, as well as death certificates from the Department of Health from 1908-1963.What we have from local governments can vary by the local government.  Some local governments maintain their records or transfer them to one of the Ohio Network Centers, a local historical society, or a local library.  Some examples of local records would be birth and death records from before 1908, marriage records, court records, and county tax duplicates (useful for land research).  We have records from counties, municipalities, and townships.3. What is a retention schedule? Who is required to keep one?
A retention schedule is a listing of records created with a retention period attached to each record series, or group of like records.  The retention period is the length of time a record must be kept because it is needed for ongoing business, to document an action, or for statutory reasons.  Not every type of records needs to be kept forever.  For example, a government only needs to keep a cancelled check for a defined period of time, not permanently.  The schedule allows the government to document how long each record series will be maintained so that records can be kept orderly and so that the public is aware of how long records are accessible.  Although it may seem counterintuitive to discuss records destruction in regards to archives, ensuring that records are destroyed when they have met their retention period provides the government with more resources to devote to records with a permanent retention. This lessens the risk of valuable records being lost in a storage room filled with records past their usefulness.

Archivists are always at risk of getting lost in a pile of papers.

Requirements aside anyone could create a records retention schedule, they are a great way to identify your records and develop a plan before you become buried and can’t find that report you need. Non-government organizations and corporations will have retention schedules. You could have one for your own files at home.  How long to you keep your tax records or insurance policies?  They become essential for governments, though, because of the importance of openness and transparency when it comes to public records.  All public offices are required to have a retention schedule in order to dispose of records. If a record is not recorded on a records retention schedule, it cannot be destroyed without proper notification.

4.How do people use our State Archives collections?
Records held by the State Archives can be accessed through the Archives/Library at the Ohio History Center. The Archives/Library is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Our holdings are also documented in the online collections catalog at https://ohiohistory.on.worldcat.org/discovery.   One of the items you can find in the State Archives is the original design for the Ohio state flag.

5.Are there any special rules about how you process government collections?
Not really, but we are more cognizant of the legal value of the records we hold and take care in handling restrictions and maintaining original order when feasible.  Government records are considered public records, meaning there is a responsibility to the public to care for, preserve, and make these records accessible.

6.What made you want to be an archivist?
I was a history major and really enjoyed working with primary resources when doing my research.  I love the idea of being able to touch, read, and learn from an original, unique record.  It’s more than just learning about history, but it’s being able to access a piece of that history.  Archivists work to ensure that future generations will be able to access and learn from these records and I wanted to be a part of that.

7.What’s your specialty? 
I suppose my specialty has become records management and records retention, primarily as it pertains to local governments.  I am the Local Government Records Archivist and I work with counties, municipalities, townships, schools, libraries, and special taxing districts to help them understand and follow the records management aspects of Ohio’s Public Records Law.  I also review local government records retention schedules and disposal requests.  People often just think about archival records once they are “old,” but records management is how we ensure that records are preserved and properly maintained so that they reach old age and can still be accessed by researchers.  Remember, the records being created today are the archives of the future.

Even if you are not a government official, the records kept by the State Archives can be very helpful in performing research. (Plus they are just plain interesting!)  Come check out the great records held by our State Archives!

A big thank you to Amanda for telling me all about her role as a government archivist! Stay tuned for more awesome updates during Archives Month!

Posted October 13, 2017

Subscribe to Our Blogs