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Grant will help digitize local history for Vermont State Archives

Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 8:20 AM EDT
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MIDDLESEX, Vt. (WCAX) - There is a wealth of Vermont history in the form of records, documents, photos and videos held at the Vermont State Archives Department in Middlesex. But there are also a wealth of important documents spread around the state that the archives wants to preserve, and a new federal grant is helping that mission.

“The most recent record in the archive is probably from last week,” said Tanya Marshall, Vermont’s state archivist and the chief records officer.

She says the oldest is from around 1760 before Vermont was even a state.

“This is what we do for the state archives and records administration for public records, so creating the course of government business,” Marshall said.

Marshall took WCAX News through libraries of state documents from past governors, courts and other public records. It’s literally a warehouse.

“We’ll get records out, we’ll get them organized, indexed and make them accessible to the public,” Marshall said.

It’s a dense system, but it’s only a small part of Vermont’s story. Rachel Onuf, the director of the Vermont Historical Records Program, bridges the gap to the other tellers of Vermont’s historical record.

“Rachel and her team support areas of the historical societies and others that we will be working with,” explained Marshall.

“What we do is provide technical assistance to town clerks and historical societies and museums,” Onuf said.

Onuf says their collections and documents hold incredible value to the state, so they need to be preserved. And they have received a grant for $40,000 through the National Archives and Records Administration to do things like go digital.

“Introduce them to best practices and provide the equipment that they may not have,” said Onuf. “We will offer training to organizations, a lot of already digitizing, but we will introduce them to best practices and provide them the equipment they might not have so a larger format digital scanner, a digital camera with set up like lights and copy stand.”

While Onuf says digital copies are good backups and provide better access, it’s not a perfect replacement for long-term preservation. She says that’s because digital copies are harder to keep track of and run the risk of disappearing. That’s why the grant money will also be used to help preserve original copies by buying data trackers for temperature and humidity.

“That’s the single most important thing about keeping materials from deteriorating to the point you can’t use them,” said Onuf.

While the grant will help Vermont repositories feel supported, Marshall says it’s Onuf’s position of connecting Vermont’s story that is important.

“It’s to provide a bigger service directly to the state of Vermont and also a sustainable resource,” Marshall said.

Onuf says they hope to eventually have a portal that would allow the public to access public and private records that relate to the topic that they are interested in.

October is also American Archives Month and there are plenty of other activities the department has planned for folks.

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