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Security at the Archives

by Jan McClintock

I recently spoke with the Head of the Processing Section at the Pennsylvania State Archives, Linda Ries, about security measures which affect researchers.

Security at the State Archives is an on-going process. It not only addresses problems of crime, but also of conservation. Unlike a traditional library, most of the records in the Archives are one-of-a-kind, and therefore irreplaceable. Many original copies of records are placed on microfilm at the in-house laboratory, not only for security purposes, but for reasons of conservation, since the original record suffers slight deterioration each time it is handled. Microfilm also saves shelf space and can be easily copied and distributed to other repositories.

Ms. Ries described the security measures as unfortunate but necessary precautions taken to maintain continued access to these important records. Sadly, items have been taken, or reproduced without consent. It is understood that the vast majority of researchers are completely reputable, but it only takes one "bad apple" to deprive the rest of us of an important record.

Visitors to the Search Room of the Archives must fill out a registration form and produce some kind of photo-identification, such as a drivers' license. This gives the Archives a means of contact if a problem arises, and it assures the integrity of the visitor. Since they may carry into the Search Room only those materials necessary for their research, each guest is assigned a locker in which to store their coats, purses, tote bags, or briefcases.

As usual, only pencils are used for notes, since ink has permanent consequences, even if it is used unintentionally. Laptop computers present no problems, and are becoming more popular for genealogy research. However, cameras and video equipment are prohibited, basically because "copies" of the original documents could be used for profit without the proper permission or credit being given.

The State Archives use security cameras and close-circuit TV to view visitors while they are in the search rooms. Although this may cause you some discomfort, remember that, like financial institutions, the Archives is entrusted by its patrons, in this case the citizens, to keep their records safe for the present and for the future.