Background and History

All branches of the Washington State Archives are now open to researchers by appointment only. For more information, please visit our page regarding the closure

Photo of the Digital Archives building

Digital Archives Background

The Washington State Digital Archives is the nation's first archives dedicated specifically to the preservation of electronic records from both State and Local agencies that have permanent legal, fiscal or historical value.

Located in Cheney, WA on the Eastern Washington University campus, the new facility was designed from the ground up to host this technically complex program. The web interface and database storehouse were custom designed specifically for the Digital Archives to hold the unique and very important electronic records found throughout the state, and to provide simple, straight forward access to researchers.

The Digital Archives includes a state of the art research room, complete with computer research stations, a high tech presentation classroom and a world-class data center.

Technical Documents and Presentations

Digital Archives Feasibility Study
Digital Archives Investment Plan
ISB Presentation Sept 2004
Digital Archives Overview
Quality Assurance Report Q1
Quality Assurance Report Q3

History of the Digital Archives

The agency began strategic planning for the Digital Archives in March of 2000, when the project first appeared in the agency's Information Technology Portfolio. Planning for the physical design and technical infrastructure of the facility occurred during CY 2002. The state's 2001-2003 Capital Budget (SSB 6155) authorized the Secretary of State to enter into a financing contract for the construction. Early site work for the facility in Cheney, Washington began July 2002 with construction beginning January 2003.

This facility now serves as the physical "hub" for the Digital Archives and was completed in June 2004. This two-story facility houses both the Eastern Washington Regional Archives (traditional paper archives) as well as the Digital Archives serving both state and local government agencies.

Concurrent with construction, research began on the programmatic and technological aspects of the Digital Archives. Site visits by project team members were made to the National Archives and the Library of Congress. A strategic plan was developed that included extensive involvement of staff, executive management and external stakeholders. The State's 2001-2003 Capital Budget also authorized some financing authority for the Office of the Secretary of State for the purchase of technology equipment and software for the Digital Archives.

In June of 2004, custom development on the Web interface and Database design began, blending the latest technologies with traditional archival theory to create a first of its kind repository. The goal of the program was to make the historical electronic records of State and Local government easily accessible to the public, from anywhere, at anytime. The first records brought into the facilities care were marriage records from three pilot counties -Chelan, Snohomish and Spokane- along with the Historic Census and Naturalization records from the State Archives and State Library.

The grand opening of the facility occurred on October 4, 2004 and was attended by Washington State legislators, county officials, and archivists from throughout the United States. Among the speakers at this prestigious event were Secretary of State Sam Reed and Lew Bellardo, Deputy Archivist of the United States.

The Importance of Digital Archives

The Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, delivers broad public access to both digitized and born digital records of state and local government. This provides government accountability to the citizens and, in the case of digitized documents, helps preserve the originals.

The Washington Model

Washington Secretary of State, State Archivist, and Digital Archives staff discuss the pioneering effort to create the Washington State Archives, Digital Archives in Cheney, WA. With more and more records being born digital, preserving only analog records was not an option in fulfilling the statutory mandate to preserve Washington’s archival records for its citizens. This unique repository has also helped other states preserve and provide access to their digitized records.

The Power of Open Access

The Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, serves to strengthen democracy by making public records available online, world wide, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These records provide a valuable resource for the personal and professional needs of citizens, as well as contributing to government transparency.