Some of the shelves at the State Records Center in Tumwater.
As you enter the Washington State Archives’ State Records Center at the south end of Tumwater, the first thing you notice are the rows of shelves of cardboard boxes that literally rise to the ceiling 40 feet up.
When you see those super-tall shelves in that enormous building, it reminds you of the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark when the crate carrying the coveted yet deadly ark is stored in a giant government warehouse.
As you gaze at the high-rise shelving in the State Records Center, you quickly realize the place has A LOT of boxes. How many? More than 270,000. The Records Center Annex in Tumwater holds another 6,000 boxes. All of those boxes equate to about 700 million documents preserved in the two buildings.
And what kind of documents are kept in those boxes? Records that state government agencies no longer need close at hand, but aren’t allowed to destroy or throw away. That’s where the State Archives and the Records Center enter the picture.
The State Archives’ job is to preserve those millions and millions of government records. And the Records Center is where most of them are kept.
Considering that many state agencies continue to produce multiple boxfuls of records even in this digital age, it’s easy to understand that the number of documents stored at the Records Center can grow at an alarming rate. When you have a building that has only so much storage space, this can be a problem.
Fortunately for the State Archives, it is doing something that helps resolve this challenge. In partnership with several state agencies, the Archives has been reviewing records to see if some of them may be kept for shorter periods.
Recently, the Department of Health concluded that some of its boxes need only be retained for 15 years instead of the 20 previously identified. Shortening this single retention period, resulted in the destruction of 1,700 boxes of records, making much needed room for incoming records.
“At first glance, someone might wonder why in the world the State Archives, the place where government records are supposed to be preserved, would want to destroy records,” said State Archivist Steve Excell. “The fact is, working with Department of Health staff, we’ve carefully considered the length of time to retain these records and determined that 15 years is long enough.”