Digital Archives Program at the General Land Office

By Jan Ferrari, Government Information Analyst

Good records management procedures support digital archives programs. To that end, I have visited the Texas General Land Office (GLO) a few times in the past to see the wonderful map collections, but also to gain a better understanding of their digital archives program. Susan Dorsey, their Director of Technical Services, invited me to meet with her and Diane Garcia, their Acting Scan Lab Manager, in April to hear them talk about their program in greater depth.

The Texas General Land Office Archives is a closed stacks research collection; access to records is provided by file specialists who pull the hard copy files that have not been digitized. The GLO is a working archives and the majority of its archival records are used by internal staff to perform their day-to-day work and by the public, many of whom are genealogists, landmen, attorneys, historians, title specialists and staff from other state and federal agencies. In order to provide better access for internal and external customers and to help preserve the historical documents for the future, the materials are being digitized.

The General Land Office has approximately 32.5 million documents dating back to 1720, including approximately 80,000 maps, sketches and plat maps of Texas land. Most of these maps and over 2 million original archival documents have been scanned and are available for viewing online. These maps and documents, once digitized, are placed on the agency’s Web site for the public to view and research, providing much wider access to these historically significant collections in the GLO’s care, including to persons who do not have the time or money to travel to Austin to view these records in person.

These are priceless collections, and as such are microfilmed for permanent preservation. The original paper/vellum or other materials are also maintained in climate controlled, secured areas to prevent damage. The digital archives data include TIFFs for digital preservation and high quality print master image PGFs (Progressive Graphics Files), full-color PDFs of the over 2 million scanned documents for free download, as well as JPEGs to show the materials on the website.

Most records managers are probably familiar with ARMA’s General Accepted Recordkeeping (GARP®) principles, but did you know they apply to archives?  The principle of accountability means taking responsibility for identifying your organization’s historic materials; the principle of integrity means these materials are authentic (unaltered); the principle of protection means that your materials are safeguarded from theft and sabotage and have continued custodial care; the principle of availability means materials are available to those who need them; and the principle of retention means that records of persistent or historical value are supported by digital storage (sustainable format).

For anyone wishing to schedule research or a group tour, please contact the General Land Office:
512-463-5277, or 1-800-998-4GLO (4456) or