"Before, it was inaccessible. Now it's convenient, open and lots more people are using it," Crenson said. "I've been a steady customer."

In the case of the state archives, the state is responsible for storing a wide range of records, including municipal, executive-level and judicial records. The state even maintains a fine-arts collection, including paintings, furniture and chandeliers.

According to Baker, the archives building at 350 Rowe Blvd. in Annapolis was designed to accommodate the agency's needs up to the year 2000, and it did that. After that, Baker said, the state began to lease space around Anne Arundel County for additional storage capacity.

Several years ago, the archives studied the feasibility of expanding the Papenfuse State Archives Building in Annapolis. The cost turned out to be more than $60 million, and the project was not funded by the General Assembly.

This year, Papenfuse and Baker are proposing the less expensive building in Jessup and asking for funds to be allocated starting in 2017, so the request wouldn't be competing with as many other projects.

Plans call for the facility to contain areas for records processing and storage, electronic archives, "artistic property," research and staff work space. Officials say they hope to hear this month whether their funding request will be considered in 2012.

In return for its work in Baltimore, meanwhile, the state archives gained some storage space on Mathews Street. The city also is helping to pay the cost of the archivists on loan from the state.

Behind this flurry of activity is Papenfuse, who has served as state archivist since 1975 and whose name is on the main state archives building in Annapolis. Now, with the title of acting city archivist, he spends two days a week at the Baltimore location.

"He's done wonders. He should get a lot of credit," said Avery Aisenstark, director of Baltimore City's Department of Legislative Reference.

"He's very entrepreneurial," said Crenson, the Hopkins professor. "When you think of an archives, you might think of a stodgy operation. That's not the spirit here at all. They're always looking for new sources of funding and ways to make the records more accessible to people by putting them online. They're not standing still."

Papenfuse said he has more ideas.

He would like to put the city archives on firmer financial footing by implementing a new fee structure to help generate more revenue to help pay for records storage and management. He believes that a portion of the money charged to the public for researching documents, such as property deeds and birth certificates, should be used to maintain the archives where the records are stored.

Papenfuse would like to see the city archives housed in an even more prominent location. He said he has his eye on the Scottish Rite Temple of Freemasonry at North Charles and 39th streets, a nearly windowless white marble building that is still used by the Masons but has been put on the market.

Papenfuse also said he wishes the state had money to acquire more documents that have been in private hands. He noted that an 1815 letter written and signed by "Star Spangled Banner" poet Francis Scott Key, and a 1792 Book of Common Prayer owned by the wife of Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, both were put up for auction recently by the Baltimore Book Co., but the state had no money to buy them.

Papenfuse and Baker say they realize that funds are tight everywhere, but they are optimistic that Maryland will find the resources necessary to protect its history.

"Maryland has always been in the forefront of safeguarding its documents," Papenfuse said.

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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