Maryland's archivist is taking state government onto the information highway.
A computer version of part of the Maryland Manual, the official directory of state government, appeared on the World Wide Web last week. The rest will follow as it is compiled.
"It is a giant step for the Maryland archives to get on a worldwide network. Ultimately, the outline of state government will be on the Internet," said Edward C. Papenfuse, the state archivist.
"Since last summer, there has been an explosion as hundreds of universities, corporations, libraries and individuals try to explain themselves on the Internet," he added. "We are the first to try to explain state government, and within six months we will be able to take you into every department of government."
While Maryland's public library system has set up an award-winning public Internet connection called SAILOR, the archives' effort is Maryland's first publishing venture on the World Wide Web, an Internet system that allows users to create and read electronic books that can include graphics, sound and even video.
The archives, in the Hall of Records in Annapolis, are the official repository of Maryland records from the founding of the colony in 1634 to the 1990s, and the holdings include a vast collection of maps, photographs, newspapers, and church and business records.
While other states have established Web sites to promote tourism and provide basic information, officials said this was the first effort to provide detail on the workings of state government.
Timothy Slavin of the Delaware Bureau of Archives and Records and a board member of the National Association of Government Archive and Record Administrators, applauded the Maryland initiative. He asked how much the state charges for its massive, hardbound Maryland Manual and was told the price is $35.
"Thirty-five dollars. That means the information is not free. But any time you make information available like this, making it easy and free, that's a very significant step," Mr. Slavin said.
Arizona archives director David Hoober, president of the national organization, also called Maryland's effort a significant step and said, "We'll be watching with great interest."
Mr. Hoober said his agency is planning a demonstration of document-text retrieval for use in drafting legislation. Using computers to make government information more accessible will become increasingly common, the Arizonan said.
Lynne MacAdam, director of computer services at the Maryland Hall of Records, said she and database administrator Betsy Steele coordinate the Web effort with Diane P. Frese, editor of the Maryland Manual, who is collecting and collating material for the next edition, due out this summer.
As soon as Ms. Frese has completed a section, she sends a copy to Ms. MacAdam and Ms. Steele, who key it into the archives' computer as another section of the electronic manual.
Dr. Papenfuse said the printed Maryland Manual will never become obsolete as a reference work. Electronic technology changes so rapidly that it is neither stable nor completely reliable, "so we need to keep the book alive. It will be around for many years," he said.
But unlike the book, which is published every two years and frequently contains outdated material, the electronic version will be updated weekly, he said.
The Web version of the Maryland Manual will not include every detail of the actual book because of lack of resources, but Dr. Papenfuse said he wants every state agency to collect information that can be published electronically.
"My belief is that every agency of state government should be explaining itself to the citizens of Maryland this way," he said.
Eventually, he said he would like to expand the contents from general information about agencies and officials to more detailed holdings such as the voting records of legislators or the history of individual General Assembly bills. But that would require links with other state agencies.
The archivist said he would also like to see each jurisdiction create a local version of the Maryland Manual for inclusion in the Maryland package. Some of this information is already available through the SAILOR project.
The archives' "home page" on the Web includes basic information about the state, its history and its government (along with electronic photographs of top officials) and a description of the archives' reference services, geographical services, education and outreach programs.
Dr. Papenfuse said the home page was financed by a $35,000 grant from the Maryland Department of Education's Division of Library Development and Services. The division also sponsors SAILOR, the on-line information system maintained by the University of Maryland System and the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
To view the archives' home page with graphics, computer users need an account with an Internet provider and special software known as a Web "browser." Subscribers to the Prodigy on-line service who use Prodigy's Windows software can download a browser and access the Web. Prodigy's main competitors, America Online and the CompuServe Information Service, plan to offer a Web browser soon.
The World Wide Web address of the Maryland Archives home page is http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us/. The telnet address of Maryland's SAILOR information system is sailor.lib.md.us. Suggestions and comments about the archives can be sent via electronic mail to salliccess.digex.net or "snail-mailed" to 350 Rowe Blvd., Annapolis 21401.