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State Archives official: No broken record-keeping here

The Maryland State Archives has corrected record-keeping problems that state auditors said put artifacts at risk of being lost or stolen, the archives’ deputy director said Tuesday.

The Department of Legislative Services’ Office of Legislative Audits released a report on Tuesday that said there were “custody and record-keeping deficiencies” at the state archives. The archives — which, among other things, contains land records, historical photographs and the state art collection — is apparently also using “an outdated and vulnerable operating system on its servers,” auditors said.

Timothy D. Baker, the deputy state archivist, called auditors’ findings “pretty minor” and said the record-keeping problems identified in the report were not cause for serious concern.

“We have a very detailed database of the artistic property collections, but we also have what we call object files that are physical paper files … and there are other supporting documents that have been developed over the years,” Baker said in an interview.

The record-keeping and inventory-control issues identified by auditors stem from a 2010 decision to remove art collections from the state’s fixed asset records, a database maintained by the comptroller’s office. Auditors said the shift was “consistent with national standards for museum collections which do not record art collections as assets.”

The archives never set up a control account to replace the comptroller’s, according to the audit.

The state Department of General Services’ Inventory Control Manual requires a control account — a record created at the beginning of the year and used to compare the total dollar value of inventory at year’s end — be maintained and frequently updated.

“We still had this very detailed inventory, and we still monitored the inventory,” Baker said. “What we failed to do was to set up this control account. … Despite the fact that there wasn’t a control account, there was still significant documentary backup material that would give evidence to something being missing from the collections.”

But auditors wrote that “inadequate internal controls” could cause items in the $31.4 million collection to be “misplaced” or “misappropriated,” and also called for the archives to “segregate the duties of inventory record keeping.”

Three employees had access to the collection and were capable of modifying inventory records, and one of those employees was also responsible for keeping inventory. Baker said those issues were resolved now, but added that theft of objects in the archive was never a serious concern.

“We have a group of very dedicated professional curatorial staff,” he said. “The likelihood of someone colluding to actually steal an object and delete something from the database … that just wouldn’t happen.”

The audit, delivered to lawmakers a week ago and to the public on Tuesday, covered a period of about three years, from Nov. 17, 2009, to Oct. 22, 2012.

In 2011 and 2012, collectors Barry Landau and Jason Savedoff were prosecuted for taking rare documents from the National Archives and from the Maryland Historical Society, a separate and private institution in Baltimore.

Baker said some artifacts from the state archives were on display at the historical society, but they were not at risk.

“Our objects on display at the historical society, if they had gone missing, we would have known about it,” he said. “They’re in their main gallery. … I don’t think we have anything in their storage.”

In a response that accompanied the auditors’ report, State Archivist and Commissioner of Land Patents Edward G. Papenfuse said the operating system would be updated within six months.