The policy backfired last year when heavy rains in Prince George's County led to flooding that destroyed about 2,400 cubic feet of county records in Upper Marlboro. The State Archives would have accepted the records if it had the space, Mr. Baker said.

"I don't really have an option," he said. "Even if I could just magically snap my fingers and go out and rent another building, we don't have the money to do that."

Desperate for more space, archives officials have testified before Senate and House budget committees. They originally hoped for a new building — which Mr. Baker said could have cost as much as $25 million — but have moved to the less-expensive option of buying a used, "semidistressed" building.

The agency's troubles are not limited to storage. State budget cuts have reduced the Archives' finances and nearly eliminated its art conservation budget.

One of the ways archivists have cut costs is by asking the state facilities and art galleries that host much of the state's artistic property to pay for upkeep.

Mr. Swanson said the Maryland State Archives gets 15 percent to 20 percent of its funding from the state. The rest comes from fundraising, grants and money the agency earns as a printing service for businesses.

It also charges fees for the thousands of files it retrieves for residents each year.

State funding for the Archives has been left mostly to subcommittees on the Senate Budget and Taxation and House Appropriations committees.

Lawmakers are quick to say that the archives have tremendous value, but many say the state simply doesn't have the money at a time when it has many infrastructure needs.

"You've got to handle the things that you've got to handle now and just wait and see what happens," said Delegate Gail H. Bates, Howard Republican, who serves on the Appropriations public safety and administration subcommittee, which hears the Archives' testimony each year. "As much as I think that it's important to do something with the archives, it's not really what I would call a basic need right now."

Delegate John F. Wood Jr., who is vice chairman of the subcommittee, said the Archives had a near-miss a couple of years ago when it was in the running to receive an Annapolis building vacated by Maryland State Police barracks. The space went to another agency.

He said lawmakers should look more closely at funding a new facility and doesn't expect the Archives to give up its fight.

"It's something I think that we should be looking at — and not keep putting it off and putting it off," said Mr. Wood, St. Mary's Democrat. "I'm sure they're going to be back every year until they get it."


Information from: The Washington Times,