Skip to main content

It started with an email. Four days before the inauguration of Governor-elect Ralph Northam on 13 January 2018, Jae K. Davenport, deputy counsel to outgoing Governor Terry McAuliffe, virtually introduced me to her replacement, Jessica Killeen. Jessica needed a copy of an executive order issued by Governor James Gilmore in 2001. Could the Library help? I quickly located, scanned, and sent the document to her. Two days later, Grace Kelly, also from the Office of the Governor-elect, emailed me a request for information about Governor Robert McDonnell’s 2010 inauguration day order granting amnesty to the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) Corps of Cadets for all penalty tours and confinements. Northam, a 1981 VMI graduate, wanted to issue a similar order.

I did not realize it at the time, but these reference requests were the beginning of a beautiful archival/records management relationship between the Northam administration and the Library of Virginia. It culminated in 2022 with the successful transfer of 279 cubic feet of paper and over four terabytes (TB) of electronic records (including 6.2 million emails) from the Northam administration to the Library.

Deputy Counsel Jessica Killeen photo op with Gov. Ralph Northam, 13 January 2022.

Records of Governor Ralph S. Northam, Event Photographs, Accession 53697, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Required by the Code of Virginia, the quadrennial transfer of gubernatorial records is the Library’s equivalent of the Super Bowl. However, the day of three guys and a truck showing up at the end of an administration to pick up boxes of paper records is long gone. The explosion and complexity of electronic records in the 21st century requires transfer planning at the beginning of an administration and the involvement of a diverse group of staff from the governor’s office, state IT, and the Library. The Northam administration case study provides a peek behind the curtain of this process.

Transfer of Northam administration paper records, Patrick Henry Building, 12 January 2022.

Photo courtesy of the author.

Relationship-building and collaboration are key to a successful transfer. One of the challenges to relationship-building from the perspective of the Library is Virginia’s unique status as the only state that prohibits governors from succeeding themselves. The result is very little staff continuity between administrations. A new governor means new staff starting only a few days after the convening of the Virginia General Assembly. They are still learning their jobs and getting to know their colleagues. Understandably, archiving their records four years later is not a priority now. However, Jessica and Grace’s reference requests helped put archiving/records management issues on the Northam administration’s radar and highlighted the Library as a valuable resource for information. Records and Information Management Analyst Glenn Smith and I gave a brief presentation at an early Northam cabinet meeting on the archiving process and the Library’s role. This laid the foundation for more detailed guidance later in 2018.

On 9 August 2018, the Northam administration held “Archiving in August and Ice Cream Social,” part of the Governor’s Leadership series of talks. This was the first of several collaborations between the governor’s office and the Library. Jessica invited me to participate in a discussion of archiving the Northam records. I provided simple tips and showed examples of what not to transfer to the Library. This was part of a larger initiative by Rita Davis, counsel to the governor, to educate administration staff about their responsibilities under the Virginia Public Records Act (VPRA), Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and Virginia Conflict of Interests Act (COIA).

Over the next three years, the Library participated in several other similar in-person and virtual events. In each, Records Management Coordinator Chad Owen and I stressed that the Library was not only a resource for records management assistance but also for their information needs. During Northam’s term, Library staff answered a variety of reference questions and conducted in-depth research. For example, Governor Ralph Northam’s Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law used the Library’s diverse collections to illustrate their reports. In a 10 February 2021 press release, the administration publicly thanked by name the Library staff members who assisted with the report. I believe these reference interactions transformed the Library’s relationship with the Office of the Governor into a partnership. Instead of the Library just telling the administration what they were legally required to do for us (archiving their records), we demonstrated what we could do for them (reference).

In the spring of 2021, the counsel’s office, in collaboration with the Library, provided staff with guidance to clean up their email boxes through a series of simple weekly tips. By late summer 2021, Rita Davis completed the final archival transfer plan. In a series of slides, Rita highlighted the complexity of the transfer: a Data Map indicating all the possible locations containing archival records; procedures for archiving a departing staff member’s records; and the workflow for the transfer of records to the Library. Two sets of electronic records noted on these slides are noteworthy for their complexity: CRM and Google Vault.

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a Microsoft product that manages, tracks, and stores information. The Office of the Governor uses this database software for a variety of tasks including responding to constituent correspondence, restoration of rights, board appointments, and decision briefs. CRM is proprietary, so the Library has to export the data out of the system. Greta Bollinger, the Library’s database developer, working with the governor’s IT staff, exported over 200 GB of data from CRM in a way that the data can be accessed outside the system.

In January 2018, the Virginia state government switched email from Microsoft Outlook to Gmail/Google Workspace. Google Vault is an information governance and eDiscovery tool for Google Workspace. With Vault, users can retain, hold, search, and export users’ Google Workspace data. The Office of the Governor used Vault for Gmail messages and Drive files. The Library had never transferred records from Google Vault. Thanks to the efforts of Jessica Killeen and Susan Gray Page, the Library’s digital archives coordinator, the governor’s IT staff granted me access to the Northam administration Google Vault before the end of the administration. Through trial and error, I was able to learn how to use Vault and create transfer procedures. I exported and downloaded over two terabytes of data, which included 285 Google accounts containing 6.2 million emails, and 340,000 files.

Export of Google Vault account of Brian Coy, Governor Northam's press secretary.

Image courtesy of the author.

Transferring electronic records is a solo task. Library staff copied files to a portable hard drive, then Rebecca Morgan, the Library’s digital collections system engineer, moved them to Library servers. With paper, it is all hands on deck. Over several days in early January 2022, Library staff from across the agency pitched in to pick up 279 boxes of Northam records from multiple offices in the Patrick Henry Building. Alan Arellano, Duane Baskin, James Carter, Paul Casalaspi, Roger Christman, Kathy Jordan, Chad Owen, and Katie Ray all assisted. I took the boxes to the Library’s fourth stack where they were accessioned, labeled, barcoded, and shelved. The records of the Northam administration, by law, are closed until archivists in the State Records section have processed them. Eventually, they will be accessible through finding aids and catalog records.

The Library would like to thank the Northam administration staff for their efforts, especially: Cynthia Bailey, Rita Davis, Traci Deshazor, Kristin Downer, Holly Dunbar, Qiana Foote, Jason Gale, Grace Kelly, Jessica Killeen, Jack Mayer, Clark Mercer, LeGrand Northcutt, Aaron Puritz, Kelley Thomasson, and Robert Trinkle. A special “thank you” goes to Jessica Killeen. Jessica embraced her “other duties as assigned” energetically. Her passion for preserving the Northam administration records and attention to detail ensured that the Northam administration is well-documented in the archives for future generations.

For more about the Northam administration, join us at the Library on Thursday, November 17 at 6:00 p.m. as author and former reporter Margaret Edds and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Michael Paul Williams discuss Edds’s new book, What the Eyes Can’t See: Ralph Northam, Black Resolve, and a Racial Reckoning in Virginia.

From the publisher’s website:

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s “blackface scandal” could have destroyed any politician. The photo of him purportedly in blackface created a firestorm not only locally but also in every political sphere. What the Eyes Can’t See details why Northam’s career did not end with the scandal, and how it made him a better governor—and a better citizen.

The book draws on unprecedented access to the governor, his aides, and members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, whose initial anger evolved into determination to mine good from an ugly episode…Edds provides a revealing examination of race in the nation, how racism might be addressed and reckoned with, and how we all may find a measure of redemption in listening to one another.

For more information, contact Elizabeth Klaczynski at or 804-692-3536.

Roger Christman

Senior State Records Archivist

Leave a Reply