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Trying Out the Beach Wagon

by on February 25, 2014


Today’s post comes from Alan Walker, archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.


Some of us at the National Archives may remember schlepping these carts around the stacks in Archives I. Did you know that one of NARA’s own invented it?

Dr. Grover presents Helen Beach with a $25 award for her table design, August 1948

Dr. Grover presents Helen Beach with a $25 award for her table design, August 1948

 

Helen Beach was an archivist in the General Records Division, and she was frustrated with trying to manage double-shelved records with the carts then available. So she came up with her own design.

RG 64, A1 155, case file 147-S4

Record Group 64, A1 155, Case Files for Employee Suggestions, 1944-1949. Case File 147-S4

National Archives Identifier: 7541348

RG 64, A1 155, case file 147-S4

Record Group 64, A1 155, Case Files for Employee Suggestions, 1944-1949. Case File 147-S4

 

Her suggestion was forwarded to the carpenter shop, where the design was refined:

table design diagram

 

From November 1946 to June of 1947, the proposal was sent around to various divisions for comment. On June 9, approval was granted for its construction. At the end of October, the prototype was built and delivered for testing. By July of 1948, various units had tried it out and submitted their impressions of the “Beach Wagon” (as it came to be called), and Assistant Archivist Robert H. Bahmer approved a $25 cash award for her idea.

RG 64, P 75 "Press Releases, 1935-1964"

Record Group 64, P 75 “Press Releases, 1935-1964″

RG 64, P 75 "Press Releases, 1935-1964"

Record Group 64, P 75 “Press Releases, 1935-1964″

And the story even made the papers!

news article

So, what brilliant ideas have you come up with lately?

*Update: Great ideas really are timeless. The staff at Archives I still use Miss Beach’s “wagon” to this day! When we support our innovators, great things are bound to happen.

Photos by Marie Maxwell.

Beachorg1

Beach cart 2

 

 



Are you familiar with Tumblr? The popular microblogging site is one of many social media platforms that the National Archives uses to engage with the public and share news, information, and documents. With over a dozen Tumblr accounts including Today’s Document, Congress in the Archives, Our Presidents, four Presidential Libraries, and the eponymous U.S. National Archives, we’re among the most active Federal agencies on the platform, but we’re always looking to improve our approach.

Earlier this month we hosted the Federal Tumblr Working Group, where government agencies on Tumblr share information, tips, best practices, and technical support for working on the platform. We were thrilled to welcome Liba Rubenstein, Tumblr’s Director of Outreach for Causes and Politics as a special guest to our meet up.

In attendance were colleagues from the General Services Administration (GSA), the Department of Health and Human Services, the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of State, the Environmental Protection Agency, and others, representing 11 other agencies and bureaus in all. Many of these agencies have their own Tumblr blogs (see below for a complete list), and some are still new to the platform and looking to see if it was a good fit for their agency.

Liba Tumblr
Tumblr’s Liba Rubenstein speaks to the Federal Tumblr Working Group at the National Archives

Among the topics and questions Liba covered included:

  • Tumblr demographics: Tumblr users are young, active and engaged. They are more likely to be politically active and vote. On average they spend up to 18 minutes per visit on the platform. Teen users can be the most active bloggers and often hit the 250 post per day limit. There are over 170 million blogs, with 73 million individual posts per day.

  • Longevity & Reach:

    • One-third of reblogs happen 30 days after the content was originally posted.

    • 60% of all reblogs come from followers of followers.

  • Tumblr tries to be a “democratic” platform—follower counts are no longer listed to keep it from being a popularity contest. Creative and engaging content should take precedent.

  • Be mindful of the “two faces” of Tumblr—the internal dashboard view provides a different experience than the look and feel of the external web view  thatthe general public sees. Neither one should be neglected but some posts can be targeted for one “face” or the other.

  • Blogs are often most successful when they play to their strengths and focus on a core theme or audience. (Some readers may note that the National Archives takes this approach with separate Tumblr blogs on Today in History, Preservation, Presidential History, and even a personal Tumblr from the Archivist of the United States.)

  • Take advantage of all the available tools:

    • The Source link can maintain authorship and context instead of watermarks or text than can be lost when reblogging.

    • Use Photosets to create captivating layouts that can draw users in.

    • Animated GIFs are a unique form of digital expression. With no clicking required, they grab viewer’s attention and are easily engaging. (See our past Today’s Document GIFs for an example)

    • Question posts and the Submission form can provide new engagement opportunities and an easy path to solicit crowdsourced or user-generated content  (Submissions can’t be taken for granted but often need a compelling call to action for users.)

  • A new Terms of Service (TOS) was recently released (long-awaited by several agencies). Tumblr has been in touch with Government attorneys and most of the biggest concerns have been addressed.

  • Metrics

    • Full metrics remain elusive, especially where integrating internal views and external web visits is concerned, but Tumblr is aware of this issue.

    • Third party (subscription-based) services can help with tracking tags and reblogs but still only provide part of the picture.

    • Don’t be afraid to dig into particular posts—follow the comments and reblogs to help identify trends.

    • Be sure to compare apples to apples and take each platform on its own merits. Don’t hold social media to a higher standard than other forms of communication.

  • Tags, search, and discovery

    • The weight of Curated Tags has diminished as Search functionality has been improved across the site.

    • Similarly, Spotlight Categories no longer play a prominent role when new users join Tumblr.

  • Helping users in distress (threats of suicide, self harm, violence, etc): Blog owners can email Abuse@tumblr.com directly. There is also a new Counseling & Prevention Resources page.

  • Reaching out to users and communities with surveys and direct contact can help focus efforts but this raises privacy issues for Government agencies. Use a coordinated effort across multiple platforms (Tumblr, email, Twitter) to maximize a campaign.

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment.

We can’t thank Liba enough for her time, patience, and enthusiasm—and thanks to all our Federal Working Group colleagues for their input and questions.  We’re looking forward to putting some of these tips to use!

Looking for new Tumblr blogs to follow? Check out these from our Federal colleagues:



Based on an article by V. Chapman-Smith, Special Assistant to National Education at the National Archives at Philadelphia

The National Archives at Philadelphia presents a wonderful case study on how innovation can benefit NARA and at the same time make a deep impact in the local community.  All along the way, however, it has involved testing new strategies and having the flexibility to change approaches as needed.   V. Chapman-Smith recently discussed how it all came about.

Goal of Improving Education

The National Archives in Philadelphia started with a goal of building a meaningful presence in education, one that could produce strong outcomes for students and schools, while at the same time, contribute to the use of history assets, particularly National Archives holdings.

Listen to Mayor Michael Nutter personally thank the National Archives for its leadership in this effort:

Taking a Partnership Approach 

NARA at Philadelphia recognized that they could not do anything meaningful alone, given the immense size of Philadelphia’s education system (over 200,000 students) and problems within the school district.  In 2004, they initiated a partnership with several other institutions to bring the National History Day (NHD) program back to Philadelphia after a 25-year absence in the city.  The partnership had no infrastructure or funding in the beginning, but the partners found ways to raise the funds among themselves.  By working together, they were able to develop a program which:

  • Eliminates the economic barriers that prohibit broad student participation in this distinguished program. (84% of students in the public schools are from low-income families.  There are also high numbers in the parochial schools.)
  • Provides full scholarships to the students to advance to the state level (enough funding for approximately 80 students), as well as similar support for any of the teams that make it to the national competition.   (They have had several.)
  • Provides other supports to schools, teachers and students with direct services, supplies, free access to cultural collections and institutions (fees waived), workshops, transportation to the regional competition and a no-fee regional competition.

They also helped a demonstration public school, Constitution High, where students are required to do the NHD program for 3 out of the 4 years they are there, to build out its history-based curriculum.

Listen to students discuss what participation in National History Day has meant to them in the new NHD Philly program video:

NHD Philadelphia started with 175 students.  Today, the program serves over 1,000 students each year throughout the city, including in under-performing public schools.   The partners’ combined efforts have brought over $2 million in resources to the schools and produced outstanding education outcomes.   The results at Constitution High have been outstanding… a 97% graduation rate, with 100% college acceptance rate.

Further innovation using Web 2.0 and Social Media

In fall of 2013, the program felt challenged to find more funds for its 2014 Competition.  Encouraged by Maria Marable, NARA’s National Education Director, NARA’s education operation in Philadelphia, together with its partners, decided this time to turn to social media to increase public outreach and to share their story.   Two partners, The Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries and the Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League, lead the infrastructure development for the use of a crowd-sourcing campaign with NARA supporting content development.   Together they also determined that if they were to exceed their initial goal, any additional money collected would go towards student scholarships.  The NHD program built out a Facebook and Twitter presence, upgraded their website, and built a YouTube channel.  A young documentary filmmaker, Robert Chapman-Smith, produced (pro bono) a new program video.  They succeeded!! Everything was up and going just after Thanksgiving.

Beyond fundraising, NARA Philadelphia is discovering social media helpful in getting public feedback about NARA’s efforts through its National Education Program operation, as well as that of its partners.  It’s also enabling them to more easily learn from others who are doing similar work and to hear from communities facing similar challenges.

Watch the “What is National History Day?” video, produced by NHD Philly students when the program began:

Through creating partnerships with like-minded organizations, NARA at Philadelphia has accomplished far more than it could have alone to contribute to the education of Philadelphia’s students.   They have seen Philadelphia’s National History Day program take off and blossom.  Innovation has not been an end unto itself; but done right, it has been about trying out new ideas and approaches that have the potential of being a win-win situation for all concerned.

 

Launching a Social Intranet

by on January 21, 2014


On January 16, 2014, we had the privilege of hosting the Federal Communicators Network for a special presentation: “Driving Employee Engagement Through A Social Intranet.”

This event was an opportunity to welcome our communications colleagues from across the Federal government, and gave us the chance to share best practices and solution-driven approaches for our work.  We were joined by over 70 attendees (both in person and via webinar) from various government agencies, including the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Kelly Osborn, Web Developer and Community Manager for our Internal Collaboration Network, took us step-by-step through the process of establishing the social intranet at the National Archives, managing the various technical and cultural challenges, and measuring success.

kelly presentation

We look forward to hosting more events like this in the future, getting to know and learn from our colleagues across the government, and opening the doors for greater collaboration and knowledge sharing.

I would like to thank the Federal Communicators Network for co-hosting this event with us, and Digital Gov University for hosting the webinar. Many thanks also to my staff and to Donna Garland, Director of Communications at the National Archives for her support of this program.

feedback 1 feedback 2 feedback 3

If you missed the event, slides of Kelly’s presentation are now available from the Federal Communicators Network.

We are grateful to have hosted such an engaged and supportive audience for this event. We look forward to welcoming you at the National Archives as we continue to share and learn from our efforts and initiatives.

 



Nicole Ebber (left) and Kira Kraemer (right) of Wikimedia Deutschland, Dominic McDevitt-Parks (center-left) of NARA, and James Hare, President of Wikimedia D.C. (center-right) on the steps of the National Archives.

A global challenge

Here at NARA, we’re working hard to understand Wikipedia’s inner workings. The Wikimedia community—which is responsible for writing and maintaining Wikipedia and its sister projects—is a vast, international network made up of individual editors, geographically organized chapters, officially affiliated groups, a central Wikimedia Foundation, and third-party stakeholder groups with overlapping educational missions, like the National Archives. Our mission is ultimately archival—we preserve and provide access to the records of the United States government—and we need to remain firmly dedicated to that in all we do. Therefore, taking a thoughtful approach to engaging Wikimedia and Wikimedians in a way that will be mutually beneficial and promote mutual understanding has required increasing our awareness of the structure and diversity of the Wikimedia community.

As an example of our efforts at a deeper level of Wikimedia engagement, the National Archives supports the GLAM-Wiki US Consortium (“GLAM” stands for “galleries, libraries, archives, and museums”), an official Wikimedia-affiliated user group whose mission is to support the sharing of experiences and best practices among cultural institutions and Wikipedians. And we’ve worked extensively with our local chapter here in DC, Wikimedia District of Columbia, with whom we’ve partnered on about half a dozen events so far.

An international opportunity

So, when we heard that representatives from Germany’s national Wikimedia chapter, Wikimedia Deutschland, would be in town to interview Wikimedia D.C. leadership as part of the Wikimedia Chapters Dialogue project, we jumped at the chance to host them at the main National Archives Building in downtown Washington, D.C. for the day. The Chapters Dialogue is an ongoing effort to assess the “needs, goals and stories” of all the Wikimedia chapters around the world with in person interviews of chapter representatives and other Wikimedia stakeholders by the German team. (You can follow the Chapters Dialogue team on their journey on their Facebook page.)

The global Wikimedia community has grown fast and there’s no model for it, so there’s a constant need for self-assessment and communication between the various groups. For us, getting involved as hosts for the D.C. leg of the Chapters Dialogue was a chance to communicate that we as a cultural institution represent an important part of the Wikimedia ecosystem, and of our local chapter’s activities. As an added bonus, we got to show off our magnificent building to a couple of travelers on their first visit to the United States. We’re fans of promoting understanding through dialogue, and we’re trying to be out in front (to use a NARA phrase) when it comes to Wikipedia engagement—visible and enthusiastic partners to Wikimedia, while at the same time adding our voice to that community and staying true to our principles.

IMG_2155

Wikimedia D.C.’s president being interviewed by the Chapters Dialogue team in the NARA Innovation Hub.

Our future

As an example of how various groups making up the broader Wikimedia community work together toward common goals, in February this year, we’ll be hosting a citizen scanning event which is part of a semester-long project by a local American University course taught by Professor Andrew Lih, titled “Public Knowledge in a Crowdsourced Age”. Coordinated with Wikimedia D.C.’s assistance and grant money, with help measuring success by the Wikimedia Foundation’s program evaluation staff, and with local Wikipedia editors attending the events, the students will visit a series of D.C. institutions for hands-on Wikipedia-centered events to learn about the digital convergence of Wikipedia, cultural institutions, journalism, academia, and other stewards of knowledge in the public interest. In concrete terms, we’ll get public records scanned by volunteers, described and added to our catalog by staff, with access boosted by their addition to high-visibility Wikipedia articles—but these activities are as much about relationships, building supporters, and raising our profile within allied communities. For an archives, this has not traditionally been core work, but it’s increasingly essential to our mission, as new technology changes the nature of access and public expectations.



Most discussions about what makes a high quality image focus on “DPI” to the exclusion of the other elements that contribute to what makes an image good. This post is an attempt to explain why other factors should also be considered, and what they are. Steve Puglia, Erin Rhodes, and Jeffrey Reed provided an very in depth guide  how to create high quality images in their 2004 Technical Guidelines that have become a standard adopted by The Federal Agencies Digitization Guideline Initiative. Very few people have seen a very useful document titled: “What went Wrong?” created by Puglia et al and hosted at the University of Maryland’s Digital Repository UM website. In this document are listed many of the common imaging problems that contribute to poor digital image quality, such as resolution (DPI, PPI), tone reproduction, clipping, noise, etc. In this document is a great graphic that illustrates the visual effect of the defects:

Poster

The use of a greyscale or other tone reproduction target (Color Bars are useless) is essential to balancing, calculating, and measuring proper exposure and tone reproduction.

color bar 4

In my capacity as an Imaging Specialist for the Digital Public Access Branch I am asked to inspect a lot of different digital images created by NARA staff, partners, and citizen archivists and one of the most common problems that I encounter are improper tone reproduction due to under and over exposure. The two most common causes are improper lighting and use of autoexposure on cameras and scanners. The graphic below illustrates the relationship between exposure and tone reproduction and the examination of greyscale targets and digital histograms. Highlights in the image are related to the white or lighter patches in the greyscale target and the darker tones are related to the black patches in the target. In the histogram too much exposure results in all the image data is shifted to the right and there is no data for the darker tones on the left. A properly exposed scene has a equal distribution of highlight, mid, and dark tones seen in the middle image.

tone

In an over exposed image the highlights are washed out and there is no detail captured. In the grayscale target below the white patches are washed out and you can barely perceive a separation between the A, 1, and 2 patches. Under exposure is when there is little or no detail in the black 19, 18, 17, and B patch.

32179_644066_0004-00001

Over and under exposure in an image results in “Clipping” meaning either the highlight or Shadow detail has been “Clipped Off”. In the image below compare the image on the left with the one on the right. The one on the right has highlight clipping in the girl’s dress and shadow clipping in the detail on the grill of the car.

clip_image001

The image below is a scan of a document that although it has plenty of resolution, it is over exposed because all the detail is washed out.

1861_10_21_

Take a look at the histogram for this image: histogram

All the tones are on the right and shoot off the scale at the top indicating over exposure.

Additionally, when creating images, it is important to follow Section 508 guidelines for images.  Here are some resources to ensure  508 Compliance and accessibility:



Chief Innovation Officer Pamela Wright, left, with Standards and Authorities Director John Martinez, right

Chief Innovation Officer Pamela Wright, left, with Standards and Authorities Director John Martinez, right

The struggle to achieve what seems impossible. Everybody goes through it at some point in their lives, and our Agency is no exception. So it was with some joy that I stumbled this weekend on a classic 2005 article from our magazine Prologue, “Secrecy and Salesmanship in the Struggle for NARA’s Independence.”

Penned by former Archivist Robert M. Warner, it describes the successful tactics he and his colleagues used to set in motion the Agency’s re-establishment as a standalone organization in 1985—reversing the1950 law that made NARA a component of another agency, the GSA.

At the time, employees were dismayed by their absorption into an agency unrelated to the archival mission. As Warner writes, they understood that the transfer was a symbolic act, in which “a cultural institution dedicated to preserving the greatest documents of American history became a cog in the housekeeping wheel of government.”

The passion Warner describes struck a familiar chord in me. As the Chief Innovation Officer, I also hear the same visceral discomfort, the fear that what we describe as “innovation” may put the core mission in danger.

It is frequently a paradox of organizations that what seems positive to the outside world feels threatening on the inside. But the concern is real: Given limited resources and our emphasis on promoting public access to the records, will preservation itself become at-risk?

Of course not. Innovation belongs to all parts of the agency and all aspects of the mission as we confront a multitude of challenges, including describing and digitizing our records.

When you consider it, preservation and access fit right together. The more uniformly and quickly we archive the records, the more state-of-the-art our preservation methods, and the faster we digitize and display everything, the better.

This leads to the second reason I found this article so intriguing. Not only did it show how the present often echoes the past, it also provided a roadmap for making positive change happen today. And we must transform the status quo in an environment where the agency charged with holding the nation’s most precious records is being virtually flooded, and the dam is at risk of breaking.  Debra S. Wall, Deputy Archivist of the United States put it well in 2011 when she said: ”We’re going to minimize redundancies, streamline decision-making, and lay the foundation for a very different way of doing business.”

At NARA, what works to make change happen is a core group of people who believe genuinely in the vision of the future, meeting regularly without fanfare, in an environment that welcomes the free exchange of ideas. These change agents work with concerned stake-holders on the inside and on the outside—cultural institutions, members of Congress, the press, and others. The ultimate goal is clear and simple, compelling and easy to visualize. And the markers of victory are simple and dramatic progress.

Working together to launch an F-14A Tomcat, Fighter Squadron 154 (VF-154) "Black Knights," from the flight deck of the USS KITTY HAWK (CV 63)

Working together to launch an F-14A Tomcat, Fighter Squadron 154 (VF-154) “Black Knights,” from the flight deck of the USS KITTY HAWK (CV 63), National Archives Identifier 6640641

I especially appreciated the way Archivist Warner ended his article. It perfectly captures the deep emotions that all of us at NARA feel about how important it is that we do our jobs right and stand up for our mission when we believe it is being threatened:

“This brief narration of the steps in the struggle for independence cannot convey the emotions involved. Throughout the complex maneuvering there were moments of great disappointment, worry, and frustration as well as elation, excitement, and joy.

The history of the United States has inherent value to us as a Nation. It is our collective identity; it binds us as one. When we think about innovative ways to move the NARA mission forward, it’s important to remember that there are no “good guys” or “bad guys” when it comes to saving our records for the sake of generations to come.



A National Archives event, with special guests, the Federal Communicators Network

The National Archives Office of Innovation and the Federal Communicators Network welcome you to learn from NARA’s experiences implementing a social intranet and network with your peers in government communications and community management. Kelly Osborn, Web Developer and Community Manager for NARA’s Internal Collaboration Network, will take us step-by-step through the process of establishing the network, managing the various technical and cultural challenges, and measuring success.

Also at this event, we’ll welcome and introduce the recently elected 2014 Federal Communicators Network leadership team. FCN is a membership organization of government employees managing U.S. agency communications.  Here are the event details:

Date: Thursday, January 16, 2014
Time: 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM (EST)
Location: National Archives, Washington DC, Jefferson Conference Room

8:30-9:30 Networking
9:30-10:00 FCN Congratulations Ceremony
10:00-11:00 Presentation
11:00-11:30 Q&A

Moderator: Dannielle Blumenthal, Digital Engagement Director, The National Archives

What You Will Learn:

  • How to define the requirements for a social intranet
  • The complex relationship between an “information” intranet and a “collaboration space”
  • Managing stakeholder relationships
  • Identifying issues preventing wider adoption
  • Measuring engagement and using that to inform a broader strategy

*Update: Join us for the webinar of Kelly’s presentation:

https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/689791674

——–To register, click here.——–

Kelly’s Bio:

Kelly Osborn is the Community Manager for the National Archives’s Internal Collaboration Network and is a web developer on the Innovation staff. Before coming to work at NARA, Kelly worked as a web developer for the publishers of Atlantic Monthly and Science Magazine, as well as the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum. She moved to the DC area from Arizona to get a Masters in Art History at American University. The program requires two theses; the one in her area of research — American art — was on performance art and feminism.

This event is being held at the National Archives building in Washington, DC:

The National Archives is located at 700 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20408. There are parking garages available within a few city blocks, but the easiest way to get here is via Metro. We are on the Green Line and at the Archives-Navy Yard-Penn Quarter stop.

Visitors should plan to arrive 15 minutes before the event, and enter through the Pennsylvania Ave. NW Researcher entrance. Please bring a valid photo ID with you and expect to go through security. NARA staff will be available to sign you in and escort you to the meeting space.

Have questions about Driving Employee Engagement Through A Social Intranet? Contact Federal Communicators Network

 



On a recent Saturday, the National Archives was honored to host the 2013 annual membership meeting of Wikimedia D.C.—the local chapter of the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, which supports Wikipedia and other projects—for the first public event at our Innovation Hub. The Innovation Hub is a new public space for meeting, organizing, collaborating, and hacking in the pursuit of civic and cultural heritage technology and innovation. It’s located in the former reference library in the research center of the main National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., which we’re converting into a more engaging site for citizen archivist stakeholder groups—like Wikipedians, who make our digital content more useful and accessible on the web by giving it encyclopedic context and displaying it in a very high-traffic site. One of our goals is to be a local center for GLAM-Wiki activity, and that’s why we’re partnering with the Wikimedia community on events like this one.

Wikimedia DC’s president speaks to the group. (Image: CC-BY-SA, Gerald Shields)

About thirty people were in attendance for the four-hour afternoon event. During the meeting, Wikimedia D.C.’s Board of Directors presented its annual report and annual plan. The chapter also presented its first-ever 2013 Distinguished Service Award to Sara Snyder, of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, and Effie Kapsalis, of the Smithsonian Institution Archives, “for exemplary contributions to the advancement of public knowledge and the collection, development, and dissemination of educational content”. It was very exciting to see the chapter recognize them in this way, because Sara and Effie have both been instrumental in their institutions’ active engagement with Wikipedia, greatly increasing the exposure of their work to the public, and, as a friend and colleague, I’m proud of their trailblazing. There was also a keynote panel on Wikimedia and the cultural sector, featuring myself, Sara, Ed Summers of the Library of Congress, and Andrew Lih of American University. The meeting closed with discussion of upcoming projects, and visitors expressed interest in holding future events at the Innovation Hub.

We think that events like these show that the future is bright for innovative partnerships with mission-aligned outside organizations working in the public interest. After the success of the meeting, James Hare, Wikimedia D.C.’s president, stated that “On behalf of Wikimedia D.C., I would like to thank the National Archives and Records Administration for their generosity in accommodating Wikimedia D.C. for its annual meeting. We look forward to hosting future events at the Innovation Hub, including citizen scanning projects and other projects that aid the National Archives’ mission to share the records of the United States with the public.” We couldn’t agree more!

Group photo of Wikimedia DC members. (Image: CC-BY-SA, Gerald Shields)



As 2013 draws to a close, we are taking time to remember some of the National Archives’ most innovative accomplishments from the past year. We had a hard time narrowing down this list!  For more achievements celebrated at NARA, see the Prologue blog.

Here are some of our proudest moments of 2013:

1. Wikipedia Engagement

2013 was a banner year for digital access to our records: the top four thousand Wikipedia articles that include National Archives digital copies received 1.274 billion views!  The National Archives also hired its first full-time Wikipedian in Residence, whose work will expand visibility and access to NARA’s digital copies in Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Commons.

2. Today’s Document on Tumblr

Today’s Document, a Tumblr blog produced by the Office of Innovation, was named by Time Magazine as one of the Top 30 Tumblrs to follow in 2013. Through Today’s Document, the National Archives highlights both well-known and obscure photographs and documents from our holdings, observes historical events, and provides your daily dose of interesting and relevant historical information. Stay tuned for more great posts, insightful historical documents, and even animated gifs from the Today’s Document team in 2014.

3. Digital Public Library of America

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) launched in April 2013, marking a large-scale collaborative effort to create a universal digital public library, uniting leaders and educators from various government agencies, libraries, archives and museums. NARA is proud to be a participant in this exciting online portal and platform, and contributed 1.9 million digital copies for the launch of DPLA, including our nation’s founding documents, photos from the Documerica Photography Project of the 1970’s, World War II posters, Mathew Brady Civil War photographs, and a wide variety of documents that define our human and civil rights. The National Archives’ participation in this exciting project marks a new opportunity to share our content more broadly, open new doors for research and discovery, and engage and connect with users from across the United States and around the world.

DPLA

4. Moving to the Cloud

The National Archives has successfully moved to the cloud! Following extensive market research and pilot and beta testing, the National Archives successfully transitioned 4,500 email accounts to Google Apps for Government in early 2013.  This move to a new cloud-based email system supports a transition from a linear organizational culture to a more collaborative work environment, and has already proven beneficial for employees, providing improved accessibility and effective collaboration tools.

5. Restoration of  The March

The Motion Picture Preservation Lab at the National Archives preserved James Blue’s monumental film, The March, in 2008. To mark the 50th anniversary of the The March for Jobs and Freedom, the Preservation Labs completed a full digital restoration of this valuable film. The original negatives assembled by James Blue were scanned and three months were spent restoring defects in the image and enhancing the audio track. Read more about the restoration on the National Archives blog, Media Matters.

6. How to Succeed with Brunettes Film Goes Viral

In addition to their work restoring valuable historical and educational material, the Motion Picture Preservation Lab also received positive acclaim for their work preserving a unique Defense Visual Information Center (DVIC) accession.  How to Succeed with Brunettes (1967), a film produced by the Navy that demonstrates proper dating etiquette for officers, was picked up by news outlets around the world, including the New York Daily News, the UK’s Daily Mail, New York Magazine’s fashion blog, The Cut, and Yahoo! Canada’s Shine On blog. It was then featured on The Huffington Post, Navy Times’ Scoop Deck blog, and even Buzzfeed! While this film might seem humorous by today’s standards, it is important to understand the historical context of the film and it’s original intent to train military personnel to be perfect gentlemen.  Read the original blog post on Media Matters.

7. Virtual Genealogy Fair

Eight years in a row, from 2005 to 2012, the National Archives hosted a two-day, in-person Genealogy Fair in Washington, DC, featuring lectures and genealogy sessions for the general public. When budget cuts encouraged us to get creative this year, the National Archives moved the annual event online for the first time, hosting a Virtual Genealogy Fair with lectures live-streamed via UStream. This two-day program featured presentations on Federal records of genealogical interest, including Introduction to Military Records, Native American records, and Freedman’s Bureau records.  During the presentations, attendees were able to submit questions for the speakers via UStream and Twitter. This online fair drew more than 3,000 unique viewers over two days.

Virtual Genealogy Fair Poster

8. 3D Printers

The National Archives started a one-year pilot project to allow business units across NARA to experiment with 3D printers and find out if their use can save us time, money, and effort. We’ve procured three printers and a handful of color cartridges, which will be given to staff volunteers for three months.  In addition to experimenting with this new technology as a way to potentially enhance our mission of preservation and access, the goals of this pilot project are to find out if there a cost benefit to 3D printing, if there is a business need for this technology, and if so, whether we can help refine requirements for the agency.

9. Intranet redesign

Improving employee access to information was one of the key initiatives identified by National Archives’ staff in our yearly Employee Viewpoint Survey (EVS) action follow up.  Following months of staff participation through online card sorts, design votes, and usability testing, the web staff at the National Archives unveiled a complete redesign of NARA’s intranet, NARA@Work. The resulting website focuses on improved search functionality, clear navigation menus, a customizable homepage, and the ability for content contributors to edit pages online: an information resource designed for staff, by staff.

NARA at work

10. Crowdsourcing the “Records of Rights” Exhibit

Curators of “Records of Rights,” the newest permanent exhibit in the David M. Rubenstein Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, DC, invited the public to vote for the first record to be featured at the exhibit opening. This online vote encouraged users to explore and reflect upon five original documents discussing citizenship, free speech, voting rights, and equal opportunity.  Ultimately the 14th Amendment was selected for display in the Landmark Documents case, after receiving more than half of all votes.

Thanks for helping us make 2013 such a memorable year. We look forward to seeing what innovation inspires in 2014!

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