NARA and Ancestry.com: The Digitization Partnership Project, an introduction
Today’s post is written by archives technician Kate Sohasky.
What exactly is it that you do?
This is the question I was repeatedly met with during my first weeks of training at the National Archives. This is the question I continue to be met with when I speak with other NARA employees.
Allow me to introduce us and to set the record straight.
We are archives technicians. Yes, we’re employees of NARA. And, yes, we even occasionally work at the Archives. I know we’ve surprised quite a few of our colleagues by popping up unexpectedly in the stacks at Archives I or Archives II. Generally speaking, we work out of Ancestry.com’s location in Silver Spring, Maryland. This office is modeled on the Reading Rooms at Archives I and II, plus camera stations; you can think of Ancestry.com as a researcher, requesting records for research.
In pure logistics: We are four in number, soon to be joined by three other archives technicians. We are a part of NARA’s Textual Archives Services Division. We are responsible for supervising the records in transit from AI and AII to Silver Spring, preparing the records for digitization, identifying conservation issues, monitoring Ancestry’s camera and microfilm operators while the records are imaged, performing archival quality assurance checks on Ancestry’s work, and tracking the imaging process and location of the records in spreadsheets.
If that’s the sense of it, here is the sensibility.
Once people get the gist of what we do, they want to know more about the relationship between Ancestry and NARA, and the results of this unique relationship. In case you were unaware, this is the first time in the history of the Archives that accessioned records have been permitted off-site for digitization. In order to have NARA records at the Silver Spring office, Ancestry has to ensure that the facility meets all requirements for NARA holdings in compliance with NARA Directive 1571. Hence our handy temperature and humidity controlled “vault” that is protected by card access in the Silver Spring location. Only NARA employees have card access to this area. NARA’s preservation, facilities, security, and holdings protection units have inspected the Silver Spring office to ensure all standards are being met and can reevaluate the facility at any time to ensure continued compliance.
I’ve met with a few skeptics, to whom I would like to underscore the unique symbiosis that we have achieved. NARA at present lacks the resources to realize mass digitization. Ancestry provides these resources. The digitized records are placed online at Ancestry.com, and NARA receives copies of the digitized materials. After a period of five years, NARA may use its copies in any way. This relationship furthermore garners greater publicity for NARA by increased visibility in the media as well as the advertisement of NARA’s resources on Ancestry.com
One of the tenets of our mission statement that the Archivist has recently affirmed as our particular prerogative is customer service. As an undergraduate completing research for my thesis, I was fortunate enough to have been enabled by University funds to travel to continue my research at remote archives. Even so, I could not have completed my research without digitized records. In an increasingly digital age, and in an age in which institutions are tightening budgets and the economy further inhibits researchers’ mobility, digitization of records will be paramount to NARA’s success in fulfilling its mission.
The result of this partnership, you ask? If I may, a progressive step toward realizing a newfound prerogative and an organizational model to set a precedent for a digital future.