Author Archive

Be Bold: Maximize NARA’s Value to the Nation

Written on: April 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

In this goal we recognize that public access to government information creates measurable economic value, which adds to the enduring cultural, historical, and evidentiary value of our records.

Maximize Value
National Archives Identifier: 196401

When we talk about economic value, we are not talking about the appraised value or the replacement value of our records. Historically, we have talked about economic value in terms of the large number of jobs and economic activity that NARA generates. Examples include the local economic activity generated around our public programs; the numerous professional researchers and authors who write non-fiction and best-selling works of fiction based on NARA records; popular films that came to fruition only because of the existence and hard work of the National Archives.

“Maximize NARA’s Value to the Nation” charts a course forward from this legacy. The course forward supports our transition to digital government, so that we can quickly and efficiently provide public access to our records. We want to ensure our historical government data is accessible by customers when they need it and in the format or technology platform that is easy for them to use. And when we talk about economic value today, we are not talking about commercial value only. We are expanding this idea beyond a simple commercial concept, to consider the social valuation of our returns on investment. These are opportunities to … [ Read all ]

Be Bold: Connect with Customers

Written on: April 17, 2014 | 1 Comment

Connect with Customers
State Fair, 10/1972. National Archives Identifier 545457

The second of our new strategic goals is to “Connect with Customers.”

Having spent most of my career working with the public, customer service is a passion of mine. In my personal life I am always looking for exemplars—places where I am dazzled by attention to service, places which learn from their customers, places which put their customers at the center of the service equation.

At the National Archives, we connect with customers in a multitude of ways: nationwide, face-to-face, over the phone, across the desk, in our research rooms, in the classroom and of course, online.  We have a wide-variety of customer communities, including educators, historians, genealogists, researchers, veterans and now groups such as civic hackers, Wikipedians and many more. We need to become more agile, more creative in connecting with them – whoever they are, wherever they are, to deliver what they want when they want it.

But connection is not just about delivery, it is about engaging with the public in ways we have not done in the past. Much of the work we have been doing with Open Government has been about connecting with customers in new ways.  In speaking about Open Government, President Obama said, “Our commitment to openness means more than simply informing the American people about how decisions are made.  It means … [ Read all ]

Be Bold: Make Access Happen

Written on: April 15, 2014 | 11 Comments

Women Working at a Switchboard
Photograph of Women Working at a Bell System Telephone Switchboard. National Archives Identifier 1633445.

 

The first of our new strategic goals is to “Make Access Happen.”  Increasingly, access means digital, online access. Our first goal has one objective, to make our records available to the public in digital form to ensure that anyone can explore, discover and learn from our records.

Here are a few of the initiatives listed under this goal:

  • First, we want to complete the long journey of describing our holdings in our online catalog. We launched our first agency-wide online catalog in 2003, and now we are within just a few years of being able to say that over 95% of our records are described at the series level. Currently we are at 83% and going strong. Archivists across the agency continue to provide basic archival metadata to the catalog so that people around the world can know what we have.
  • We will also accelerate the processing of analog and digital records to quickly make our records available to the public. Foundational technology for that effort will be the development of a digital processing environment that will allow archival, digitization and description staff to work in an environment that supports and enhances accelerated processing of the records.
  • We want to digitize our records and to make them available online.
  • [ Read all ]

Creating The Best Commencement Speech Ever

Written on: March 31, 2014 | 2 Comments

Commencement Season is fast approaching and I am honored to have been selected to deliver the address at North Carolina State University in May.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember who my commencement speaker was or what he or she had to say!

During my years at MIT and Duke, Commencement was always a special day for me.  It put into perspective all of the work during the previous year to ensure that students and faculty had the information resources and support they needed in their coursework and research—a morning to celebrate the launch of another class of educated men and women.

So, I am taking this assignment seriously.  I will certainly be taking FDR’s advice to heart—“Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”

But I need your help.  What advice would you give this graduating class?  What special message would you deliver to undergraduates?  Graduate students? Parents and other family members? Faculty and staff of the university?  Send me your ideas!

 

FDR delivers fireside chat

Franklin D. Roosevelt having a fireside chat in Washington, DC, 04/28/1935. National Archives Identifier 196760[ Read all ]

Being Bold!

Written on: March 25, 2014 | 3 Comments

Ocean Survey Vessel Bold

From Photographs Taken Aboard the Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold, National Archives Identifier 5998403

Over the past eighteen months, the staff and I at the National Archives have been working diligently to develop our next Strategic Plan. Many meetings, long conversations, Town Halls, thoughtful emails, and loads of feedback from staff and stakeholders have gone into the refinement of the strategy that will be the roadmap for our Agency through 2018. Along the way, I have encouraged staff to stretch their vision and to be bold.

Our Plan has four goals:

Make Access Happen: Increasingly this means digital, online access.

Connect with Customers: Wherever they are, however they want it.

Maximize NARA’s Value to the Nation: Through the use and reuse of our digital content.

Build Our Future through Our People: The most important goal of all.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be blogging on each of the goals to let you in on some of the ideas behind each of them. In the meantime, take a look at our new Strategic Plan.… [ Read all ]

Patent of the Month: Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin

Written on: March 14, 2014 | 1 Comment

When I was a kid growing up in Beverly, MA, every morning I would walk by the site of the cotton mill visited by George Washington. That mill, the Beverly Cotton Manufactory, even predated Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, which was patented 220 years ago today!

Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin Patent Drawing, 03/14/1794

Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin

From Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, National Archives Identifier 305886[ Read all ]

Help Us Innovate!

Written on: March 12, 2014 | 0 Comments

In the video below, Jennifer Pahlka, U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer, invites you to make a difference and serve your country by applying to become a Presidential Innovation Fellow. This is the third round of the Presidential Innovation Fellows. Projects from the first two rounds included: making government data more openly available, programs to assist Veterans, streamlining processes for citizens to find information and government services, and projects to assist American businesses. You can find out more about these first and second round projects on the Innovation Fellows website.

We are excited that this is the first time a National Archives project is featured! For our project, “Crowdsourcing Tools to Unlock Government Records,” innovators will lead the open development of crowdsourcing tools for the public to easily contribute to government records at the National Archives and improve the effectiveness of crowdsourcing across the government.

Presidential Innovation Fellows will build upon our crowdsourcing efforts, which have included the Citizen Archivist Dashboard, transcription projects, scan-a-thons, and collaboration with Wikipedia, to usher in a new generation of open development of crowdsourcing tools.

Do you want to make a difference in government? Apply today!

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 … [ Read all ]

Patent of the Month: Still Design, 1808

Written on: February 26, 2014 | 1 Comment

Stills similar to the one represented in this drawing were used to make distilled liquors and were commonly used in America during the early 19th-century. And their “descendants” are still being found in the mountains of rural America!

A preview of an exhibit planned for 2015 here at the National Archives: “Spirited Republic.”

Eli Barnum & Benj. Brooks Still Design Patent, 1808

Still Design Patent

Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, National Archives Identifier 305887[ Read all ]

Happy Valentine’s Day

Written on: February 14, 2014 | 0 Comments

Hoover Valentine #72-11

This 1918 valentine refers to the World War I effort to economize on food for the war effort—called “Hooverizing” in honor of the U.S. Food Administrator, Herbert Hoover.
From the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library[ Read all ]

Calling All Walt Whitman Fans

Written on: February 10, 2014 | 0 Comments

Ken Price, the Hillegass University Professor of American Literature and co-editor of The Walt Whitman Archive at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, needs our help. Mining the records of the Office of the Attorney General here at the National Archives, Price has discovered 3000 documents in Whitman’s hand. His discovery is described in a 2011 Prologue article, “Whitman, Walt, Clerk.

Walt Whitman portrait

Portrait of Walt Whitman taken at Mathew Brady’s studio in Washington, D.C. between 1865 and 1867. National Archives Identifier 526439

It seems likely that additional documents exist in archives scattered around the country. The items Price located were written between July 1865 and December 1871, when Whitman worked as a clerk in the Office of the Attorney General. These documents were identified through recognition of Whitman’s handwriting, though in a few rare cases Whitman did include his initials or signature. The documents preserved here at the National Archives were internal office copies of correspondence sent out to a wide array of officials in various states and territories. Although Whitman was often charged with creating the copy of record for the office, he also inscribed outgoing letters. I offered to help Price with his ongoing treasure hunt and I hope you will help us with this search since there may be hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of additional documents in Whitman’s handwriting that have gone undetected … [ Read all ]