This week, public interest groups, media organizations, government agencies, and citizens celebrate Sunshine Week and the Annual Freedom of Information Day. As part of Sunshine Week the White House has launched a new “Good Government” portal as a resource for citizens. At public events and congressional hearings this week, leadership of the National Archives — including myself — are participating in the dialogue around open government and freedom of information.
At the National Archives, open government is an ongoing commitment to strengthen transparency, participation, and collaboration in order to better serve the American people.
The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at the National Archives is an important symbol of both the Obama Administration’s commitment to Open Government and Congress’s vision of a better Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). OGIS serves the American people by providing mediation services to resolve FOIA disputes as well as reviewing agencies’ FOIA policies, procedures, and compliance. Their role is to advocate for the proper administration of the Freedom of Information Act itself.
I’m a big fan of Wikipedia. It’s often the first place I go for information. According to a recent Pew Internet report, I’m also not alone. Forty-two percent of all Americans also turn to Wikipedia for information online.
Every month, almost 80 million people visit Wikipedia and more than 91,000 active contributors have worked on more than 17 million articles in more than 270 languages. Altogether there have been almost 450 million edits!
Wikipedia is an impressive, awe-inspiring resource. In my previous role as Director of the New York Public Libraries, I encouraged staff to contribute to and use Wikipedia. For some librarians and a few archivists — Wikipedia is sometimes not readily embraced. I’ve heard the concerns about accuracy and reliability, but there have been comparative studies that show errors do not appear more frequently in Wikipedia than its printed counterparts. By design, errors can be corrected and neutrality contested. The power lies with you to flag or change content you find incorrect or biased.
On January 22, the National Archives hosted over 90 Wikipedians at WikiXDC, the Washington, D.C. celebration of Wikipedia’s 10th anniversary. This daylong event featured lightening talks, unconference sessions, and behind-the-scene tours of the stacks of the National Archives. During the event, National Archives staff introduced our records and online resources to Wikipedians,… [ Read all ]
In his State of the Union address last week, President Barack Obama said, “We can’t win the future with a government of the past.” He called for a reorganization of government to give the people “a government that’s more competent and more efficient.”
At the National Archives, we are meeting the President’s call to action. Charting the Course is our plan for reinventing the National Archives to meet the demands we face in the digital age.
Our plan was developed with the help of over 40 staff members working on the Transformation Launch Team and in consultation with hundreds of National Archives’ staff. It represents the changes we must make to better serve the American people.
How are we going to become more competent and more efficient?
We’re creating a new culture based on common values at the National Archives. We’re restructuring the agency to better serve the American people and the government. And we are living the principles of Open Government — transparency, participation, and collaboration.
The chart below represents the future structure of the National Archives. This is not a “rearrangement of the deck chairs,” but a bold new way of positioning ourselves to face the future.
Change is not easy, but NARA staff members are doing it with enthusiam and we are seeing the results.
Wireless internet is now available for researchers who use our Washington, DC and College Park, MD facilities. This service is free and available to registered researchers.
On Monday, we launched the redesigned Archives.gov. With your help, we have made it easier for researchers, veterans, teachers, and visitors to find the information they are looking for. This summer, you voted and we listened.
The Redesigned Archives.gov
Later this month, we will launch Online Public Access, a prototype for a new search and display in the research section of Archives.gov. We want to encourage you to experience the new search interface and send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coming Soon: Online Public Access
This month, we will also release the first National Archives’ mobile application called “Today’s Document,” based on the popular feature on Archives.gov.
Also Coming Soon: Today’s Document Mobile App
And in January, NARA staff will begin to use an internal collaboration platform. This platform will use social-media based software to enable staff to better communicate, collaborate, and build communities.
Over 20,000 votes by NARA staff on possible budget reductions
Recognition of the important role of citizen archivists
We’ve made a great start, but we have a lot more to do if we are to be well-positioned to meet the challenges we face in the 21st century.
It’s time for us to step out of our comfort zones and rethink how we operate as an agency.
A few months ago, I charged a task force to draft a plan for agency transformation. A draft plan was circulated internally for staff input. I’d like to thank the NARA staff who submitted hundreds of thoughtful comments on the proposed plan. Their insight was indispensable in the development of the final report.
Last week their final report, “A Charter for Change,” was issued to staff. The report outlines a new organizational model for the National Archives. These organizational changes are driven by a set of… [ Read all ]
Recently, I read an article and book by Charlene Li, an expert on social media and former analyst and vice president at Forrester Research. In the book, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, she states that greater openness in organizations is inevitable and is a consequence of the increasing use of social media.
As your customers and employees become more adept at using social and other emerging technologies, they will push you to be more open, urging you to let go in ways in which you may not be comfortable. Your natural inclination may be to fight this trend, to see it as a fad that you hope will fade and simply go away. It won’t. Not only is this trend inevitable, but it also is going to force you and your organization to be more open than you are today.
It’s evident that social media is breaking down barriers to communication and empowering citizens and employees to speak their minds freely. Broadcasting our opinions, views, and expressing our personality, is simple and easy on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. Li describes this new reality as a “period of fundamental social change akin to the rise of the automobile or the introduction of television.”
Her prescription for managing this new reality is “open leadership,” which means “having the confidence and humility… [ Read all ]
I would like to congratulate the NARA volunteers of the Civil War Conservation Corps (CWCC) on reaching a significant milestone in the preparation of Civil War Widow’s Certificate pension case files for digitization. On June 2, these dedicated citizen archivists completed preparation of the 50,000th file, sending it on its way to the digital cameras and to easy access by researchers.
CWCC members Peggy Pratt, Mary Lou Cole, and Sue Barnard review case files.
(Photo Courtesy of Earl McDonald, National Archives)
Sixteen years ago, in June 1994, the CWCC was launched with a call for volunteers. The recently deceased Budge Weidman answered the call and shepherded the project from the beginning. The volunteers’ work includes assessing the documents of each pension file for conservation and imaging concerns, identifying and arranging the documents, and abstracting key information to create the database that allows researchers to easily find the records they want. They have become expert in Army organization and pension law in the process, not to mention learning what it was like for widows, children, parents, and siblings of Civil War soldiers to carry on after the fighting ended. The members of the CWCC read hundreds, even thousands, of stories documenting ordinary Americans’ experiences of the Civil War in pension files that have often not been touched in more than… [ Read all ]
On July 26, we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Federal Register Act by launching Federal Register 2.0. In a special event in the Rotunda of the National Archives, I will be joined by the Public Printer of the United States and distinguished guests from regulatory agencies and the open government community to introduce the web 2.0 version of the daily Federal Register.
What is the Federal Register?
The Federal Register is the legal newspaper of the U.S. government and contains rules, proposed rules, and public notices of federal agencies, as well Presidential documents. It’s an important, crucial part of our democracy. The Office of the Federal Register is a component of the National Archives and Records Administration.
Have you ever tried to find something in the Federal Register?
As you might expect, the Federal Register is dense and difficult to read whether in print or online as a PDF. It’s also difficult to find what you’re looking for.
Federal Register 2.0 takes into consideration the 21st century user and turns the Federal Register website into a daily web newspaper. The clear layout will have tools to help users find what they need, comment on proposed rules, and share material relevant to their interests. In addition to greatly improved navigation and search tools, the site will highlight the most popular and newsworthy… [ Read all ]
I celebrated Independence Day in the most spectacular way. I wasn’t really prepared for how amazing the day would be. I felt proud and honored to be the Archivist of the United States. I was truly moved by the enthusiasm of the crowds lined up along Constitution Avenue to cheer as our float went by, and those streaming into the National Archives building until 8:00 p.m. to see the Declaration of Independence.
It was a full day of events at the National Archives Building, which included a ride down Constitution Ave on our first ever National Archives float, and wrapped up the day watching fireworks set to the 1812 Overture.
David Ferriero, Congressman Lacy Clay, and Thomas Jefferson
Aboard the National Archives Float on July 4, 2010
(Photo courtesy of Trevor Plante, National Archives)
Congressman Lacy Clay and Thomas Jefferson joined me on the National Archives float and a group of enthusiastic NARA employees escorted us down Constitution Ave. Many thanks to those NARA employees who walked proudly along the parade route, including: Chidinma Achebe, Ann Baker, Nick Baric, Bianaca Black, Rick Blondo, Rita Cacas, Jason Clingerman, Stephanie Coon, Evan Coren, Cathy Farmer, Barbara Gordon, Steven Haversack, Heidi Holmstorm, Darrell Jackson, Thomas Jenkins, Megan Jones, Mary Knill, Denise LeBeck, John Legloahec, Carrie McGuire, Bryan Oklin, Alfie Paul, Rebecca… [ Read all ]
At the National Archives and Records Administration, we care for our nation’s most beloved documents. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights are our most well known national treasures, but in the stacks there are many others, some of them not yet discovered. At a researcher meeting last month, I met Jonathan Webb Deiss, a researcher at the National Archives. His knowledge, passion, and enthusiasm for discovering treasures makes him a model citizen archivist. Jonathan told me how he found a previously undiscovered Revolutionary War diary in Record Group 46, Records of the U.S. Senate. As a knowledgeable and skilled researcher, Jonathan knew that Samuel Leavitt’s Journal to Westpoint was important. One can easily imagine his excitement and anticipation in that moment of discovery.
Jonathan told me that Samuel Leavitt was a soldier from Stratham, New Hampshire. He enlisted in early July 1780 to serve a three month tour. The journal starts on July 5, 1780 and covers his march to West Point, his tour of duty, and march back to New Hampshire in October 1780. On page 17 of the diary, Samuel Leavitt describes General Washington at West Point and hearing the “news of Gen’l Arnold the commander of the Garrison deserting to the Enemy.” Watch the following video of Jonathan describing his discovery,… [ Read all ]
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