Archive for the ‘Participation’ Category

Civil War Conservation Corps Reaches a Significant Milestone

Written on: August 4, 2010 | 1 Comment

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 review case files
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 100 years.

 Evidence from the pension file of Esther SpringfieldCoroner’s Office letter and [ Read all ]

Coming Soon: Federal Register 2.0

Written on: July 22, 2010 | 2 Comments

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 documents and … [ Read all ]

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

Written on: July 6, 2010 | 3 Comments

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 Sams, and Roger Wilson.

The day was … [ Read all ]

Citizen Archivist Discovers National Treasure in the Stacks

Written on: May 24, 2010 | 1 Comment

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, details of the … [ Read all ]

The Future is in the Palm of our Hands

Written on: April 27, 2010 | 28 Comments

One of my favorite strategic planning quotes is from Wayne Gretzky.  He said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”  A recent Morgan Stanley report on Internet trends, gives us a lot of data on where the puck will be and the direction in which we should be skating: mobile.

Mobile will be bigger than

desktop Internet in five years.

The Morgan Stanley report challenges us to look at statistics and where the future is headed.

  • Mobile Internet use is being adopted by users much faster than the adoption of desktop Internet.
  • The number of mobile users will likely surpass desktop Internet users in 2013.
  • Technology cycles tend to last ten years, and we’re about two years into a mobile Internet cycle.
  • The expectation is now 24 x 7 access to everything from the palm of your hand.

Since my days at MIT, I’ve been an avid reader of Technology Review.  One of their ten emerging technologies for 2010 is mobile 3-D.  Seemingly futuristic technology is now closer than ever to being in the palm of your hand.

What do these trends mean for the National Archives and Records Administration?

The cornerstone of the work we do every day is the belief that citizens have the right to see, examine, and learn from the records that … [ Read all ]

Pork and Fort Sumter: New Ways of Relating to our Documents

Written on: April 23, 2010 | 2 Comments

At the National Archives and Records Administration, our unique role as the nation’s records keeper is critical to the success of the President’s open government initiative.  Our work serves American democracy by safeguarding and preserving the records of our Government, ensuring that the people can discover, use, and learn from this documentary heritage.  I think this role is the most important, but then again, I might be a little too biased.

As the Archivist of the United States, I’m concerned that records management is not taken more seriously by Federal departments and agencies.  In my last post, I pointed to specific concerns found in a recent self-assessment report, including improper destruction of records.  I’m also concerned that more Americans aren’t troubled by this state of affairs.  One reason why Americans might not be more concerned is that they aren’t really aware of what happens to government records and why they are important.

I think it’s time we create new ways to tell our story.  Transparency, participation, and collaboration can help us change the way we talk about our work and our institution.  I’m challenging us to take a new approach and start communicating in more collaborative ways.

Recently, I discovered the website, “Today’s Document (Illustrated)” by Jon White.  Jon has taken our “Today’s Document” RSS feed and develops an illustration that is somehow related to … [ Read all ]

Tweets: What We Might Learn From Mundane Details.

Written on: April 16, 2010 | 7 Comments

Have you heard the news?  This week, the Library of Congress announced that they are acquiring the digital archive of public tweets.  On April 14, @librarycongress tweeted, “Library to acquire ENTIRE Twitter archives — All public tweets, ever, since March 2006!”  Congratulations, Library of Congress.

In the world of electronic records, this is a historic announcement.  In my first post, I said “electronic records are now a fundamental part of our documentary record.”  The donation of billions of tweets to the Library of Congress is a profound example of the changing fabric of our records.

You might wonder why the National Archives did not acquire the tweets.  Our primary purpose is to acquire, preserve, and make available for research the most valuable records of the Federal Government.  Because tweets aren’t government records (although tweets of federal agencies can be), the Twitter archive is much better served by the Library of Congress as a cultural institution.  At the National Archives, we are working with over 250 Federal agencies and their components to identify and schedule Federal records, some of these most certainly are tweets.  Our records appraisal process identifies those records that are valuable enough to be permanently preserved.

There’s a common misconception that the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress are one in the same.  This probably stems from the fact … [ Read all ]

Cultivating Citizen Archivists

Written on: April 12, 2010 | 14 Comments

Recently, NASA launched an online project called “Be A Martian.”  At first glance, this website is a highly sophisticated public education tool that creates an online experience to connect the public with NASA’s mission.  On closer inspection, this is also an important crowdsourcing project.  The public is invited to participate as “citizen scientists” by aligning Mars imagery and counting craters.  The Martian Map room is an intriguing interface where the public is invited to actually add value to the vast amount of data from several Mars missions.  Do you see where I’m going with this?

Mapping Mars

While citizen science isn’t new, we are only now starting to create online platforms for citizens to make substantive contributions, regardless of location.  The U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) North American Bird Phenology Program has 1,754 online volunteers who have transcribed 228,479 bird migration cards.  The collection contains six million paper migration cards, representing the contributions of citizen scientists in the late 19th and 20th centuries.  The USGS Staff have developed a program to tap the enthusiasm and willingness of 21st century online citizen scientists to transcribe this data, which scientists are now analyzing to see how climate change affects migration.  This is an example of citizens contributing in very interesting ways, ways in which I can see “citizen archivists” contributing to our mission.

At the National Archives and Records Administration, we have … [ Read all ]

No Small Change

Written on: April 7, 2010 | 23 Comments

The Pew Research Center recently published a report, “The Impact of the Internet on Institutions in the Future,” in which it found that 72 percent of experts agreed with the statement:

By 2020, innovative forms of online cooperation will result in significantly more efficient and responsive governments, business, non-profits, and other mainstream institutions.

That optimism agreed to by the experts indicates their belief that the internet will prompt institutional change, but is contrasted with the same experts’ concerns that:

Government agencies are cumbersome and resistant to change. The pace of progress towards openness and responsiveness will be slower than anyone would hope.

In my first few months on the job, I’ve seen some resistance to change, but that has been outmatched by what I see as a wellspring of enthusiasm for changes to our agency. One aspect of my job is to uncover and unleash talent across the agency. I am happy to say that I’ve already seen the passion of our staff and I know we can change our course and exceed expectations.

In this digital age, we have the opportunity to work and communicate more efficiently, effectively, and in completely new ways. This will require a change not only in our processes, but also in the culture of the National Archives and Records Administration. Working on the Open Government Plan (PDF) has helped … [ Read all ]