Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Records Management with a Backbone

Written on: August 24, 2012 | 3 Comments

In his Memorandum on Managing Government Records,  President Obama stated “…proper records management is the backbone of open Government.”  The Memorandum began an executive branch wide effort to reform records management policies and practices and required each agency to:

  • identify a senior official responsible for records
  • provide plans for improving or maintaining its records management program, especially electronic records; and
  • suggest obstacles to sound, cost effective management policies and practices

Finally, the Memorandum mandates that the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and I issue a Records Management Directive which focuses on:

  • creating a Government wide records management framework that is more efficient and cost effective
  • promoting records management policies and practices that enhance the capability of agencies to fulfill their statutory missions
  • maintaining accountability through documentation of agency actions
  • increasing open Government and appropriate access to Government records
  • supporting agency compliance with applicable legal requirements related to the preservation of information relevant to litigation; and
  • transitioning from paper-based records management to electronic records management where feasible.

I am pleased to report that this morning Jeffrey Zients, Acting Director of OMB and I issued the Managing Government Records Directive.  With lots of hard work on the part of National Archives and Records Administration, White House, Federal agency staffs and stakeholder groups, the directive charts new directions for the management of the … [ Read all ]

Wikimania 2012

Written on: July 18, 2012 | 9 Comments

Last Saturday I spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of Wikimedians at the Wikimania 2012 Conference here in Washington. Over 1400 people from 87 countries came together to talk, hack, and share their expertise and experiences at the week-long event.  I was glad to share in their joie de vivre and to talk about our common missions at the closing plenary session.

Check out the enthusiasm for the National Archives at Wikimania 2012:

Merrilee Tattoo

Merrilee Proffitt, Senior Program Officer at OCLC Research, and NARA enthusiast

Dominic Tattoo

National Archives’ Wikipedian in Residence, Dominic McDevitt-Parks

So you may be asking why the Archivist of the United States is so interested in working with the Wikimedia Foundation.  As I noted at the conference, 42% of Americans turn to Wikipedia for information.* It is a terrific way to make Archives content more transparent and available. If we are serious as an agency about our mission to provide access to permanent federal records, and indeed we are, then we must consider working with the community and using the power tools available through the Wikimedia Foundation.

Our Wikipedian in Residence (pictured above) has already worked with our staff to upload over 90,000 digital copies of our records to the Wikimedia Commons for use in Wikipedian articles.  We have several more projects in the pipeline, too, all in an effort to increase access to our … [ Read all ]

Solving the Problems of Our Time

Written on: June 8, 2012 | 2 Comments

On his first day on the job President Barack Obama told his Senior Staff,

“Our commitment to openness means more than simply informing the American people about how decisions are made. It means recognizing that Government does not have all the answers, and that public officials need to draw on what citizens know. And that’s why, as of today, I’m directing members of my administration to find new ways of tapping the knowledge and experience of ordinary Americans—scientists and civil leaders, educators and entrepreneurs—because the way to solve the problems of our time, as a nation, is by involving the American people in shaping the policies that affect their lives.”

Knowing we don’t have all the answers, we’re changing the way we think about our work at the National Archives and Records Administration. We’re shifting our perspectives to reflect the fact that we do not have all the answers. The principles of open government – transparency, participation, and collaboration – help us draw on what citizens know.

Today, we release our updated Open Government Plan for 2012-2014. Looking back over the past two years, I’m proud of our accomplishments in strengthening open government in our agency and in our society. We set an ambitious path, accomplishing almost 70 tasks. Over the next two years our work will include:

  • Creating a new culture based on
[ Read all ]

Thanks

Written on: May 24, 2012 | 4 Comments

This week we had an agency wide Public Employee Service Recognition webinar.  Staff gathered virtually across the country to celebrate their fellow employees, especially those who have provided 35, 40, and 45+ years of Federal Service.

I am very proud of the dedicated folks I work with and although it wasn’t as good as being in all 44 facilities at once, it was terrific to hear the hooting and hollering as the names were read.

Image courtesy of alexking.org

National Archives staff are skilled public servants who help people connect with the records they need—veterans, genealogists, students, scholars, and those just curious about our history.  And this staff helps our fellow Federal employees in managing and accessing their own records and provides service to the Hill for access to Congressional Records on our shelves.

Five people who together have given the American people 237 years of service were honored:

  • Charles Johnson, a Finding Aids Specialist in Washington, DC has served 45 years.
  • Ray Hess, an Archives Technician in the National Declassification Center in College Park, MD, has served 45 years.
  • Kenneth Casey, a Transfer and Disposal Specialist at the Federal Records Center in Chicago, IL, has served 45 years.
  • Brenda Bernard, Administrative Officer in the Federal Records Center in Philadelphia, PA, has served 46 years.
  • Bernard Gardner, an Archives Technician in the Washington National Records
[ Read all ]

Join the Chorus

Written on: April 13, 2012 | 4 Comments

Until fairly recently, social media has been seen as experimental and outside the realm of the essential work of our agency. Today that is simply no longer the case.  Smart use of social media is now mission-critical to our agency. As the agency charged with advising Federal Agencies and the White House on the records implications of the technologies they are using, we must be out in front in our own use of these technologies.  And all Federal Agencies and the White House are deep into the social media experience.  And using social media channels in our own work, we can work more collaboratively, provide greater transparency for each other and the public, and invite the public to participate in our efforts.

We should understand the sea change that technology has brought to the American public and people around the world. According to a Pew report, 66% of online adults use social media platforms. By effectively engaging with social media tools, we are building and maintaining relevance with the public.

Many staff members at the National Archives have embraced social media–our communications staff is facile, many staff who interact with our user communities have created blogs and are tweeting, and all of our Presidential Libraries have both feet in the social media world.  This is not a passing fad or a frivolous use of technology.  It … [ Read all ]

1940 Census Release

Written on: April 2, 2012 | 1 Comment

On April 1, 1940 over 120,000 census takers fanned out across the United States to begin conducting the 1940 census. Over the next several weeks they would enumerate over 131,000,000 residents of the country from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to families living in the remotest areas of the nation.

"Enumeration, Alaska Too Saw the Census Enumerator Arrive in His Dog Sled." National Archives and Records Administration. Series: Photographs Documenting the Sixteenth Decennial Census, compiled 1940 - 1941. ARC ID 6200721

Genealogists, social scientists, historians, and others, as well as the staff here at the National Archives, are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to discover what life was like as the country neared the end of the Great Depression. The 1940 census reflects the previous decade with questions intended to track migration and employment during the Depression. For the first time the Bureau of the Census employed sampling when conducting the census. Approximately five percent of the population was asked supplemental questions including ones about military service, the birthplace of parents, and, for women, marital status and the number of children.

"Enumeration, No Kind of Habitation was Missed, Included among the Places are Railroad Section Hands." National Archives and Records Administration. Series: Photographs Documenting the Sixteenth Decennial Census, compiled 1940 - 1941. ARC ID: 6200776

On Monday morning, I was pleased to co-host the National Archives’ ceremony … [ Read all ]

Thank You, Irma Johnson

Written on: March 13, 2012 | 3 Comments

Many, many years ago when I was shelving books in the MIT Humanities Library I was fortunate to have the benefit of advice from several members of the staff who took an interest in my “career.”  One of them was the Science Librarian, Irma Johnson.  I got to know Irma well because every summer she would want some portion of her collection shifted to better serve her clientele—and I did the shifting.  It was an interesting way to learn the literature of the sciences!

That was the beginning of a 31-year stay in the MIT Libraries during which time I became Irma’s boss and my real learning from her began.  She had her finger on the pulse of the needs of her users—mathematicians are heavily dependent upon the literature of the past, similar to historians; materials science was a discipline invented at MIT and heavily dependent on the literatures of many sciences; demanding chemists need access to their literature 24×7; the food and nutrition folks were doing interesting work with freeze-drying that might have library preservation applications, etc.  Irma clearly shaped my curiosity about user behavior and my lifelong perspective of looking at everything we do from the user’s viewpoint.

I kept in touch with Irma throughout my career each time thanking her for those early lessons.  She passed away in 2010 at the age … [ Read all ]

Happy Sunshine Week!

Written on: March 12, 2012 | 3 Comments

Almost 100 years ago, Justice Louis Brandeis wrote:  “Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant.  If the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects.”

I like to think that we celebrate Sunshine Week every day at the National Archives.  We have a unique role, which we describe as “preserving the past to protect the future.”  The beautiful sculptures designed by Robert I. Aitken and chiseled by the Piccarelli Brothers of the Bronx at the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance echo this.  “The Past” is represented by an ancient bearded man with a scroll and “The Future is a young women with a book.  She sits atop a pedestal inscribed with “The Past is Prologue.”  That is the spirit which embodies the function we serve.

It also embodies the Freedom of Information Act which we celebrate this week.  FOIA was passed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on the Fourth of July in 1966.  Since its passage it has been used by scores of people to learn more about how our government works.  In 2010 alone, the government received more than 600,000 requests for records under the FOIA.  We are proud to have the original text of the FOIA as it was signed into law in 1966.  And we are especially proud to have it … [ Read all ]

Yes We Scan Again! The Archives chats with voters on a “We the People” teleconference

Written on: February 6, 2012 | 4 Comments

On January 10th, I blogged about the “Yes We Scan” petitions proposed by Carl Malamud’s PublicResource.org on the White House’s We The People petition platform. “Yes We Scan” calls for a national strategy, and even a Federal Scanning Commission, to figure out what it would take to digitize the holdings of many federal entities, from the Library of Congress to the Government Printing Office to the Smithsonian Institution.

I have been delighted to see the many ideas discussed in response to that blogpost. I encourage you to keep them coming!

Following that initial post, I worked with the White House Director of New Media, Macon Phillips, and the Director of Online Engagement, Katelyn Sabochik, to set up a conference call, inviting those who voted for the Yes We Scan petition (about 2,500 signers total) to further discuss this important issue and hear your ideas on how to move forward.

Sitting on the call with me were Mike Wash, NARA’s CIO; Pamela Wright, our Chief Digital Access Strategist; and Jill James, our Social Media Manager.

Eighty-five people from all over the country dialed in for the call. Eighteen participants asked questions. I want to thank you for taking the time to call in and to let us know your thoughts.

The topics included questions on everything from the magnitude of the task as hand (fyi … [ Read all ]

“Yes We Scan”

Written on: January 10, 2012 | 34 Comments

In September 2011, the White House launched an online petition web site, We the People, where anyone can post an idea asking the Obama administration to take action on a range of issues, get signatures, and get a response from their government.

It’s an experiment in democracy, which is generating new ideas and improving on old ideas every day. One of those rising ideas is “Yes We Scan.”

Yes We Scan is an effort by the Center for American Progress and Public.Resource.org to promote digitization of all government information in an effort to make it more accessible to the world.

Here at the National Archives, we house the nation’s permanent records, and we think increasing access to our collections in this way is a great idea. Our most recent efforts to do this ourselves as part of our OpenGov initiative, include the Citizen Archivist project, a Wikipedian in Residence, Tag it Tuesdays, and Scanathons. We are also moving forward on implementing the President’s recent Memorandum on Managing Government Records, which focuses on the need to update policies and practices for the digital age.

Wikipedia “ExtravaSCANza” at the National Archives in College Park, MD.  January 6, 2012. Source: Wikimedia Commons

But all those things aren’t enough. Yes We Scan calls for a national strategy, and even a Federal Scanning … [ Read all ]