Archive for the ‘Records Management’ Category

A National Archives of the Future

Written on: February 3, 2011 | 6 Comments

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.

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While the full story is told in Charting the Course, here are just a few of the new offices and positions you should expect to … [ Read all ]

Change You Can See and Experience

Written on: December 20, 2010 | 9 Comments

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.

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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 search@nara.gov.

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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.

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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.

We will see even more changes in this coming year.

Our Transformation Launch Team is engaging staff in an agency-wide reorganization and an identifcation of core values. The team is also working on substantial … [ Read all ]

Are these Records?

Written on: November 2, 2010 | 4 Comments

Federal agencies’ Facebook posts, YouTube videos, blog posts, and tweets… are all of these Federal records?

Increasingly, Federal agencies are using web 2.0 and social media tools to quickly and effectively communicate with the public. These applications, sites, and tools encourage public participation and increase our ability to be more open and transparent.

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The informal tone of the content, however, should not be confused with insignificance. Agencies must comply with all records management laws, regulations, and policies when using web 2.0 and social media tools.

On October 20, 2010, the National Archives and Records Administration issued “Guidance on Managing Records in Web 2.0/Social Media Platforms” also known as NARA Bulletin 2011-02.

The bulletin says that the “principles for analyzing, scheduling, and managing records are based on content and are independent of the medium; where and how an agency creates, uses, or stores information does not affect how agencies identify Federal records.” The following questions are meant to help agencies determine record status:

  • Is the information unique and not available anywhere else?
  • Does it contain evidence of the agency’s policies, business, mission, etc.?
  • Is this tool being used in relation to the agency’s work?
  • Is use of the tool authorized by the agency?
  • Is there a business need for the information?

If the answers to any of the questions are yes, then the content is likely … [ Read all ]

Open to Change

Written on: October 26, 2010 | 74 Comments

Since my swearing in as the 10th Archivist of the United States less than a year ago, we’ve taken important steps to become a more open, transparent, participatory, and collaborative agency.

I’m proud of our accomplishments:

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 guiding principles. These are the pillars of how we … [ Read all ]

The Records of War

Written on: August 24, 2010 | 3 Comments

As American combat operations in Iraq draw to a close at the end of August, here at the National Archives we are always thinking about the records. The records created to document the conflict are crucial for our understanding of our military operations. It’s our history at stake. The Chief Historian for the European Theater in World War II, Colonel William A. Ganoe, said it best:

History is the last thing we care about during operations and the first thing we want afterwards. Then it is too late.

It may be difficult to conceive of troops in the field ever thinking about records, but without records we lose our history, our lessons-learned, and the ability to analyze our successes and failures.

This past April, Michael Carlson and John Powell, two NARA staff members, spent time in Iraq supporting the Joint Staff’s assessment of the U.S. Forces-Iraq records management. NARA staff will be working closely with CENTCOM as they bring records from the combat operations in Iraq back to the United States. We will work together to identify records that have permanent historical value in both paper and electronic form.

As the conduct of war has changed over the years, so has the associated record keeping practices. Today’s military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are documented in both paper and a multitude of electronic formats, including … [ Read all ]

Aristotle and Potlucks

Written on: June 1, 2010 | 0 Comments

Everyone brings their special dish to a potluck. It’s what makes a potluck so terrific. We make dishes we know well and are likely to be enjoyed by the crowd. My signature potluck dish is a killer potato salad!

Potlucks bring together the culinary expertise of the group in the same way that crowdsourcing leverages a community’s expertise to solve a problem. It turns out that the belief in the benefit of crowdsourcing is an old one. Aristotle said,

“It is possible that the many, no one of whom taken singly is a sound man, may yet, taken all together, be better than the few, not individually but collectively, in the same way that a feast to which all contribute is better than one supplied at one man’s expense.”

Who knew Aristotle was a such a big fan of potlucks?

At the 2010 Records Administration Conference (RACO), Cass Sunstein, lawyer, law school faculty member, author, and Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said that

“…transparency draws on the understanding that no one knows what all of us know. I am speaking of access to dispersed information – of how open government can encourage public participation and allow citizens not just to keep the republic, but to shape it.”

Cass Sunstein and AOTUS

Cass Sunstein and AOTUS at the 2010 RACO Conference

All of this hinges on … [ 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 ]

The Importance of Being Earnest (About Records Management)

Written on: April 20, 2010 | 2 Comments

I have said it before in a number of venues and I will say it again here, records management is the backbone of Open Government.  Without effective records management by all Federal agencies, the long-term success of the Open Government Initiative, not to mention the preservation and access of the permanently valuable records of the Federal Government, is in peril.

Yesterday we  sent a report, “Records Management Self-Assessment 2009: An Assessment of Records Management Programs in the Federal Government,” to Congress.  The report is a result of a self-assessment survey that we sent last Fall to 245 Federal cabinet-level agencies and their components, and independent agencies.  Although a 90 percent response rate sounds respectable, note that this was a mandatory survey.  Over 20 agencies did not respond.  Their reasons for not responding included:

  • The agency did not have an assigned records management officer responsible for completing the task
  • The responsible records management official did not receive the self-assessment
  • The agency missed the deadline, due to either accidental oversight or lack of resources to complete it

We cannot allow business as usual to continue in this way.  Records management must be taken seriously, not as a minor after-thought, by all Federal agencies.

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Buckle your seat belts for the the most alarming statistic in the report: Nearly 80 percent of agencies report that they are either at … [ 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 ]

No Small Change

Written on: April 7, 2010 | 23 Comments

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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 ]