Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Creating a 21st Century Museum for the Mind

Written on: December 8, 2014 | 1 Comment

In a recent Wall Street Journal piece on the digital Einstein Papers Project, Walter Isaacson, waxed poetical about the “tingling inspiration of seeing original documents.”  Every day I am lucky to witness that “tingling” in the Rotunda of the National Archives as visitors stand in line to be in the presence of the Charters of Freedom.  On the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 9,000 people stood in line for a weekend display of the original document.  Across the country in our many facilities, ordinary citizens get to examine original records in their family history journeys, researchers use originals to track down evidence, and our government is held accountable for its action by review of the records of decisions made or not made.

Isaacson is no Luddite!   He understands the value of digital access.  “…my brooding soon gave way to marveling about the benefits that will come when millions of curious people, with new technologies in hand, get to dive into the papers of historical figures.”  And he cites our Founders Online as an exemplar.  The ability to search across the papers of six Founders, including early access to unpublished letters, has already proven to be a great boon to historical research. Einstein

“Artwork: ‘Albert Einstein’ Artist: Elin Waite” National Archives Identifier 6343429

I, like Isaacson, “…hope that archives will remain inspiring … [ Read all ]

It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law!

Written on: December 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

On November 26, 2014, President Barack Obama signed into law Public Law No: 113-187, the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014. This new law modernizes records management by focusing more directly on electronic records, and complements efforts by the National Archives to implement the President’s 2011 Memorandum on Managing Government Records.

HR 1233 signature page

Key points of this law include:

  • Strengthening the Federal Records Act by expanding the definition of Federal records to clearly include electronic records. This is the first change to the definition of a Federal record since the enactment of the act in 1950.
  • Confirming that Federal electronic records will be transferred to the National Archives in electronic form.
  • Granting the Archivist of the United States final determination as to what constitutes a Federal record.
  • Authorizing the early transfer of permanent electronic Federal and Presidential records to the National Archives, while legal custody remains with the agency or the President.
  • Clarifying the responsibilities of Federal government officials when using non-government email systems.
  • Empowering the National Archives to safeguard original and classified records from unauthorized removal.
  • Codifying procedures by which former and incumbent Presidents review Presidential records for constitutional privileges.

We welcome this bipartisan effort to update the nation’s records laws for the 21st Century. H.R. 1233 could not have become law without the efforts of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking … [ Read all ]

The Scan Plan: Our Strategy to Digitize the Vast Holdings of the National Archives

Written on: October 9, 2014 | 8 Comments

The National Archives’ Strategic Plan includes a simple, but audacious initiative: to digitize our analog records and make them available for online public access. We have over 12 billion pages of records, so yes, this is our moon shot.

To achieve this goal, we know we need to think in radically new ways about our processes, and we have started by creating a new digitization strategy.  From the time we published our 2008 digitization strategy through today, we have scanned over 230 million objects.  This is a huge number, but we have a long road ahead.  Our new strategy pushes us further.

Scanning technique demonstrated by Mattie Woodford
Scanning technique demonstrated by Mattie Woodford, Powell Group film scanner, taken April 1961. National Archives Identifier 7665735.

We know we cannot do all of this by ourselves. We will continue to collaborate and build on efforts with private and public organizations to digitize records, as well as branch out to citizen archivists, other federal agencies and institutions worldwide. We will develop clear processes and technologies to support a workflow from staff digitization efforts, as well as ensure that records arriving at NARA are accompanied by standardized metadata, and make them available online in a shorter period of time.

We will set measures and track progress for each of these approaches, because we believe we can make digital access happen and we … [ Read all ]

Making Access Happen by Expanding Broadband

Written on: May 1, 2014 | 1 Comment

I recently attended the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ public hearing on broadband access, hosted at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, DC. I was joined by colleagues from Federal agencies, universities, museums and libraries to examine the need for high speed broadband access in America’s libraries, and how this access is essential in meeting the educational, cultural, and information needs of all citizens.

As the leader of an agency dedicated to providing access to the permanent records of the federal government, I support this initiative to increase broadband access. Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, spoke eloquently of his own experience in using archival records and the value of electronic access to those records.  Broadband access is the crucial piece in this equation; we need to ensure that our holdings and content can reach the eyes of many more people in order to truly make access happen.

Watch the full recording of the IMLS Public Hearing: “Libraries and Broadband: Urgency and Impact”: 

[ Read all ]

Breaking New Ground Again

Written on: September 19, 2013 | 8 Comments

In May 2011, Dominic McDevitt-Parks joined the National Archives as our first Wikipedian-In-Residence.  This put the National Archives at the forefront of many cultural institutions in partnering with the Wikimedia community.

Working for the National Archives as a part-time student intern, our Wikipedian led ground-breaking efforts for the agency. His automated-upload project provided 100,000 digital images of NARA’s records on the Wikimedia Commons for use in Wikipedia articles. He coordinated and hosted Wikimedia crowdsourcing projects that included digitization and transcription of records. He acted as a bridge between NARA and the Wikimedia community, bringing Wikipedians into the Archives, and ensuring that NARA staff attended and presented at the 2012 Wikimania Conference, as well as hosting local gatherings of Wikimedians at the National Archives.

The results?  The top 4,000 Wikipedia articles that include NARA digital copies are on track to receive one billion views in 2013.  That’s why it is important to work with the Wikimedia community, they share a common mission with the Archives, to provide world class access.

Dominic’s work with us at that time generated a great deal of buzz, including the following:

[ Read all ]

FDR’s BHAG

Written on: August 29, 2013 | 1 Comment

Robert D.W. Connor, the President of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and recently retired first Archivist of the United States, in his address to the Society at their annual meeting in 1942 read a letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt who had been awarded an honorary membership in the organization.  He called for “…the duplication of records by modern processes…”

FDR Letter

Letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Robert Diggs Wembly Connor, 13 February 1942, Folder 668, Box 8 in the R. D. W. Connor Papers #2427, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

 

FDR acknowledged the magnitude of effort required:  “This involves, of course, a vast amount of work because of the volume of federal, state and local archives of all kinds—but I think that a broad plan would meet with hearty public support if it could be properly publicized.”

Which brings to mind the language in our draft Strategic Plan, one of the objectives under our goal of Making Access Happen.  In an effort to make an ever-increasing number of records available to the public we have promised to streamline processes, innovate, and collaborate with others to significantly increase the number of NARA records that are available to the public.  In fact, we have been so bold as to suggest that we “Digitize all analog archival … [ Read all ]

Happy Anniversary, Federal Register 2.0!

Written on: July 26, 2013 | 1 Comment

The National Archives, in collaboration with the Government Printing Office, publishes the Federal Register, a daily compilation of notices of public meetings, legislative hearings, grant and funding opportunities, and announcements of public interest.  In addition, it publishes proposed regulations and provides information about how to comment on these proposals—a very manual process.  On its 75th anniversary on July 26th 2010, we launched Federal Register 2.0, affectionately known as FR2, exploiting social media tools to better connect the American public with their government.  Highly graphic, clean and crisp, it is arranged in topical section to meet user demand and interest:  money, environment, world, science and technology, business and industry, and health and public welfare.

Federal Register homepage
Federal Register 2.0

The most important feature is the ability to immediately comment on proposed regulations.  A prominent green “Submit a Comment” button next to the proposal launches a pop up comments page.

FR2 Proposed Rule
Proposed Rule on Federal Register 2.0 Website

Comment form

Submit a comment on the proposed rule though Regulations.gov

Traffic on the site is up more than 36% over last year with 500k visits per month and more than 1m pages viewed each month.  In the first three months of 2013, nearly 35k comments were submitted to Federal agencies about proposed regulations.  There is no simpler means of participating in the rulemaking process in all of the Federal … [ Read all ]

You Are What You Search

Written on: May 6, 2013 | 1 Comment

In early December 2009, Google announced on their blog titled “Personalized Search for Everyone” that they would be using 57 “signals” derived from your previous searching behavior in order to predict the sites you were most likely to choose in your search. Netflix, Yahoo, Facebook, and YouTube, to mention just a few, use similar predictive Internet filters based on who you are, past searching behavior, and limiting hits to what fits your profile. Eli Pariser in his book, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, describes the result as “invisible autopropaganda-indoctrinating us with our own ideas, amplifying our desires for things that are familiar and leaving us oblivious to the dangers lurking in the dark territory of the unknown.” A space outside our own comfort zone where there is less room for those chance encounters that bring insight and learning.

Cass Sunstein, in his book, Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge, describes the problem as information cocoons-”communications universes in which we hear only what we choose and only what comforts and pleases us.” Where we choose to get our information, what we choose to read or listen to, and the avoidance of those channels that are outside our own comfort zone. As Pariser reminds us, “Creativity is often sparked by the collision of ideas from difference disciplines and cultures.”

Don’t believe … [ 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 ]

Together We Can Do It!

Written on: December 23, 2011 | 2 Comments

Today we launch the Citizen Archivist Dashboard (http://www.archives.gov/citizen-archivist/) and encourage you to get involved in elevating the visibility of the records of the United States.

Citizen Archivist Dashboard Screen Shot

Did you know that many grade school children aren’t taught cursive handwriting anymore and can’t read cursive?  Help us transcribe records and guarantee that school children can make use of our documents.  I have transcribed one myself!

Recognize someone or someplace in one of our photographs?  Add a tag!

Have a photograph in your personal collection you want to contribute?  Upload it!

Have you been researching in the records?  Share what you’ve discovered!  Write an article and post it to the Dashboard so others can learn from your work.

This is very much a work in progress and we are interested in your ideas for improving the Dashboard.  Other activities we might include?  Send us your suggestions or comments:  opengov@nara.gov.

I am HUGE fan of the wisdom of the crowd.  Don’t disappoint me!… [ Read all ]