Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Conservation Challenge: The Magna Carta

Written on: July 22, 2011 | 2 Comments

A career-long fascination and appreciation of the work of those involved in conservation and preservation can be traced to my very first job in the MIT Humanities Library. There I learned about the special needs of vellum and leather bindings, the temperature and humidity requirements of paper, and the principle of never doing anything which cannot be undone. So it is with some special interest and pride that I brag about the effort that our conservation staff consistently puts forth on often difficult and delicate conservation tasks.  Their recent work on the Magna Carta is a great example of what they can do.

In a project funded by the document’s owner, David Rubenstein, the staff provided weeks of intensive treatment to the parchment and seal and eventually revealed previously illegible writing to the Magna Carta using ultra-violet photography.

The Rubenstein Magna Carta, before treatment, in an ultraviolet fluorescence photo of the parchment. Ultraviolet reveals obliterated text in damaged areas. Click on the image to see the full document and the damaged area in the bottom right side. (Photo by Sarah Raithel.)

The treatment completes the first phase of a project to re-encase and display the document publicly.  This copy of the Magna Carta, written in 1297, will eventually become part of a new permanent exhibit at the National Archives, documenting the expansion of human rights … [ Read all ]

A Signature History

Written on: June 3, 2011 | 0 Comments

The Federal Register, often called the Government’s daily newspaper, is published by the National Archives and contains rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as Executive Orders and other Presidential documents.  That includes signed legislation.  And the process for these documents includes signature verification.

Congress recently passed legislation to extend the Patriot Act.  The Act was set to expire at Midnight on the 26th of May while President Obama was in France.  In similar situations over the years a variety of techniques have been employed to ensure an authentic signature—White House staffers have flown to the President’s location, or the President has raced back to Washington in time for a signature.

In July of 2005 the Attorney General Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion, “Whether the President May Sign a Bill By Directing That His Signature Be Affixed To It,” authorizing the use of the autopen for signature.  At 5:45 a.m. (French time) just 15 minutes before the legislation’s expiration, President Obama authorized the first use of the autopen signature.  And that is what we will publish in the Federal Register as PL No. 112-14!


Thomas Jefferson’s Polygraph, 1806

From Monticello.org: http://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/polygraph

For more information:

Sunshine Week 2011

Written on: March 17, 2011 | 0 Comments

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.

For Sunshine Week, I encourage you to read the recently released OGIS report, “The First Year: Building Bridges Between FOIA Requesters and Federal Agencies,” as well as check out the Department of Justice’s new FOIA website.

ogis-report

Sunshine Week is also an opportunity to discuss the improvements we’ve made in your ability to access the … [ Read all ]

Celebrating 10 Years of Wikipedia

Written on: March 15, 2011 | 11 Comments

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, and we learned more … [ Read all ]

Developing a Hockey Mindset

Written on: February 25, 2011 | 1 Comment

Two weeks ago, the San Jose Sharks came to visit the National Archives for a behind-the-scenes tour on their day off in Washington before playing the Capitals. As professional athletes go, they had plenty of interest in our records — especially the declassified 1930′s contingency plan to invade Canada!

sharks-visit-to-national-archives1
As you may know from a previous blog post of mine, one of my favorite quotes is from Wayne Gretzky:

“I skate to where the puck is going to be,

not where it has been.”

Now, more than ever, adapting this mindset will help us transform the National Archives. This approach will help us innovate in order to address the changing needs of our customers — the Federal agencies, White House, and Congress we serve as well as the American public.

The way we do our work today was envisioned in the earlier part of the 20th century when the format of choice was paper. In order for us to fulfill our mission in the 21st century, we need to reexamine our theories and practices to take advantage of the tools enabled by this technological age. We need to develop the skill sets that will move us beyond our current capabilities, as we continue our basic job of collecting, protecting, and providing access to the records of the Government.

This is an exciting time to work … [ Read all ]

Doing More With Less

Written on: February 17, 2011 | 8 Comments

On Monday, President Barack Obama requested $422,501,000 for the National Archives and Records Administration for Fiscal Year 2012. This is an 8.2 percent decrease from the President’s budget request of $460,287,000 for Fiscal Year 2011.

The reality is we’ve got to do more with less.

This fiscal situation is not likely an aberration, but a challenge we will face as an agency for the next five years. We are, however, well positioned to meet this challenge.

The greatest budget savings will come from the earlier decision to move the Electronic Records Archives directly into an operations and maintenance mode. We will also leverage our transformation efforts to make the most of a difficult situation.

Our transformation plan — Charting the Course – will be our roadmap. The planned reorganization will create a new structure that will enable us to find more efficient ways of doing our work. We will foster a new culture that innovates and thrives on change. We will find new ways of exploiting technology to drive down cost and help other federal agencies do the same.

Innovation will be central to our work. This budget climate presents us with an opportunity to find efficiencies in our work that we would never have thought of under different circumstances.

We will continue to rely on the experience of the National Archives staff to identify … [ Read all ]

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.

future-nara-structure

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 ]

Hometown Rivalries Debate the Birthplace of the U.S. Navy

Written on: October 20, 2010 | 0 Comments

Last Wednesday, I celebrated the 235th birthday of the U.S. Navy at the USS Constitution Museum at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. It was a fun event full of hometown pride and spirited debate. I brought with me Senior Archivist Trevor Plante and original records from the National Archives to discuss the Revolutionary origins of the U.S. Navy. The crowd, mostly from Beverly and Marblehead, Massachusetts, had a great time discussing and debating their hometown claims to being the “birthplace” of the U.S. Navy.

On October 13, 1775, the Continental Congress authorized the outfitting of two ships for “intercepting such transports as may be laden with warlike stores and other supplies for our enemies, and for such other purposes as the Congress shall direct.” This date marks the first Congressional action and, therefore, is celebrated as the “birthday” of the U.S. Navy.

act-of-oct-13-1775Although the birth date is clear, there is still much debate and hometown rivalry surrounding the “birthplace” of the U.S. Navy. The claims are numerous: Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress passed the Act of October 13, 1775; Machias, Maine, where two small ships armed with woodsmen capture the British schooner Margaretta in June 1775; Providence, Rhode Island, because their delegates to the Continental Congress were the first to propose a resolution to build and equip an American fleet in October 1775; 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 ]

Redefining Transparency in a Digital Age

Written on: May 6, 2010 | 9 Comments

If you’re reading this, the following statistic from a recent Pew Internet report applies to you: 

Fully 82% of internet users (representing 61% of all American adults) looked for information or completed a transaction on a government website in the previous twelve months.

It probably doesn’t surprise you that increasingly Americans are relying on the internet for access to government information.  More and more this is taking the form of social media tools like blogs, social networking sites, and services like Twitter or text messaging.  While the social nature of this type of engagement makes the tone more informal, it does not indicate that the engagement is trivial.

In the same Pew Internet report, three-quarters (79%) agree with the statement that having the ability to follow and communicate online with government using social media tools “helps people be more informed about what the government is doing,” while 74% agree that it “makes government agencies and officials more accessible.”

In today’s digital age, the National Archives and Records Administration must fulfill its mission not only in the research rooms, regional archives, and presidential libraries, but also in cyberspace.  Through our website and creative use of social media tools, we can provide access to the records that document the actions of our government.  This enables greater transparency, a crucial pillar of open government.

What does it mean … [ Read all ]