Archive for April, 2010

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 ]

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.


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 ]

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 ]