Archive for May, 2011

RACO and The Archivist Achievement Awards

Written on: May 27, 2011 | 0 Comments

I enjoyed speaking with federal records managers on Wednesday at the National Archives’ Records Administration Conference (RACO).  The records managers’ role in government is an essential part of our mission of preserving the records of the past and the present for study and use in the future.

When I spoke to this same group last year, I talked about the challenges that we face in records management. Thanks to their hard work, we have started to respond to those challenges. And we have made progress in improving the ability of the Federal government to manage its information.

Our progress includes:

National Archives panel discussion
Panel Discussion with (Left to Right) Tom Mills, David Weinberg, William Bosanko, and Paul Wester of the National Archives.

The Archivist Achievement Award:

At last year’s conference, I challenged agencies to be more collaborative and to use technology in innovative ways to solve the records management challenges.  A number of the nominees responded to that call, and I was pleased to provide The Archivist Achievement Award to two agencies this year:

  • The Risk Management Agency, United States Department
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Written on: May 25, 2011 | 2 Comments

According to, the internet traffic ranking company, there are only six websites that internet users worldwide visit more often than Wikipedia: Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo!,, and (the leading Chinese language search engine).  In the States, it ranks sixth behind   Over the past few years, the National Archives has worked with many of these groups to make our holdings increasingly findable and accessible.  Our goal is to meet people where they are online.

This past fall, we took the first step toward building a relationship with the “online encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” Wikipedia.  When we first began exploring the idea of a National Archives-Wikipedia relationship, Liam Wyatt put us in touch with the local DC-area Wikipedian community.

Liam Wyatt and David Ferriero at the National Archives

Early in our correspondence, we were encouraged and inspired when Liam wrote that he could “quite confidently say that the potential for collaboration between NARA and the Wikimedia projects are both myriad and hugely valuable – in both directions.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Though many of us have been enthusiastic users of the Free Encyclopedia for years, this was our first foray into turning that enthusiasm into an ongoing relationship.  As National Archives staff met with the DC Wikipedians, they explained the Archives’ commitment to the Open Government principles of transparency, participation, and … [ Read all ]

Crowdsourcing and Citizen Archivist Program

Written on: May 19, 2011 | 3 Comments

At the National Archives, we’re always trying to think of new ways to make our historical records more accessible to the public.  We have only a small fraction of our 10 billion records online, so it’s clear we’ve got to get creative.

It’s vital that we learn how other institutions address this challenge.  One approach we’re seeing is for institutions to engage citizens in crowdsourcing or microvolunteering projects.  These projects leverage the enthusiasm and willingness of online volunteers to transcribe or geotag historical records online.

Yesterday, we hosted a public program in the McGowan Theater called “Are You In? Citizen Archivists, Crowdsourcing, and Open Government.  We heard about three innovative projects:

Jessica Zelt (North American Bird Phenology Program), Matthew Knutzen (New York Public Library), Darla Adams (, and Meredith Stewart (National Archives, moderator)

I encourage you to watch the video of the full program below.

Try your hand at these and other types of crowdsourcing projects and let us know what types of projects you would like to see the National Archives develop in the future.… [ Read all ]

NARA and the IRS

Written on: May 16, 2011 | 5 Comments

Charles O. Rossotti was the Internal Revenue Commissioner from 1997 to 2002.  In his book, Many Unhappy Returns, he tells the story of “one man’s quest to turn around the most unpopular organization in America.”

I’m always interested in reports of “lessons learned” and this is one of the best, especially as I reflect on our own transformation—how far we have come and how much farther we have to go.  Every one of Mr. Rossotti’s basic beliefs applies to our own situation.  Successful change:

  • Means improving the way an organization performs its mission on behalf of all of its stakeholders and rejecting an either/or model of performance.
  • Means getting the right people in the right jobs.
  • Requires the right measurements and incentives.
  • Depends on moving to an organizational structure, business practices, and technology that are up-to-date and aligned with the needs of customers.
  • Requires knowing what is really going on where it counts—on the front line.
  • Requires open and honest communication inside and outside the organization.
  • Requires change, not just communication about change.
  • Depends more on having the right governance, leadership, direction, and authority than on rules and mandates.
  • Has its limits—set by the broader constraints of the context within which it operates.

Customer focus, the right people, listening to the front line, excellent internal and external communication, and more action.  Sound familiar?  If you’ve … [ Read all ]

Commencement Season

Written on: May 10, 2011 | 5 Comments

In my 40 years on University campuses, I have participated in many commencement exercises and sat through too many commencement addresses!  The best ones are brief, inspiring, and leave you something to think about.  On Friday I heard such a speech.  I was honored to be part of the exercises at Long Island University. The beautiful C.W. Post campus, former estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post, was the setting on a perfect Spring day.   President David J. Steinberg congratulated the graduates and their families, urged them to go forth and do good, and posed seven questions for them to contemplate.  I hope that they will do so on a regular basis throughout their lives.  As I hope that day’s audience does-as I will.

Dr. Steinberg’s questions:

  • Can you truly appreciate and engage in our culture and era, even while genuinely respecting peoples from other places or from older times?
  • Can you discern the truth when you hear it and know when you are listening to rot?
  • Can you find a career path that makes you fulfilled personally and allows you to make a contribution to society?
  • Can you appreciate beauty and seek to fill your life with it?
  • Can you really know yourself, including your strengths and frailties that others, both friend and foe, probably see?
  • Have you found the capacity to love others with
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Together, We Can Turn Lost into Found

Written on: May 5, 2011 | 1 Comment

Artwork, silver, books, religious objects, antiquities, archival documents, and carvings. These are just a few of the types of cultural property that were stolen, looted, seized, forcibly sold, or otherwise lost to the Nazis beginning in the 1930s and continuing through World War II. After the war, documents about this cultural property were scattered across Europe and the United States. Families and researchers have often found it a difficult and expensive challenge to find the records. The 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, the 2000 Vilnius Forum Declaration and the 2009 Terezin Declaration called on the international community to provide greater archival access to these records.

Today, colleagues from five other national archives as well as five national and international research organizations joined me at the National Archives to launch a new international research portal for records related to Nazi-era cultural property.  These archival institutions, along with expert national and international organizations, are working together to extend public access to the widely-dispersed records through a single internet portal, which provides access to descriptions and digitized copies of over 2.4 million records by linking researchers to the search interfaces of each participating organization. The portal will enable families to research their losses, provenance researchers to locate important documentation, and historians to study newly accessible materials on the history of this period.

Signers of the International [ Read all ]

More Hockey Wisdom

Written on: May 2, 2011 | 1 Comment

In a February blog post I cited Wayne Gretzky as a strategic thinker—skating to where he thought the puck would be. On Friday night, a young emerging forward on the San Jose Sharks squad, Benn Ferriero, delivered an equally great after game quote. In the first game of the Western Conference Semifinal Series against the Detroit Red Wings, Cousin Benn scored the winning goal at 7:03 into overtime. On his 24th birthday! Meeting with the press, Benn said: “You’ve got to be ready when you’re called upon. Try to stay loose, try to stay engaged in the game, and when you get your chance you’ve got to make the most of it.”

Words to live by!  As we roll out Charting the Course, creating the new organization and culture, I know that many of you are feeling anxious about the future.  The process is organic and we are trying hard to communicate as much as we know when we know it.  There is no secret master plan in Washington! We are trying hard to recruit and appoint “red box” leadership to work with their new staff units to engage in the process of creating our new organization.  At the same time we are working to model and celebrate our new values.  All of which will provide opportunities for you to be involved.  So take … [ Read all ]