Archive for March, 2012

A New Presidential Library

Written on: March 29, 2012 | 2 Comments

On Tuesday of this week I had a chance to visit the construction site of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas, Texas.  Some 700 workers were onsite at the time, inside and outside, to bring this latest addition to the National Archives in on schedule in April 2013.  This facility will house more than 70 million pages of paper documents, 43,000 artifacts (primarily foreign and domestic gifts to the President and First Lady) and an immense audiovisual archive including more than 4 million photographs.

AOTUS at the George W Bush Library construction site

AOTUS at the construction site of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas

Of special significance is that digital component of the library which includes some 210 million email messages!  We began collecting email during the Ronald Reagan administration and have about 8 million from that administration and 20 million from the William Clinton White House.

The new Library and Museum was designed by architect Robert Stern and the landscaping designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh and the intended interplay between inside and outside spaces is truly magnificent.  The acreage will include a variety of Texas specific landscapes and a cistern currently under construction will collect rainwater for natural irrigation of the space.

More detail is available at

View the live webcam to monitor construction activity at … [ Read all ]

Nazi Looting Documentation

Written on: March 29, 2012 | 0 Comments

In Dallas this week I accepted two photo albums documenting artwork and furniture stolen by German troops in Paris.  The albums were created under Hermann Goering’s direction by Alfred Rosenberg who led the Nazi agency, Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) and served as pick lists for Adolph Hitler.  Hitler intended to create a museum in Austria.

39 of the albums were discovered in May 1945 at Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany and served as evidence in the Nuremberg Trials.  The trial’s documentation is in the custody of the National Archives (  The albums are meticulous records indicating where they were stolen—invaluable provenance documentation for restitution claims.

Through the work of Robert Edsel and the Monuments Men Foundation, four more albums have been discovered and added to the collection.  The albums were taken as souvenirs by American troops when they left Germany and discovered after the deaths of the soldiers.

The Monuments Men Foundation, recipient of the National Humanities Medal in November 2007, was established to carry on the mission of the original monuments men—museum directors, curators, art historians and educators, architects, artists, and librarians who volunteered “to protect the great cultural treasures of western civilization from the destruction of war and theft by Adolph Hitler and the Nazis.”  Robert Edsel’s tireless efforts have not only celebrated the accomplishments of the original group but kept … [ Read all ]

Digital Hoarding

Written on: March 29, 2012 | 2 Comments

Writing in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, Melinda Beck quotes Kit Anderson, past president of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (check out their website!  “Digital clutter doesn’t beget mice or interfere with walking around the house.  But it’s more insidious because no one else is going to insist that you get help.”

It is an article which struck a chord with me as we encourage staff here at the National Archives to take a look at the digital files they are maintaining.  But it is a message for non-work digital clutter also.

“Hoarding is officially considered a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but some hoarders also suffer from attention-deficit-hyperactive disorder.  Some digital hoarders are driven perfectionists who don’t know when to stop researching or collecting.”  Ouch!

Don't kill your reputation; organize your information

“Don’t Kill Your Reputation; Organize Your Information, 1989” National Archives and Records Administration. Series: Posters Relating to Records Management Practices in the Federal Government, ARC ID 518156

Some tips offered in the article:

  •  Practice ‘zero email.’  Clear your inbox every day.
  • Declare ‘email bankruptcy.’  Delete every unread message and alert your 10 best friends and colleagues to resend crucial messages.  NARA staff—not advised!
  • Unsubscribe to every newsletter and mailing list not needed.
  • Make use of your spam filter

Beck also reports that people typically use only about 20% of what they save.  So…how are you doing?  Where on … [ Read all ]

Thank You, Irma Johnson

Written on: March 13, 2012 | 3 Comments

Many, many years ago when I was shelving books in the MIT Humanities Library I was fortunate to have the benefit of advice from several members of the staff who took an interest in my “career.”  One of them was the Science Librarian, Irma Johnson.  I got to know Irma well because every summer she would want some portion of her collection shifted to better serve her clientele—and I did the shifting.  It was an interesting way to learn the literature of the sciences!

That was the beginning of a 31-year stay in the MIT Libraries during which time I became Irma’s boss and my real learning from her began.  She had her finger on the pulse of the needs of her users—mathematicians are heavily dependent upon the literature of the past, similar to historians; materials science was a discipline invented at MIT and heavily dependent on the literatures of many sciences; demanding chemists need access to their literature 24×7; the food and nutrition folks were doing interesting work with freeze-drying that might have library preservation applications, etc.  Irma clearly shaped my curiosity about user behavior and my lifelong perspective of looking at everything we do from the user’s viewpoint.

I kept in touch with Irma throughout my career each time thanking her for those early lessons.  She passed away in 2010 at the age … [ Read all ]

Happy Sunshine Week!

Written on: March 12, 2012 | 3 Comments

Almost 100 years ago, Justice Louis Brandeis wrote:  “Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant.  If the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects.”

I like to think that we celebrate Sunshine Week every day at the National Archives.  We have a unique role, which we describe as “preserving the past to protect the future.”  The beautiful sculptures designed by Robert I. Aitken and chiseled by the Piccarelli Brothers of the Bronx at the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance echo this.  “The Past” is represented by an ancient bearded man with a scroll and “The Future is a young women with a book.  She sits atop a pedestal inscribed with “The Past is Prologue.”  That is the spirit which embodies the function we serve.

It also embodies the Freedom of Information Act which we celebrate this week.  FOIA was passed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on the Fourth of July in 1966.  Since its passage it has been used by scores of people to learn more about how our government works.  In 2010 alone, the government received more than 600,000 requests for records under the FOIA.  We are proud to have the original text of the FOIA as it was signed into law in 1966.  And we are especially proud to have it … [ Read all ]