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Top 10 Innovative Moments of 2013

by on December 30, 2013

As 2013 draws to a close, we are taking time to remember some of the National Archives’ most innovative accomplishments from the past year. We had a hard time narrowing down this list!  For more achievements celebrated at NARA, see the Prologue blog.

Here are some of our proudest moments of 2013:

1. Wikipedia Engagement

2013 was a banner year for digital access to our records: the top four thousand Wikipedia articles that include National Archives digital copies received 1.274 billion views!  The National Archives also hired its first full-time Wikipedian in Residence, whose work will expand visibility and access to NARA’s digital copies in Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Commons.

2. Today’s Document on Tumblr

Today’s Document, a Tumblr blog produced by the Office of Innovation, was named by Time Magazine as one of the Top 30 Tumblrs to follow in 2013. Through Today’s Document, the National Archives highlights both well-known and obscure photographs and documents from our holdings, observes historical events, and provides your daily dose of interesting and relevant historical information. Stay tuned for more great posts, insightful historical documents, and even animated gifs from the Today’s Document team in 2014.

3. Digital Public Library of America

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) launched in April 2013, marking a large-scale collaborative effort to create a universal digital public library, uniting leaders and educators from various government agencies, libraries, archives and museums. NARA is proud to be a participant in this exciting online portal and platform, and contributed 1.9 million digital copies for the launch of DPLA, including our nation’s founding documents, photos from the Documerica Photography Project of the 1970’s, World War II posters, Mathew Brady Civil War photographs, and a wide variety of documents that define our human and civil rights. The National Archives’ participation in this exciting project marks a new opportunity to share our content more broadly, open new doors for research and discovery, and engage and connect with users from across the United States and around the world.


4. Moving to the Cloud

The National Archives has successfully moved to the cloud! Following extensive market research and pilot and beta testing, the National Archives successfully transitioned 4,500 email accounts to Google Apps for Government in early 2013.  This move to a new cloud-based email system supports a transition from a linear organizational culture to a more collaborative work environment, and has already proven beneficial for employees, providing improved accessibility and effective collaboration tools.

5. Restoration of  The March

The Motion Picture Preservation Lab at the National Archives preserved James Blue’s monumental film, The March, in 2008. To mark the 50th anniversary of the The March for Jobs and Freedom, the Preservation Labs completed a full digital restoration of this valuable film. The original negatives assembled by James Blue were scanned and three months were spent restoring defects in the image and enhancing the audio track. Read more about the restoration on the National Archives blog, Media Matters.

6. How to Succeed with Brunettes Film Goes Viral

In addition to their work restoring valuable historical and educational material, the Motion Picture Preservation Lab also received positive acclaim for their work preserving a unique Defense Visual Information Center (DVIC) accession.  How to Succeed with Brunettes (1967), a film produced by the Navy that demonstrates proper dating etiquette for officers, was picked up by news outlets around the world, including the New York Daily News, the UK’s Daily Mail, New York Magazine’s fashion blog, The Cut, and Yahoo! Canada’s Shine On blog. It was then featured on The Huffington Post, Navy Times’ Scoop Deck blog, and even Buzzfeed! While this film might seem humorous by today’s standards, it is important to understand the historical context of the film and it’s original intent to train military personnel to be perfect gentlemen.  Read the original blog post on Media Matters.

7. Virtual Genealogy Fair

Eight years in a row, from 2005 to 2012, the National Archives hosted a two-day, in-person Genealogy Fair in Washington, DC, featuring lectures and genealogy sessions for the general public. When budget cuts encouraged us to get creative this year, the National Archives moved the annual event online for the first time, hosting a Virtual Genealogy Fair with lectures live-streamed via UStream. This two-day program featured presentations on Federal records of genealogical interest, including Introduction to Military Records, Native American records, and Freedman’s Bureau records.  During the presentations, attendees were able to submit questions for the speakers via UStream and Twitter. This online fair drew more than 3,000 unique viewers over two days.

Virtual Genealogy Fair Poster

8. 3D Printers

The National Archives started a one-year pilot project to allow business units across NARA to experiment with 3D printers and find out if their use can save us time, money, and effort. We’ve procured three printers and a handful of color cartridges, which will be given to staff volunteers for three months.  In addition to experimenting with this new technology as a way to potentially enhance our mission of preservation and access, the goals of this pilot project are to find out if there a cost benefit to 3D printing, if there is a business need for this technology, and if so, whether we can help refine requirements for the agency.

9. Intranet redesign

Improving employee access to information was one of the key initiatives identified by National Archives’ staff in our yearly Employee Viewpoint Survey (EVS) action follow up.  Following months of staff participation through online card sorts, design votes, and usability testing, the web staff at the National Archives unveiled a complete redesign of NARA’s intranet, NARA@Work. The resulting website focuses on improved search functionality, clear navigation menus, a customizable homepage, and the ability for content contributors to edit pages online: an information resource designed for staff, by staff.

NARA at work

10. Crowdsourcing the “Records of Rights” Exhibit

Curators of “Records of Rights,” the newest permanent exhibit in the David M. Rubenstein Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, DC, invited the public to vote for the first record to be featured at the exhibit opening. This online vote encouraged users to explore and reflect upon five original documents discussing citizenship, free speech, voting rights, and equal opportunity.  Ultimately the 14th Amendment was selected for display in the Landmark Documents case, after receiving more than half of all votes.

Thanks for helping us make 2013 such a memorable year. We look forward to seeing what innovation inspires in 2014!

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