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Join us on Wednesday, March 25, 2015 at 11:00 am for our next Reference Roundtable session on Navy and Maritime related records.  The session will be held in room G-25 at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Learn from the experts who work with the records! We will be discussing new searching tools and finding aids and recent discoveries, including a late 18th Century British Navy Letter Book and Lighthouse Reservation Files.

Please see the full agenda here: Navy Maritime Reference Roundtable Agenda

This session is free and open to researchers and the public. We hope to see you there!

Constitution sail plan

RG 19, Bureau of Ships, Still Picture Division, 19-N-9982, National Archives Identifier 512970

Ever wonder what exciting new projects the many employees at NARA are working on? The “What are You Working On?” blog feature aims to introduce a variety of NARA employees and highlight some of the exciting projects we are working on around the agency.

What is your name and title?

Jessica Sims (I go by Jessie) and I am an Audio-Video Preservation Specialist.

Jessie Sims

Where is your job located?

Audio-Video Preservation Lab – Archives II – College Park, MD.  Some folks don’t even know we exist, but we do and are located in the basement!

What is your job in a nutshell?

In a nutshell, I make new copies of old sound recordings and videotapes so that they can be accessed by researchers and staff and preserved for the long term.  Due to the inherent instability of audio and video records, our goal is to create high-quality master preservation files of the original content in digital form that will not only serve as a preservation master of the original, but also may be easily accessed for research purposes.

For both analog and digital formats, the more the media is used and migrated, the more at risk the overall recording becomes – so we take our job very seriously when it comes to ensuring we make the best possible transfer of our records.

What are you working on right now?  (Why is it cool/why does it matter?)   

We currently have a few exciting things going on in the A/V Lab!  I am working on an audio preservation project from the Ford Presidential Library as well as a video preservation project in our SCIF.

To give a bigger picture of things going on in the Lab, we are updating our storage infrastructure to support the  increasing amount of data we create in the Special Media Labs.  With the help from staff in Information Services, the Audio-Video Lab has recently acquired 30 terabytes of working storage on spinning disk with an additional 350 terabytes of permanent storage using a managed LTO-6 tape library.  Storage is a very important aspect of our job because we create very large, uncompressed preservation files.  All derivatives are sent to the online catalog, but we continue to run into the issue of running out of storage because we are creating more and more digital content.

While this upgrade most definitely helps us for the time being, the Special Media Labs as well as the rest of NARA will continue to need more storage as we create more data and we will need to move our focus to an agency-wide level infrastructure update at some point in the very near future to support our mission to preserve and make accessible NARA’s records.

How long have you been at NARA?  Have you worked at any other NARA location?

I’ve been at College Park for six years – prior to coming here, I worked at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in the Audiovisual Archives.  At the Library, I wasn’t a full-fledged government employee just-yet, I worked for the Foundation.

What has changed since you started at NARA?

A lot has changed since I started, including making a complete analog to digital transition which means we have strictly a digital workflow in the Lab.  We have just implemented new video editing and encoding workstations after significant R&D and we are providing more files to the online catalog than we have been able to do in the past.

Do you have a favorite day at NARA, or a favorite discovery or accomplishment?

A few years ago, we received a handful of Tokyo Rose glass disc recordings in the Lab that needed to be reformatted for preservation.  While fragile and not in the best shape, these recordings were pretty awesome!  Used as propaganda during World War II by Japanese radio to lower the morale of GI’s in the South Pacific, the programs we received were hosted by Orphan Ann; she would often refer to troops as “wandering boneheads of the Pacific Islands,” and provide playful banter and sappy American love songs during the program.

There’s speculation as to whether the broadcasts actually hurt morale of the GI’s, but nonetheless, it was a pretty entertaining program to listen to!

What are your passions or interests outside of work?

Outside of work I love to cook, bake, and run.  I have a dog (named Jazz) and he is the perfect running partner, so we spend a lot of outdoors time together.

Jessie Sims

What is the last book you read, or the last book you loved?

The last book I tried  to read was Game of Thrones - I love the HBO series, but just can’t get through the book!  I would have to say the last book I loved was a collection of short stories from NPR’s National Story Project: I Thought My Father was God and Other True Tales.  All true-life stories, this book gives a wonderful insight into the human experience of life and was absolutely wonderful.

Are there any other cool facts that you would like folks to know about you??

I’ve done a number of triathlons and while I’m not currently training for one, I continue to keep up with my workouts at the NARA gym with a group of friends.  We meet for spin on a regular basis and it’s a nice time to catch up and enjoy our time together.

I’m also a huge Lord of the Rings fan and have read the books and seen the movies many times!

NARA is excited to participate in Government-wide Sunshine Week activities by launching our first Transcription Challenge in the National Archives Catalog!

Here at the Archives, we like to say that there is a story in every box. Help us unlock those stories by transcribing the digitized records in the catalog.  Our goal this week is to complete 1,000 transcriptions from Monday, March 16th through Monday, March 23rd.

#1000pages graphic

Get started by visiting the Transcription Challenge page on the Citizen Archivist Dashboard. You’ll find instructions on how to create an account and transcription missions, tips, and individual records to transcribe.

Do you have favorite records already online the catalog and you think they’d be good for the challenge?  Email us at so we can add it to our web page.

Tweet us @USNatArchives using the hashtag #1000pages to let us know what you’re working on and what you find in the records!

Follow us throughout the week to keep up with our progress.  Will we reach #1000pages?  Not unless you accept the challenge!

Ready.  Set.  Transcribe!

Are you interested in learning more about the many different projects and employees at the National Archives? We are excited to introduce a new staff-run Twitter account: @ThisisArchives!

Each week, a different National Archives employee will take a turn on Twitter, sharing details about our profession, projects we are working on, and what it’s like to be an employee at the National Archives.

We think this will be a fun way to show the diversity of NARA staff and jobs across the country, and give you an opportunity to get to know our staff while we provide an inside look at some of our current projects.

Image of Women in county vocational school, 1942.
What are you working on, NARA employees?
Image from Record Group 208: Records of the Office of War Information, 1926 – 1951. National Archives Identifier 535579

This project is inspired by similar projects from the State of Vermont (@ThisisVT) and Wikipedia (@WeAreWikipedia).

We’ll be kicking off the project on March 16, just in time for Sunshine Week. You can follow along at @ThisisArchives. We can’t wait to introduce you to some of the great people and projects at the National Archives!

For Sunshine week, we will also be kicking off a Transcription Challenge with the goal of transcribing more than 1,000 pages in a week!  We need your help to meet that goal.  We hope you’ll join us in working to transcribe historical records in our new National Archives Catalog and join in on Twitter with the hashtag #1000pages.

What’s New On Amara?

by on February 24, 2015

Last March we introduced you to our new crowdsource video caption tool, Amara. This neat tool allows anyone with an interest in transcribing our motion picture collection to join our team and start typing what you hear! After the captioning is done in Amara, the captions are transferred back to YouTube, making our holdings accessible to even more people and 508 compliant (a win win!).

One of the projects that has been very successful on Amara is with World War I & II films, an ongoing digitization project.  We’ve already uploaded 15 videos with full audio, and asked our team members to caption the dialog in those videos. While this project has helped us overcome disabilities and language barriers with our users, we also have over 50 silent films that we would like to make more accessible too. How will we do this? With tagging, of course! Take a look at our tagging instructions for the World War I Silent Films, and help us pioneer this new way of approaching digitizing these videos.

Project Goal

The goal of the Tagging Project is to describe the visual information within a specific project of videos on the National Archives Amara team. These tags will make it easy for users to search our video archive for what they’re looking for.


1. Go to this project on the National Archives Amara team:

2. Click on a video thumbnail

amara 1

3. Click “Add a new language”

amara 2

4. Then select English for both drop down selections

amara 3

Since these videos have no spoken audio, your role will be to add text describing the visual information. The more specific you can be with your text, the better. For example, instead of saying { Tank } it would be better to say { Iosif Stalin Tank }. To help distinguish these tags from captioned text, please include these tags within curly brackets { like this! }.

Happy tagging!

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