Today’s post comes from Lisa Covi, a volunteer at the National Archives in College Park (Archives II) serving as a staff aide on the Panama Canal Photo Metal Application and World War II holdings maintenance projects. Lisa is also training as a docent to give tours of Archives II. She has a Ph.D. in Information and Computer Science from the University California Irvine and has published scholarly research and taught Information Science at the University of Michigan, Rutgers and the University of Maryland. Recently she has taken up documentary film making and was production coordinator for Kennedy Center Honors biographical films from 2009-2011.
I’m neither a regular blogger nor a veteran NARA volunteer, but Judy Luis-Watson, who coordinates the volunteer program at Archives II, asked me to write up some thoughts about my experience as a new volunteer. I started volunteering in January. I am very excited and grateful to be able to volunteer at such a prestigious institution as the National Archives. I also appreciate that the Archives values our contributions enough to devote scarce resources to support our participation.
Most of my career I’ve worked at non profits such as Universities and Membership Organizations. In recent years, I became interested in civil service and working in the Federal Government, but I was uncertain how to apply for jobs successfully. When I discovered the opportunity to volunteer with the National Archives at College Park, I was eager to get involved for several reasons.
Serving My Country
First, aside from reviewing grant proposals for the National Science Foundation and serving jury duty (inexplicably, I’ve been called to serve 10 times in four state and federal courts), I have not had the experience of directly serving my country. Because I had utilized Archives II in the past as a documentary film researcher, I appreciated the opportunity we have in our country for regular citizens to access government information. I feel very proud to be able to contribute a little labor to an institution with such a valuable mission.
The Scope of the National Archives
Second, I don’t think most people in our country are aware of the valuable function and resources in our National Archives. I feel that through volunteering and learning more about how NARA works, I can tell my friends, neighbors, past colleagues and future coworkers what an amazing resource we have. Although I have visited many of the presidential libraries in my travels, before I started working here, I never realized the intimate connection between the Archives and these Libraries and Museums. I hope, when I begin giving tours of Archives II, I will also be able to convey my enthusiasm and patriotism when I explain how this building demonstrates many ways NARA supports our democracy and citizen’s rights.
A souvenir (yo-yo) of my 1996 visit to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, CA
Diverse Volunteer Corps
Third, I’ve met some very interesting people here. The other volunteers come from various walks of life, ethnic backgrounds and professions. Some are college students, retired military, federal government or contractor employees. A lot of them are big genealogy or history buffs. Some have extensive personal records of their own and others are information addicts like me with endless curiosity.
Generous and Knowledgeable Staff
Fourth, the staff members that we interact with are very generous with their knowledge and experience. During our orientation, they were also very friendly, appreciative and encouraging to us. Joe Schwartz explained that “dead men have no rights to privacy” with respect to requesting personnel records. Wilda Logan told us about the logistics of receiving Federal agency records using documents called Records Disposition Authority. She also gave examples of diverse items received, such as the cremated remains of Labor Organizer Joe Hill (later returned to the union he founded). Sam McClure explained how presidential records pose specific challenges due to the need to make the information available quickly and the creation of new buildings to house the resources. Lisa Isbell led us on a fascinating tour of the preservation and conservation labs that extend the life of the physical materials. The National Archives seems to me to be a living laboratory for how to manage the evidence of our past to preserve and advance the benefits of our culture.
Given that I developed my interest in history later in life, volunteering at Archives II offers me endless opportunities for personal learning and growth through hands-on interaction with the artifacts of our government. Through the basic but meticulous tasks of shelf-reading, data entry, holdings maintenance and preparing research resources for educational programs I have gained new insights into the context of American history. For instance, while entering data about the employees of the Panama Canal Company, I brushed up on my geography of the West
Indies/Caribbean, I learned about labor migration to Panama around the turn of the 20th century and I developed a greater appreciation of the Engineering and Health Care innovations that accompanied the building of the Panama Canal. A PBS documentary can pique your interest, but for a greater engagement with this endeavor, there’s nothing like meeting the people who were there by reading the records and looking at their photographs.
My first view of Archives II: the Loading Dock entrance on Metzerott Road
I imagine those of you who are reading this may already have experienced what I describe. Do you agree with me that the National Archives still sometimes seems like a “best-kept” secret in plain sight? When I used to drive past the construction site of Archives II, it seemed mysterious to me. At the time, I thought the building was a warehouse for what couldn’t fit in Archives I downtown. When I first visited to do research in the building, I was surprised by the beauty and hospitality of Archives II as a work place. Even more impressive was the knowledge and support of the reference archivists who helped me.
Since I began volunteering here two days a week, I want to shout from the rooftops the value of this agency to the many Americans who may think, “If information isn’t on Google, it doesn’t exist.” U.S. culture today is challenged with our economic limitations and how to act on an overload of information from a wide variety of sources. It seems to me that NARA is one of our best-positioned agencies to help people make sense of their world and how to function within it.
Today’s post comes from Kristina Maldre, Education Specialist at the National Archives at Chicago.
Protestors are planning numerous demonstrations for this week, when world leaders will gather in Chicago for the 2012 NATO Summit. But assembling in the streets of the Windy City to oppose governmental policies is nothing new. This past year the Occupy Movement assembled across the country, including in Chicago. For decades, the city has been a back drop for a variety of protests, including Civil Rights marches, anti-apartheid speeches, and calls for improved immigration policies.
Perhaps no demonstrations reside stronger in popular memory than those surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention. In the midst of this election year, the National Archives’ partnership with Historypin allows us to travel back to 1968, through a virtual tour including historical photographs and documents.
Thousands of protestors gathered in Grant Park for the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE) rally on August 28, 1968. National Archives Identifier: 6210766
The 1968 Democratic National Convention tour pins these records from the holdings of the National Archives onto modern-day street maps and inside Google StreetView. We see not only changes in the landscape, but a progression of historic events culminating in violence involving the police and protestors. This tour leads us from President Johnson’s announcement that he would not seek the Democratic nomination for President, to confrontation in the streets of Chicago and Hubert H. Humphrey’s nomination.
The National Guard stopped protestors from crossing the Michigan Avenue bridges, effectively keeping them in Grant Park. National Archives Identifier: 6210779
Join us for our next National Archives Researcher Forum! This forum will be held on Friday, May 18, at 1:00 p.m. in room G-25, the new classroom in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC (Archives I). NARA’s digitization partners will return for continued discussion of the digitization of archival records, begun at the September 16th forum. Reservations are not required and meetings are open to all researchers.
Today’s guest blog post comes from Rick Blondo, management and program analyst involved with NARA building projects.
A new Microfilm Research Room is scheduled to open on Monday, May 21, 2012, in the Robert M. Warner Research Center in the National Archives Building, Washington, DC. It will house 27 researcher carrels, 5 public use computers (and printer), custom millwork bookcases, and a custom millwork staff control desk at the entrance to the room. From the old room will come microfilm and microfiche cabinets, map cases, DVD spinners, and more than 150,000 microfilm reels. While systems furniture panels and work surfaces that form the carrels will be reused from the old room, the fabric and trim will be new.
The look of the room will be similar to the new Finding Aids/Consultation Room, with its oak millwork and cork floor. Ceiling lights can be dimmed, and wall washer lights are situated where microfilm cabinets line the walls.
Work to create the new room is taking place overnight and behind construction barrier walls. Relocation of the cabinets, film, and equipment from the old room to the new room will occur after research hours on Saturday, May 19, and continue non-stop into Sunday, May 20. If all goes as planned, the new room will open on Monday, May 21.
In honor of Earth Day, we have added a great new set of photographs from the Documerica collection to Flickr. Boyd Norton, a photographer who is still greatly involved with nature photography, took photos of the National Parks in the southwest, and documented solar energy projects in Arizona and strip mining in Montana as a part of the 1970s Documerica project. The Boyd Norton set on Flickr contains over 400 photos and they are ready for your viewing!
If you find these photos fascinating, consider contributing to these great records. Check out the Boyd Norton tagging mission on the Citizen Archivist Dashboard.
Mt. Wilson and West Dolores River, 05/1972 (544940).
Cleaning Up the Roadside in Onset, 05/1973 (photo by Ernst Halberstadt)
Every April 22nd, people around the world celebrate Earth Day, a coordinated event to bring awareness and show appreciation for the earth’s natural beauty and resources. Earth Day had a really big kickoff in US during the early 1970s as a way to teach others about issues that threatened our environment. It is no coincidence that the National Archives has a collection of photos from the 1970s that are all focused on the environment.
Cleaning Up After Lunch in Battery Park, in Lower Manhattan, 05/1973 (photo by Wil Blanche)
The Documerica collection contains over 15,000 photos from across the country; they provide a glimpse into the environmental scene of the times. In the spirit of Earth Day, take a look at these clean up photos from the collection, and head outside in your community and lend a hand to Mother Earth. While you’re out there, don’t forget to capture what our earth looks like today, over forty years after the first Earth Day was celebrated. Upload your photos to the EPA’s State of the Environment Flickr group to participate in the Environment in a Day project.
Workman on Way to Clean Up a Polluted Creek, 05/1972 (photo by LeRoy Woodson)
Keep an eye out for more Documerica photos and related news coming this week. Happy Earth Day!
Clean-Up Along Bank of Chattahoochee River, 05/1972 (photo by Chuck Rogers)
The National Archives and the Environmental Protection Agency have been working together to bring awareness to the 1970s Documerica photo collection. The EPA’s State of the Environment project on Flickr asks people to upload their environmental photos to a group as a Documerica for the current generation. This guest post is a reblog of a post written by Jeanethe Falvey of the EPA, and you can read more about this project on the Epplocations blog.
Photography in Arches National Park...05/1972, photo by Dave Hiser
Earth Day happens just once a year. What will this global moment look like? Get ready to share your best photo of the day.
How can you join in? Join Flickr if you haven’t yet and start thinking about what view of Earth Day is yours to share. Every shot counts and you do not need to be a professional photographer to share what you see. The best variety of images taken on 4.22.12 will be gathered in a map of the moment! That means scenes of things good (after Earth Day cleanups); bad (an area overlooked); landscapes, city-scapes, humans, wildlife, wild-humans - it’s really up to you! Check out how easy it is to even participate with your phone with Flickr mobile!
Take a photo any time during the twenty-four hour period of April 22 where you are, then upload it to your Flickr account to share it with the State of the Environment group.
Who will capture the first 2012 Earth Day sunrise? What will Earth Day look like in American Somoa, Utah, Maine?
We’re accepting one (1) contribution per Flickr member into the group from midnight ET Saturday, April 21 until midnight ET Saturday, April 28. You have a week to submit your single photo, but it must be taken on Earth Day April 22!
This is open for global participation, but EPA will be highlighting one photo from each U.S. state or territory and featuring the state with the most participation!
Spread the word. Get outside. Have some fun and capture the moment where humankind celebrates our planet Earth.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivering his fourth Inaugural Address, 01/20/1945 (National Archives Identifier 199054)
This question just came in from a fan of the National Archives:
Is there a consensus as to which presidential inaugural address was the best? I recognize that in this case “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and it may be more accurate to think of the top five rather than single one out. Any advice would be appreciated.
We are looking for the wisdom of the NARAtions crowd to help answer the question. What’s your answer?
911: President George W. Bush Takes Notes, 09/11/2001 (National Archives Identifier 5997217)
Calling all Citizen Archivists! The 1940 census has been online for two weeks now. We have heard many great stories about people you have found in the census. We also know there are some of you who don’t know where people were living in 1940 and therefore cannot search the census without an name index.
The good news is that efforts have begun to create a name index and YOU can help! Join the 1940 Census Community Indexing Project at www.the1940census.com to help create a name index so the census may be searched by name. To get started you will need to download and install the indexing software, register as an indexing volunteer, and download a batch of images to transcribe.
This project is a collaborative effort of volunteers, supported by the National Archives, Family Search, Archives.com, Findmypast.com, the National Genealogical Society, the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the Association of Professional Genealogists, and many other archives and societies. When the index is completed, the National Archives will make the named index available for free.
Get started today and join the 253,514 people who have already signed up to create the index!
“Errors of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” – Thomas Jefferson
In my last post I raised the question of the role of museums in a digital world. There are some obvious answers. No one standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon would believe that a picture or even a movie would be a good substitute for the experience. Students standing in front of the Mercury space capsule, Friendship 7, in the Air and Space Museum wonder how John Glenn stuffed his almost 6 foot frame into that small object. A picture of the capsule doesn’t capture that very well. Clearly, for objects museums have a strong advantage. Is the same true for documents?
Nearly anyone who has worked at the National Archives has at one time or another experienced walking into the Rotunda or one of our exhibits and seeing someone moved to tears. Our exhibit, “Eyewitness,” opened with a document written by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was walking down the streets of Paris in 1789 and witnessed the storming of the Bastille. He returned to his room and wrote one of the first accounts of the French Revolution. Imagine the founder of our revolution documenting the French revolution. Just talking about that document sends chills down my spine, and it was a magnificent opening to an excellent exhibit.
How are digital reproductions different from “the real thing”? That was one of the questions in my mind when I started reading Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together. Her answers set me back on my heels. According to Turkle, more and more people prefer the digital imitation or reproduction, to the original. To try to answer my question requires looking at two threads of thought – education and experience.
Some documents have iconic value. Interestingly, if you look up the meaning of iconic, one of the definitions is “a graphic symbol on a computer display screen.” That’s not the meaning I want here. Another definition given by Webster’s is “an object of uncritical devotion.” Whenever or wherever we display the Emancipation Proclamation the crowds almost overwhelm our ability to allow them to see the document. That is an iconic document. And yet anyone can walk through The Public Vaults and see a reproduction of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Every year over a million people pass through the Rotunda to view the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence. Those documents resonate with the public in ways few other documents do. Every December we celebrate the Bill of Rights by holding a citizenship ceremony in the Rotunda. The symbolism of that event to all and the meaning to those being sworn in as citizens is powerful and overwhelming emotion. Seeing these iconic documents “live” clearly has meaning and value.
Inside the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom at the National Archives in Washington, DC
Why is education important to the digital v paper debate? Part of what makes these documents iconic is that we have learned the special place they hold in American history. What about those documents that are not icons? Putting a document on display doesn’t do much unless that document means something. We have an excellent staff of educators at the National Archives who spend their working days and often their evenings and weekends teaching about the meaning of our documents. They provide materials so that teachers throughout the country can teach the meaning of literally thousands of the documents that describe American history. They don’t stop there. They teach about the importance of all those documents sitting in boxes on our shelves to uncover new stories about how our government works.
During Sunshine Week (see the FOIA blog for an explanation of Sunshine Week) we put the Freedom of Information Act on display. A group of individuals dedicated to the principles of open government came to pay tribute. For them, that act is iconic and seeing the page the President Johnson signed on July 4, 1964 was a moment to reflect on the meaning of what they do.
I hope we move into the word of animated document exhibits on our web site. I would love to see more interactive online exhibits. I would not trade for any of those the opportunity to stand in the Rotunda and listen to the buzz of people moved by just a piece of paper.
We have provided links to other websites because they have information that may interest you. Links are not an endorsement by the National Archives of the opinions, products, or services presented on these sites, or any sites linked to it. The National Archives is not responsible for the legality or accuracy of information on these sites, or for any costs incurred while using these sites.