The U.S. National Archives joins the Commons!, Flickr blog, (February 1, 2010).
Please welcome the U.S. National Archives to The Commons, the world’s public photography archives on Flickr to which you can contribute information and knowledge.
With over 3,000 images in 49 sets uploaded already, perusing these important archival images should keep you entertained for a long time. Their four collections encompass important Americana, ranging from the famous Mathew Brady Civil War images to historical and iconic images of American history.
What are the impacts of the government using social networks and other commercial services to communicate with the public and for internal communications? What are the impacts of what is recorded at all when staff knows that their words will be publicly available later? These and other issues are covered in a fascinating overview of the Presidential Records Act:
- Why Did the Bush White House Copy and Print Every Email It Received? It's a Long Story, By Nneoma Amadi-obi, History News Network (Jan. 4, 2010).
There are interesting and informed comments to this article, including two (so far) by the always insightful Maarja Krusten, who worked for years in NARA's Office of Presidential Libraries.
Carl Malamud posed this question over on twitter: "What if our national cultural institutions all worked together on a common problem, attracted White House support?" In his post on the O'Reilly blog, "A National Scan Center: A Public Works Project", Malamud scopes out the issues and calls for Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Government Printing Office, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Technical Information Service to come together and make the compelling case for funding a 5-year $500 million effort to create a National Scan Center. Here here Carl!
In the U.S., we face a similar deluge of paperwork that we faced in the 1930s. A huge backlog of paper, microfiche, audio, video, and other materials is located throughout the federal government. Little money has gone from Congress for digitization, and bureaucracies have resorted to a series of questionable private-public partnerships as a way of digitizing their materials. For example, the Government Accountability Office shipped 60 million pages of our Federal Legislative Histories (the record of each law from the initial bill through the hearings and conference reports) off to Thomson West, but didn't even get digital copies back. Another example is the recent failed effort by the Government Printing Office to digitize 60 million pages of the Federal Depository Library Program, an effort they tried to get through as a "zero dollar cost to the government" effort with the private sector.
There are no free lunches and there are no "no cost to the government" deals. The costs involve the government effort to supervise the contract, prepare the materials, and ship them, and in both the GAO and GPO cases, the government wasn't getting much back for its effort. What the government and the people usually get is a lien on the public domain, preventing the public from accessing these vital materials. Similar efforts are sprinkled throughout the government. I testified to Congress that I had learned that the National Archives was contemplating a scan of congressional hearings with LexisNexis under similar circumstances, and many may be aware of the questionable deal the Archives cut with Amazon where my favorite online superstore got de facto exclusive rights to 1,899 wonderful pieces of video.
Well now he's expanding FedFlix to include public domain videos from the National Archives. He's released 41 videos into the public domain in this way, but has put together an Amazon Wish List in order to expand public access to public domain video content from the National Archives. If you see anything you'd like to buy the public domain, they'll take your DVD and upload the video to YouTube, the Internet Archive, and to public.resource.org's own rsync/ftp public domain stock footage library. So why not add a gift of the public domain to your favorite person's/people's stockings this year? We'll all be glad we did!
NARA Nears Completion of Ingesting Bush Records, National Coalition for History (Sept 4, 2009).
The National Archives and Records Administration announced this week that the agency has nearly completed the process of loading the electronic records of President George W. Bush into the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) system. To date, more than 85% of the total volume has been ingested.
...The intake of these records is expected to be complete by the end of September, 2009. Currently, the use of the system is limited to Presidential Libraries staff...
See also: Archives reports progress on road to digital ERA, by Max Cacas, Federal News Radio, (Sept. 3, 2009).
President Obama Nominates David S. Ferriero To Be Archivist of the U.S. (updated), National Coalition for History (July 28, 2009).
On July 28, President Obama announced his intent to nominate David S. Ferriero to the position of Archivist of the United States. Mr. Ferriero currently serves as the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the New York Public Libraries (NYPL). Mr. Ferriero succeeds Professor Allen Weinstein who resigned as Archivist last December.
The National Archives (NARA) has just released a draft of their 2009 strategic plan entitled, Preserving the Past to Protect the Future. It details NARA's goals for the next 10 years and offers an interesting window into the agency's focus. They are asking for public feedback by August 5, 2009 via e-mail (email@example.com) or by fax (301) 837-0319.
Especially read the section, "how will we know we have succeeded." Some of the benchmarks for success are achievable and admirable (i.e., "Within 30 days of the end of an administration, 100 percent of Presidential and Vice Presidential materials have been moved to NARA locations or NARA-approved facilities." and "By 2014, 100 percent of NARA records center holdings are stored in appropriate space.") but it's glaring that the first item of "success" is that "by 2016, 50 percent of agencies achieve passing scores for compliance with Federal records management policy." That seems like an extremely low benchmark to this non-archivist. Shouldn't ALL agencies already be compliant?
- Goal 1: Our Nation’s Record Keeper
- Goal 2: Preserve and Process
- Goal 3: Electronic Records
- Goal 4: Access
- Goal 5: Civic Literacy
- Goal 6: Infrastructure
...And the increasing demand by users for more online access to records has driven us to prioritize the processing of a backlog of records and to focus on increasing our digitization efforts.
Our holdings in all media—paper, electronic, film, and so on—are constantly growing as the proliferation of Government records continues. At the same time, the public demand for access is increasing. NARA has a significant backlog of unprocessed holdings that are therefore not yet readily available to the public. New records are arriving faster than they can be processed. Clearly, we must refocus attention and resources on making as many records as possible accessible to the public.
While we put great effort into readying records for public use, the expectation of easy online access to our holdings continues to grow. The American public expects information to be delivered almost instantly to their desktop with more and more information available via the Internet. However, we cannot provide online access to all our holdings in the next decade—the task is simply too big. Our focus must be on making our most requested holdings available online, and on providing researchers with online tools to help them in their work.
Because of work done every day in NARA facilities across the nation, the public can examine the records that document the actions of Government officials, the entitlements of individuals, the events that make up American history, and in some instances, how those events have affected the rest of the world. With new social media applications (Web 2.0), we have the opportunity to reach the public with tools they already use. These tools allow us to operate more transparently and to interact with our users in new, more informal ways.
Our primary response to the challenge of authentically preserving electronic records and providing access to these records in the future is the Electronic Records Archives (ERA). ERA will provide a comprehensive, systematic, and dynamic means of preserving and providing continuing access to authentic electronic records over time. When fully deployed, ERA will give us the means to preserve, process, and provide continuing access to Federal Government electronic records of archival value. Yet, at the same time, we must explore ways to provide economical storage and retrieval services for electronic records that remain under the legal control of the originating agencies. We must also continue to adapt our internal business processes and staff expertise to effectively use the ERA system and to ensure that it evolves over time to fit tomorrow’s technology.
The Internet has introduced countless researchers to the holdings of the National Archives. This thirst for online access to information is exciting, as it brings more and more people to our virtual doors, yet the task of building an “archives without walls” is daunting. Implicit in this task is the ability for archivists and the public to virtually interact. Our strategies in this area will focus on developing dynamic partnerships to digitize and deliver our most popular holdings and create interactive tools to help researchers find the information they seek. By putting our country’s records literally at the public’s fingertips, we will be able to share our rich resources with more people than ever before.
[Thanks to John Wonderlich and the Open House Project for pointing this one out!]
The National Security Archive at George Washington University has an overview article with good links on recent hearings focusing on the National Archives.
- Archive Testifies to House Oversight Committee About Challenges Facing National Archives, "Recommends New Archivist Have a Vision for Archives 2.0" (May 21, 2009)
Witnesses at the hearing included National Security Archive General Counsel Meredith Fuchs, Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org, and Lee White, executive director of the National Coalition for History.
Update: More information on the hearings here: NARA's preservation practices for e-records called 'fatally flawed', By Jill R. Aitoro (05/21/2009).