(AOTUS) "New Digitization Center at the National Archives at College Park, MD"

May/June 2024

Dr. Colleen Shogan
Archivist of the United States

 Connecting the public with our records is at the very heart of the mission of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Over the last two decades, we have been committed to digitizing and making more records available on our online platforms so that anyone can access them from anywhere in the world, anytime they want. 

Today, the American people expect to interact with their government, conduct business, and find information online. At the National Archives, we maintain more than 13.5 billion pages of historically valuable federal records that document the rights of citizens, the actions of government officials, and the history of the United States. With less than 300 million of these records currently digitized and available in the National Archives Catalog, the vast majority of the records we hold in trust for the American people are available only in analog formats and can only be viewed in-person at one of our research rooms. 

As part of our digitization strategy, we are enhancing in-house expertise and expanding our capabilities. This year, we established a new high-speed digitization center at the National Archives at College Park, MD, to significantly increase the pace of digitization work. 

Leveraging industry best practices, the center is an 18,000-square-foot mixed-use space that allows us to consolidate digitization work processes to provide for rapid digitization of extremely large volumes of textual, photographic, and microfilm archival records. The center has dedicated spaces for archival preparation and metadata capture, scanning, and quality control activities. We’ve built in an array of top-of-the-line equipment, including three new IBML high-density scanners that can create machine-readable content from thousands of pages a minute. Once fully online, each scanner is expected to digitize millions of documents each year, which we will then process and post online in the National Archives Catalog. 

We have also made investments in upgrading our information technology infrastructure to facilitate increased data storage and efficient data movement. These improvements will allow us to process digitized content more effectively and make it available to the American public more quickly than ever before.

The opening of the center is just the first step of this multiphased project. The second phase, expected to be completed by September 2024, will add new, modern labs for digitizing motion picture and audio-video archival records. Moving forward, we plan to add more modern offices and meeting spaces for digitization center staff, additional records storage space, and desperately needed cold storage space for NARA’s most fragile holdings.

As for what we’ll be digitizing, we prioritize projects based on several factors, including historical significance, demand by researchers, public interest, exhibition, and preservation needs. Stakeholder input into digitization priorities is an important part of our digitization strategy, as well. 

We are committed to expanding free, online public access to our holdings through the National Archives Catalog, and this new center will help us meet our strategic goal to digitize and make available 500 million pages of records by September 30, 2026. But simply adding more images to the Catalog is not enough—users have to be able to discover what is available. As we add more newly digitized holdings online, we’re also working on improvements to the Catalog so users can more easily find and use the records they need. 

Increasing digital access is one of my top priorities. The new digitization center and improvements to our Catalog will help make that a reality, with service that all Americans expect, and deserve.