NARA: Scanning the Past to Make Access Happen
06/17/2014 12:00 am
By David S. Ferriero
Archivist of the United States
The National Archives’ commitment to open government is clear in our mission: We
drive openness, cultivate public participation, and strengthen our
nation’s democracy through public access to high-value records.
In the 21st century, access means digital access. For many, if a record isn’t online, it simply doesn’t exist.
In our Open Government Plan for 2014-2016, our Flagship Initiative,
“Innovate to Make Access Happen,” describes our digitization,
description, and online access efforts for the next two years.
To make access happen, we will establish more substantial “roots”
that increase the number of records that we digitize and strengthen the
“core” systems that serve as our platforms for all of our online
access—the agency’s Online Public Access Catalog and Archives.gov.
With substantial roots and a strong core, we can “branch out” in
innovative ways through engagement and collaboration so that the public
can make greater use of National Archives records.
The components of this plan’s Flagship Initiative are led by the new
Office of Innovation, which is the focal point for innovation across the
agency and works to strengthen engagement and collaboration among
staff, stakeholders, and the public.
We have recently established a digitization governance board that is
charged with updating the agency’s digitization strategy NARA will
develop a program to support the strategic initiative to digitize our
analog archival records. We are also exploring new ways to expand our
successful digitization partnerships.
Earlier this spring we launched a new internal description system.
Staff members working on description projects at NARA are entering all
descriptive metadata into the new system.
NARA also plans to launch an improved Online Public Access system
later this year, with improved search and scalability, a public API, and
crowdsourcing fields for citizen archivists to contribute to online
In the next two years, I want NARA to become a leader in innovation.
We will launch a new Innovation Hub, an experimental unit that will be
responsible for developing new ideas and tools that will enhance digital
access and archival research.
NARA will sponsor two fellows during the third round of the
Presidential Innovation Fellows program in 2014. The fellows will lead
open development of crowdsourcing tools that will help unlock data and
information from records formats and allow the public to easily
contribute to the records.
Over the next two years we will work to increase the number of
National Archives records available on Wikimedia Commons, continue our
work to engage local communities of volunteer Wikipedians with on-site
events, and collaborate on the development of the GLAM-Wiki U.S.
In 2013 alone, 4,000 digital copies of our records that were included
in Wikipedia articles garnered more than 1.3 billion views. That is
unprecedented access to our records.
We have a great deal of work ahead. But as you can see, digitizing
the historical records of the federal government— scanning the past—is
foundational to making 21st century access happen.