Citizen Archivists Making an Impact at the National Archives

On June 16, I joined Carl Malamud and members of the International Amateur Scanning League (IASL) in the Still Picture Research Room at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. I was lending my support to their newest citizen archivist project — scanning and making available online approximately 15,000 State Department photographs of diplomatic events and facilities within the records of the National Archives. This is yet one more example of the work of Carl Malamud, esteemed citizen archivist, who has worked tirelessly over the years to put public information in the public domain. Since February, Carl and the members of the IASL have been working to make over 1,500 videos from the records of the National Archives available online.

Carl Malamud and Members of the International Amateur Scanning League

Carl Malamud (right) and Members of the International Amateur Scanning League

(Photo Courtesy of the National Archives)

I got the chance to do some scanning and see the new equipment supplied by the Scanning League in action. State Department International New Media Strategist, Dean Cheves was on hand to share his enthusiasm and support for the project. Volunteers from the State Department will also be scanning photographs, which will be valuable for U.S. Embassies around the world. I’m hoping this project will be inspiration for more departments and agencies to send volunteers to the National Archives to work on digitizing their records.

The Archivist Scanning Images

The Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, Scanning a State Department Photograph

(Photo Courtesy of the National Archives)

In previous blog posts, I have featured several citizen archivists who have contributed to our mission. Jon White, educational designer, uses the “Today’s Document” feature on to create illustrations that make our documents relatable and funny. Researcher Jonathan Webb Deiss brought to light a previously undiscovered Revolutionary War diary in the stacks at the National Archives.

How should we best utilize citizen archivists?

With more thought and more action, we’ll be getting clearer about the definition and the value of citizen archivists and citizen archival projects.  For starters, I want us to start thinking about how we can:

  • Engage our users in the processes of description, content creation, and digitization,
  • Make it easy for our users to share with us their expertise and their discoveries,
  • Create tools that make it easier for our users to help us better understand what we have so the next person can benefit from that information, and
  • Develop ongoing programs and publicize citizen archivist’s activities for those who want to get involved.

We need to articulate specific citizen archival projects and corresponding narratives that will speak to those already interested in specific records and reach those who have a more general interest. We’ve got to leverage the collaborative power of the Internet and let our creativity spur innovation to help us achieve our mission.

We have a terrific opportunity to leverage the willingness and enthusiasm of those who are interested in supporting our mission, as well as an opportunity to educate the general public about the importance of the archival profession.

On July 8, 2010, we will be launching “Our Archives,” a wiki for researchers, historians, archivists, and citizen archivists to create pages on records, topics, record groups, etc. I hope this will be an active and vibrant community of people who are passionate about our records. I’m looking forward to seeing citizen archivists flourish in this new space.

To start our conversation about what it means to be a citizen archivist, I propose the following definitions:

Citizen Archival Projects – a term used for projects in which individual volunteers or networks of volunteers, many of whom may have no specific archival training, perform archival tasks such as description, transcription, or digitization.

Citizen Archivists – individuals or groups of individuals engaged in citizen archival projects.

What do these concepts mean to you?

For Further Information:

One thought on “Citizen Archivists Making an Impact at the National Archives

  1. As the Archivist mentioned in his post, we launched the Our Archives wiki today.

    If you have made a great find in NARA’s records or you have a story to tell related to our records, we hope you will come share it on the Our Archives wiki at

    If you just want to look around the wiki, click the link above. If you are ready to participate in Our Archives, go to the home page and click “Join” in the top left corner. You’ll be asked for a user name, password, and email address. We will set up your new account as quickly as possible.

    Questions about Our Archives wiki can be sent to

    We hope you will come and join Our Archives!

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