The Scan Plan: Our Strategy to Digitize the Vast Holdings of the National Archives

The National Archives’ Strategic Plan includes a simple, but audacious initiative: to digitize our analog records and make them available for online public access. We have over 12 billion pages of records, so yes, this is our moon shot.

To achieve this goal, we know we need to think in radically new ways about our processes, and we have started by creating a new digitization strategy.  From the time we published our 2008 digitization strategy through today, we have scanned over 230 million objects.  This is a huge number, but we have a long road ahead.  Our new strategy pushes us further.

Scanning technique demonstrated by Mattie Woodford
Scanning technique demonstrated by Mattie Woodford, Powell Group film scanner, taken April 1961. National Archives Identifier 7665735.

We know we cannot do all of this by ourselves. We will continue to collaborate and build on efforts with private and public organizations to digitize records, as well as branch out to citizen archivists, other federal agencies and institutions worldwide. We will develop clear processes and technologies to support a workflow from staff digitization efforts, as well as ensure that records arriving at NARA are accompanied by standardized metadata, and make them available online in a shorter period of time.

We will set measures and track progress for each of these approaches, because we believe we can make digital access happen and we will hold ourselves accountable for doing so. Take a look at the full strategy and tell us what else we need to know:

8 thoughts on “The Scan Plan: Our Strategy to Digitize the Vast Holdings of the National Archives

  1. now that is wonderfull news but catch 22 will it be sold to paying genealogy site like happened to all other documents and make it impossible for non paying people who can not afford to pay to get information

  2. may be an exception where you will find millions nd millions of free scanned and indexed documents. The catalog has scanned books, there are millions of documents from the Grante Mountain vault, and any more under the “Collections” tab.

  3. More scanned documents on line …… great goal…. but in the years before the NARA collections are all online the research rooms will be the only way to do a thorough search. In the past year the use of the research rooms has been crippled again and again. Ending evening hours cut 20% from the time available to do on-site research. Several later surprise closings of the research rooms took away more valuable research opportunities.

    Bring back the evening hours and question the need to close research rooms for staff morale boosters. Staffing the rooms with expertise would also make on-site research more productive. When researchers believe that NARA has their best interests at heart, there may be a better possibility for public contributions to the digitization dream.

  4. It costs a lot of money and time to digitize all of these records. It can’t be free forever. Costs for subscription services isn’t that much. I, for one, am glad that they’re doing this and don’t mind paying for a monthly subscription. It’s a lot cheaper than flying/driving all over the country/world to find the records I’m looking for. Bravo!

  5. I’m impressed and amazed that this goal. I will personally benefit with more accessible materials, plus professionally as we model our strategy in part on NARA at our smaller institution.

    In regards to some of the comments here, the strategy specifically mentions that records will be free from any subscriptions after a limited amount time (probably 3-5 years). And they will always be available free in NARA facilities.

  6. This is a worthy and necessary goal. While there will always be “paper” and other non-digital formats, NARA’s digital strategy reflects what it will need to do to survive in the future as an independent Federal agency. Our users/citizens will expect access to information about their Government at any time and any place. Our nation’s most important records must be “discoverable;” this means they need to be online, or they will not exist (in practical terms). Digitization is the way for NARA to remain relevant. The approaches in this plan are well thought out and reflect needs of the Government, citizens, users. It incorporates standards and has transparency as to how it will operate. The plan notes that NARA has been doing this for some time now – including a partnership with EMC to digitize the holdings of the Kennedy Library, a project begun in 2007 with much foresight – but it is time to accelerate digitization efforts using the approaches in this plan.

  7. Digitizing does take awhile; however, considering all info is digital now, it would be well worth it.

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