By the Numbers: Digitization and Citizen Engagement

The National Archives’ Strategic Plan includes the ambitious initiative to digitize our analog records and make them available for online public access. With over 12 billion pages of records in our holdings, this is no small undertaking. As we work to make more of our holdings available online, it is also important to see how our researchers and customers interact with those records, invite them to contribute their unique knowledge and expertise, and ultimately make the records more searchable and accessible.

This third post in a series for American Archives Month explores our efforts to digitize the holdings of the National Archives, make them accessible online, and engage citizens.

infographics #3 (2)

Our recently updated digitization strategy outlines the various approaches we will use to achieve the goal of expanding public access through digitization, including continued collaboration with private and public organizations, citizen archivists, and other federal agencies to digitize records. We are developing clearer processes and improved technologies to support workflow from staff digitization efforts, as well as ensuring that records arriving at NARA are accompanied by standardized metadata, with the goal of making them available online in a shorter period of time. As a result of these efforts, the National Archives digitized and added more than 5 million digital objects to our online catalog in Fiscal Year 2015.  Highlights of these newly digitized images include color photographs from the Battle of the Bulge, as well as images from World War I and World War II:

Wreckage in St. Vith Belgium
Wreckage in St. Vith, Belgium. National Archives Identifier 16730732
A.S.C. Women at Work
A.S.C. Women at Work. National Archives Identifier 16577208

To better facilitate access of records, our online catalog has also recently been upgraded and now features more participatory elements, including new tagging and transcription tools to further engage citizen archivists and help make our holdings more discoverable to researchers. At the end of the fiscal year, citizen archivists had contributed over 91,000 tags and 35,000 transcriptions to the catalog, with the latter growing at over 5% each week.

To introduce these new catalog features, we kicked off Sunshine Week this spring with a transcription challenge for citizen archivists. During that week alone, citizens transcribed more than 2,500 pages of records and added 10,000 new tags to the catalog, making our records more searchable and accessible to everyone.

Transcription challenge

Our efforts in digitization and citizen engagement are an important piece in achieving the goal of making access happen in the spirit of a more open government. Inviting participation, transparency and collaboration in all aspects of our work helps us provide more democratic access to our holdings for the benefit of all.

See my previous posts in this series on maximizing our value through web and social media and connecting with customers. And stay tuned for my final post in this series reflecting on the opportunities and challenges we see as we continue our efforts to make access happen.

6 thoughts on “By the Numbers: Digitization and Citizen Engagement

  1. The Archives priority in digitization should be the JFK Records collection. As the body of records that is of the most interest to the public and to researchers, these records should be made available on the Internet first.

  2. I agree with Mr. Morley’s comment that the JFK assassination records collection should be a priority for digitization and availability on the internet. This collection receives high ongoing public interest. It would be a credit to the Archives to promptly digitize these materials and make them available to the public online.

  3. Mr. Ferriero, thank you first for asking for a reply. I would humbly ask you and the National Archives to go about digitization of the JF Kennedy Records in their entirely. Much like your past achievements at the New York City Library your attention to detail in this JFK records will be met with the highest praise from myself and hundreds of thousands of people in the US and around the globe. Thank you again.

  4. I would also encourage the prioritization of the JFK Records, as there is an active and engaged body of journalists, historians and researchers who are continuing to advance our understanding of this important event, despite the many hurdles thrown up by officialdom and the ongoing clampdown in the establishment media on discussion of any conclusions at variance with the Warren Report’s outdated findings. Making the records more searchable and accessible would be of tremendous public benefit.

  5. I have often wondered why important meta records like the inventories/preliminary inventories for each record group are not available on the website. I don’t think they have been available even in the bookstore for years. Yet they are used daily. Until all documents are digitized and organized on line, finding aids to the physical archives will still be necessary. The inventories are more detailed than the online catalog, include background information, and contain their own organizational logic. Because the archivists’ efforts in the mid twentieth century better reflects the organization by the originating agencies, as a method of citation, that organization is preferable to me than, say, using a microform series number or a URL. Even if NARA is trying to steer people away from using them, they are still a great time-saving reference to find what you are looking for (or assure yourself that it is likely not there) before you arrive at the facility.

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