NARA’s Past, Present, and Future Leadership in SNAC (Social Networks and Archival Context): Always Collaborating, Always Cooperating

As SNAC (Social Networks and Archival Context) looks toward the end of its Phase II development, NARA’s External Agency Liaisons to SNAC, Jerry Simmons and Dina Herbert, continue to lead and collaborate in the full spectrum of cooperative activities including outreach and communication, collaborative projects outside NARA, cooperative management with the SNAC Operations Team, technical developments for the ever-evolving SNAC editing interface, and administration of the SNACSchool training program, which is the Team’s predominant task.

SNAC’s landing page mosaic, where users discover archival holdings world-wide via searches for the organizations, persons and families who created them.

One of SNAC’s most popular authority records is that of Julia Child. From Child’s record, researchers have single-click access to archival collections in repositories around the world. Her record also contains links to other persons and organizations related to Child also described in SNAC.

SNAC Outreach and Communication

As we continue outreach in the archives, library and museum community, we are excited by stories from professional researchers who are using SNAC in their day-to-day work. In December 2018, we learned that a team of research specialists working specifically in repatriation at the National Museum of the American Indian were using SNAC as part of their “reference tool kit”, especially exploiting SNAC’s linking features for better overall understanding of artifact provenance. One such search discovered former custodians of the solid gold Echenique Disc. Evidence discovered in SNAC revealed a connection to dealers and collectors of Native American artifacts who were active in Germany during World War II.

One large aspect of our project continues to be external outreach, both near and far. During the past year and a half, the NARA SNAC Liaisons presented information sessions and system demonstrations as close as the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art where the Smithsonian’s Technical Group had a presentation by Liaison Dina Herbert. And another as far away as Oslo, Norway, where Liaison Jerry Simmons gave a presentation to Scandinavian librarians and archivists at the Libraries in the Sky Conference in April 2018. The Oslo presentation focused on tracking the archival record of famed Norwegian aviator and polar explorer Bernt Balchen, who has small collections at the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress and the National Archives, in addition to materials housed in European repositories.

Other conference presentations included SNAC/NARA representation at WikiCon America in October 2018, Bridging the Spectrum Symposium at Catholic University of America in February 2019, and a customized demonstration at the Folger Shakespeare Library as recent at mid-March.

NARA Leadership via SNAC Cooperation and Collaboration

As is the mission of NARA’s SNAC Liaisons, there are a number of special projects, both internal and external, on the Team’s calendar throughout the year.

One very visible aspects of NARA’s leadership in SNAC is our ongoing support of SNAC partner gatherings. The National Archives Office of Innovation has hosted a number of gatherings for SNAC cooperative partners at the Innovation Hub at Archives I, even in the earliest phases of investigation and development, as far back as 2010. The most recent gathering was in August 2018, during the Society of American Archivists conference week in Washington, D.C. Our next all-partners’ gathering is scheduled for September 2019.

Within NARA, SNAC Liaison Dina has collaborated with Innovation staff member Dominic Byrd-McDevitt to integrate SNAC records of women featured in the May 2019 exhibit at the National Archives Rightfully Hers on a new interactive website project. Not only will we feature NARA records for the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, we’ll also feature the connections made possible by SNAC for such women as Susan B. Anthony, Mary Church Terrell, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Sally Ride.

Mary Church Terrell’s SNAC record points to/links to the description of her portrait in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Similarly, Dina is supporting the WikiEdu Scholar Program in its efforts to enhance wiki articles about the 19th Amendment. A collaboration between WikiEdu and the National Archives, focused on Rightfully Hers, these online Wiki courses are using SNAC resources to help develop pages in Wikipedia about the unsung women of the fight for equality and the vote. Also under Dina’s watch is our NARA/SNAC Twitter feed @SNACcooperative. Make sure to follow for all the latest information about SNAC and to learn helpful tips on using it.

If you attended the Society of American Archivists’ conference last year in Washington, D.C., you probably saw NARA’s SNAC Team at the SNAC information table and learned about the search engine and other projects. If you attend the SAA meeting in Austin, Texas, this coming August,  make sure to look for the SNAC information station in the SAA registration area. You can talk with SNAC partners about our many projects, and see a quick demonstration of the SNAC search engine.

NARA Leadership in SNACSchool

NARA SNAC Liaisons Team continues its mission to train new SNAC editors via the SNACSchool, a program that’s now in its third year. The team has logged training events as far away as Portland, Oregon, and close to home in Washington, D.C. Each training event hosts a new class of partner/editors from institutions like Yale and Harvard Universities, East Carolina University, and UNC-Chapel Hill. Those editors who cannot attend events held during the annual Society of American Archivists meetings can take advantage of one of the purely remote, web-based training events.

But the NARA Team doesn’t work alone! In a show of strong professional collaborative spirit, SNAC partners from the George Washington University, New York Public Library, University of Miami Libraries, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Wilson Library, and the Getty Research Institute, (a group known as the SNACSchool Team), work side-by-side (virtually) to develop training materials and present SNACSchool events. This group was particularly supportive in the development of SNACSchool’s new “micro modules” curriculum. As the name suggests, micro modules are brief, focused training events intended to deliver quick updates SNAC editors on new interface features, and to inform the cooperative of new editing policies.

Examples of SNACSchool training materials:

As of December 2018, there are 106 graduates of the SNACSchool. We have at least three training events planned before the end of the current grant cycle (October 2019), one of which is slated for the Society of American Archivists week this August in Austin, Texas.

New developments in cooperative membership

As the current phase moves into the final months, SNAC leaders work to expand the membership base. Nearly fifty institutions have expressed interest in being members, among them the National Archives in Luxembourg and the National Archives in Spain. There are also discussions underway with Archives Portal Europe (APE) about SNAC/APE collaboration.

SNAC technical developments and projects

With leadership from SNAC’s Technical Team and Working Group, refinements to the user editing interface are ongoing, with new version releases coming every few months. There is also work on a new SNAC API for use in automated extraction of data by outside parties, and work progresses on a new data ingest tool to facilitate batch uploads of new authority records, in EAC-CPF and other standard authority formats, into the database.

A new form technical collaboration comes in the form of monitoring the new SNAC Help Ticket program. Using the osTicket platform, NARA SNAC Liaisons respond to technical help tickets submitted by SNAC’s public users. These help tickets cover a variety of subjects, but mostly involve requests for assistance in locating archival collections described in SNAC records. The NARA Team does this work in close contact with SNAC’s Technical Team headquartered at the University of Virginia’s Alderman Library.

Last but certainly not least, SNAC recently launched a new API which allows for users to programmatically extract data from the database. This makes it useful for researchers who want to look at a large amount of data, and users who want to connect different systems or websites, or make similar edits over and over. You can learn more at SNAC API Documentation.

The NARA SNAC Team stays busy, but always looking for the next big chance to be leaders and collaborators in SNAC’s global mission to connect researchers, scholars and the like to archival holdings wherever they are stored. You can learn more at