Making Access Happen in the Digital Era

This is a story about valuing the hard work that has come before us and thinking innovatively about how we can share that hard work in new ways, using new and emerging digital platforms.  Back in 2006, we launched a short feature on our website, which we called Today’s Document. We featured a particular document from the Archives, to provide a bit of history in a bite-sized chunk. These were documents that had been scanned by staff for education, exhibits, or researchers. The feature was popular with the staff and the public. We continue to run it on our intranet at the National Archives. 

In 2011, we started thinking about the usefulness of mobile apps and developed content based on our web feature for a Today’s Document Mobile App for iOS and Android.  We learned a great deal from creating those apps and we began looking at other platforms that might attract users to our content.

We launched Today’s Document on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook later that same year.

We were thrilled that by 2013, Today’s Document was reaching over 100,000 followers on Tumblr.

Tumblr turned out to be the perfect platform for Today’s Document named to Time‘s top 30 Tumblrs for 2013.  We had Tumblr visiting the National Archives for a Federal Tumblr meetup in 2014. Today’s Document was featured in DigitalGov’s “Tumblr for Feds” Webinar and NARA’s Today’s Document staff attended the “Tumblr Goes to the White House” Q&A session at the White House in 2014.

While this was happening, our staff noticed that the documents that we turned into GIFs received the most attention. Our staff taught themselves the basics of GIF-making and away we went. Today’s Document was featured in DigitalGov’s “Essentials of Animated GIFs for Public Services” Webinar in 2015, the same year we went over 200,000 followers on Tumblr.

In 2016, Today’s Document was featured at DPLAfest’s “Advanced GIF Making Techniques” Webinar.

Here is Darren Cole, one of the driving staff behind Today’s Document, describing our work at that time:

Later in 2016,  we looked at yet another new platform, GIPHY, and we launched the National Archives GIPHY channel, using GIFs we had created for Today’s Document. 

Our GIPHY channel was featured in a DigitalGov blog post, as well as multiple news sources, including the New York Times, Washingtonian magazine, the Huffington Post, Popular Science, Endgadget, and more through 2016.

Today’s Document now has  over 50,000 Twitter followers and 36,000 Facebook followers.  We have been featured on Tumblr’s “Radar” over 28 times and currently have over 250,000 followers on the Tumblr platform.  The amazing number comes from our National Archives channel on GIPHY, which has reached over 1.2 billion views. 

Thanks to the innovative thinking of staff, we have provided access to our records to people around the world who may never come to or the National Archives.   The staff combined their knowledge of new and emerging digital platforms with the rich content of the Archives. This has resulted in making access happen  in places and in numbers we have never seen before.  What will we think of next?

One thought on “Making Access Happen in the Digital Era

  1. This is a fantastic summary of innovation at work, and the Archives efforts to serve the informed public better.

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