Making Access Happen: NARA’s Leadership in the Digital Decade

The history of the National Archives records our longstanding commitment to the mission of preserving and providing access to the permanent records of the federal government. However, in no decade in our history have we provided greater access than in the one that is drawing to a close this month. Together, our staff developed values to collaborate, innovate and learn. Our focus on those values has resulted in unprecedented digital access to our records.

To make digital access happen, you need digital records and we are creating them at a rate that was unthinkable just a few years ago. Thanks to new software and hardware technologies, we are able to scan, index and provide access to digital copies of our records like never before.  Our digitization partnerships have resulted in tens of millions of digital copies of our records that we are making available in our Catalog. Ten years ago, NARA had 300,000 digital copies of our records available through the Catalog. Today we have 97 million and counting.  We are working toward a goal of having 500 million digital copies available through our Catalog by FY24. After that, we are on to our first billion.

In 2009, Making Access Happen meant that we provided descriptions of our records in our online Catalog and our digital presence was limited to our websites. Today our records are available on over 25 platforms and counting.  We started working with Wikipedia in 2011 and our collaboration has ensured that digital copies of our records are viewed over a billion times each year.  Our partnership with the Digital Public Library of America has resulted in more views of our records on their site than on our own.  Our digitization partners’ websites provided over 300 million views to our records in 2019.

We have come a long way over the past ten years to expand digital access to our records. By using new technologies and developing open and collaborative relationships, we are providing digital copies of our records to people who may never come to a National Archives building, may never click on to, but will see our records on social media, blogs, and websites from DPLA to GIPHY and more.  What a decade it has been! Just imagine what we will accomplish in the next one.

7 thoughts on “Making Access Happen: NARA’s Leadership in the Digital Decade

  1. Excellent work! I was just writing about NARA’s digitization program—these charts bring it to life!

  2. Are you making any progress or have you even started digitizing Record Group 18. I am the historian of the 445th Bomb Group and am physically unable to go to the archives in person. I’m needing research material about the Group for a book I’m writing.

  3. This is bullshit.

    As an Archivist with NARA I know first-hand that this “mission” will never be accomplished. What the incompetent AOTUS has failed to mention is that he and the even more incompetent Micah Cheatam have cut staffing levels so low – and have no money for the necessary equipment – that it is nearly impossible for the remaining staff to devote any time to digitization.

    We respond to thousands of research requests monthly – across all 48 sites – with no wiggle room to devote to this overly ambitious project. However, the failure of AOTUS to even understand this is one of the many reasons he should have been replaced years ago – lousy EVS scores anyone?

    You want access to the records? Visit the sites and view them. You need records digitized? Put in a request for specific folders.

  4. This is great news. But remember, the public still need archivists to help direct researchers to other relevant collections and repositories that digitization cannot provide.

  5. Totally agree. The staff digitizing the records is not even scanning at standards acceptable. Resolution is too low, so when you try to enlarge the records, they fall apart. Spend the money wisely and hire the preservation staff and the archival staff necessary so that they can do their work efficiently. And to researchers who cannot visit the Archives, there are plenty of professional researchers that will scan the materials you need and get them to you.
    I choose to have an open Archives with staff, to do my research. Let the Archives digitize samples of the records, but it is the researcher’s responsibility to physically come to the Archives. Encourage the government to build a new Archives facility that houses all of the records, in one place, instead of spreading them across 33 regional facilities that NO ONE goes to. If researchers know that they only have to visit one facility, they can accomplish the work they need to get done.
    Asking the Archives to digitize everything and put it online, is like asking the government to create an East Coast Grand Canyon because we can’t afford to go to the original Grand Canyon.
    The Archival, Preservation, FOIA, and Processing staff are so understaffed, they can’t do their jobs. While the upper management gets these outrageous bonuses, that should be going to hiring staff who service the mission of NARA, preserving and providing access to records.

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