Moving our Mission Forward

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a large portion of NARA has been teleworking 100%. Even with limitations on our ability to conduct work on-site and despite the incredibly challenging circumstances, our employees have continued to demonstrate their creativity, initiative, and commitment to moving our mission forward. 

Across the nation, staff from the Office of Research Services is responding to reference requests, creating box and folder lists that improve access for researchers and support current or future digitization projects, preparing and submitting digitized files and metadata for upload into the National Archives Catalog, conducting quality control checks on digital images, writing blog posts, conducting processing and description work that can be done remotely, and much more. Their amazing efforts have allowed us to connect with customers and make access happen, even during a global pandemic, and I would like to highlight just a few projects below.

On History Hub, NARA’s platform for anyone to ask history related questions and receive responses from a wide variety of experts, Research Services staff moderate incoming questions and coordinate NARA responses often from multiple staff, for example, this question on when did the government switch from manuscript to typeset documents.  Additionally, Research Services staff post expert and helpful information on a wide variety of subjects from Locating Visa Files at NARA to 1920’s Photographs of American Indian Families in National Archives Holdings to LGBTQIA+ Equal Protection Records in Federal Courts to 20 Tips for Census Research Success. History Hub is a fantastic tool that allows researchers to plug into Research Services’ extensive knowledge of NARA’s records.

Genealogy Community on History Hub

Multiple Research Services units are engaged in itemization projects to further facilitate access to indexes that are being added to the National Archives Catalog. To date, these collaborative projects have generated almost three quarters of a million item level descriptions for a variety of series including the Index to Purple Heart Award Recipients; the Alien Enemy Index; the Name Index to Bureau of Naturalization Correspondence Files; the Carded Service Records of Hospital Attendants, Matrons and Nurses; and the Carded Death Records of Civilians.

Carded Service Records of Hospital Attendants, Matrons and Nurses, 1861 – 1865. National Archives Identifier 655658

Last month, just in time for Black History Month, the National Archives Catalog now includes the Slave Narrative Files, in the Donated Records of the Center for Urban Ethnology (CUE), University of Pennsylvania. These electronic records consist of over 200 transcripts of interviews originally conducted between 1936 and 1938 by the Works Progress Administration, and punched onto 80-column IBM punch cards by CUE researcher Dr. James Cahalan in the late 1970s. Dr. Cahalan utilized the computerized interviews in his linguistics research and donated them to NARA in 2000. The Electronic Records Division accepted the punch cards as donated materials, purchased a desktop punch card reader, and then read the cards to a series of ASCII text files. 

And a collaborative effort between the Moving Image and Sound Branch and Motion Picture Preservation Lab has made a series of gorgeous black and white reels from a stock footage library compiled by the United States Information Agency (USIA) available in the National Archives Catalog. You can read more about the Library Stock Shots and the project to provide access in this Unwritten Record blog post.

Motion Picture Library Stock Shot. Still from 306-LS-677, National Archives Identifier 58054

In addition to the incredible work noted above, employees have made significant contributions to the National Archives Catalog through tagging and transcription. These efforts improve search results for our records and make handwritten or difficult-to-read text accessible for a wider audience. More staff than ever are taking part in tagging and transcription, and I am grateful to each of them for making our records more searchable and accessible. 

These are only a few of the many ways National Archives staff is providing access to our vast holdings. Once again, thank you to all of our employees who are continuing to make access happen and connect with customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. I know that our customers appreciate your efforts, and I do too.

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