Thanks to the persistence and dedication of many NARA staff and the help of our partners, the number of digital copies of our records in the National Archives Catalog surpassed 150 million. Digitizing large quantities of our records is an important goal for NARA because we know that not everyone can come to our facilities and providing these records online democratizes access to them. The conditions of the pandemic helped us to further understand the importance of providing digital access to our records.
NARA has prioritized many of the records for scanning based on the records that have been most often requested by our researchers. So although digital copies account for only a fraction of the total number of records in our custody, we know that these records are some of the most heavily used by our researchers.
In celebration of exceeding 150 million digital copies in the Catalog, we are highlighting some of the records from our Presidential Libraries that you may not have seen and are now available in NARA’s Catalog.
Meredith Evans, Director of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, notes that the Library digitized some of Carter’s Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan’s Confidential Files earlier this year. These files are frequently requested. The file: Administration Review, Goals and Priorities File, First Draft of December 1977 is an interesting mix of semi-candid reflection and political maneuvering and a rare glimpse at the thought processes behind an administration.
Kirsten Strigel Carter, Supervisory Archivist at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, says that their staff added many digital copies of Roosevelt photos to the Catalog this year, including “Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Gondola of a Dirigible.”
The photo shows FDR aboard the gondola of a floating airship during World War I. He was Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time, touring Allied bases in Europe in 1918. This image may capture the moment he became the first (future) US President to fly in a dirigible aircraft, though we aren’t certain that he is in fact the first. We posed the question to the public a few years ago: https://fdr.blogs.archives.gov/2012/01/05/found-in-the-archives-24/.
Dana Simmons, Supervisory Archivist at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, reports that staff worked hard to get all of the contact sheet descriptions as well as digital images associated with the 1993 Inaugural festivities including the ceremony, parade, luncheons, and inaugural balls, and more, into the Catalog during the pandemic. These images depict the excitement and promise of a new Presidential Administration. Approximately 100 inaugural-related contact sheets from 1993 were described and uploaded to the Catalog during the pandemic.
Tammy K. Williams, Archivist and Social Media Coordinator for the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, notes that digital copies from the Truman Library have topped 100,000 in the Catalog this year. The Library continues to add more of Truman’s handwritten materials in the Catalog so they can be transcribed.
This letter was digitized in the wake of the Duke’s death earlier this year. He wrote it to Mrs. Truman after he and Princess Elizabeth made their first visit to the United States. On page two of this letter, he wrote: “It is a great pity that our stay was so short but you have whetted our appetites and we shall certainly be back to see you again either in the White House or in Mizzoura!” He meant to write “Missouri,” but it’s highly likely that the Duke might not have been familiar with the spelling of Missouri, and wrote it how the Trumans (and many other Missourians) pronounce the name of our state.
Dawn Hammett, Director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, notes that Eisenhower talked a great deal about the importance of the Bermuda Meeting in his book “Mandate for Change,” including changes regarding the French and Italian governments, the rebuke of European Defence Community by the French due to the sticking point of admitting West Germany into it, the eventual reconciliation of admitting West Germany into NATO, and the French problems in Indochina.
The Catalog also holds a wide-variety of images from the Eisenhower Library, including:
The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library staff provided 3,842 audio files of LBJ’s telephone conversations for the Catalog this year. Jennifer Cuddeback, supervisory archivist, notes that through the conversations, we can intimately experience the Johnson presidency “with the bark off.” We hear for ourselves his sorrows and successes as he negotiates, cajoles, celebrates and laments with his friends, family, advisers and adversaries to formulate his policies and drive his agenda forward. The White House Telephone Recordings and Transcripts (National Archives Identifier 187903) are described at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/187903.
LBJ Recording of Telephone Conversation, WH Series, Speaker: JOHN WHEELER, Time: 6:40P. National Archives Identifier 187923
Erin McKeen, Collections manager and Registrar at the Barack Obama Presidential Library, tells us that this artifact was gifted to President Obama by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar during the U.S.- Gulf Cooperation Council Meeting in May 2015. The gold-plated bird clock mechanism tweets, turns, and flaps its wings once per hour. The mechanical bird, made by music box atelier Reuge of Sainte-Croix, Switzerland, is modeled after a common chiffchaff, or warbler. The back panel of the box lifts to access the 15 mechanical automatons made up of 500 individually-made pieces. Etched into the back is text about the Islamic Golden Age and the bird was created to honor the scholar and polymath Ismail al-Jazari.
This series of blogposts, celebrating over 150 million digital copies in the National Archives Catalog, provides you with just a glimpse of the wide variety of records documenting American history that are held by the National Archives, including the records held by our Presidential Libraries. As we continue to digitize our records, we are also ensuring that the technology for the Catalog will continue to scale to meet the vastness of our holdings.
My thanks to staff who contributed to this post, including:
Meredith Evans, Director of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum
Kirsten Strigel Carter, Supervisory Archivist, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
Tammy K. Williams, Archivist and Social Media Coordinator, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum
Dana Simmons, Supervisory Archivist, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum
Jennifer Cuddeback, Supervisory Archivist, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum
Erin McKeen, Collections Manager and Registrar, Barack Obama Presidential Library
Dawn Hammett, Director, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum and Boyhood Home