Improving the Administration of FOIA

Just last month the second term of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee wrapped up its two years of work by unanimously approving its Final Report and Recommendations. The Committee brings together FOIA requesters and agency FOIA professionals to develop consensus solutions to some of the greatest challenges in the administration of FOIA.

During this term, the Committee wrestled with several critical issues and issued recommendations aimed at promoting the proactive disclosure of records, improving agencies’ ability to identify responsive digital records, and reinforcing that FOIA is everyone’s responsibility, not just the responsibility of full-time FOIA professionals. The report also includes a number of best practices that will be published by the Office of Government and Information Services (OGIS) as part of the office’s statutory responsibility to identify procedures and methods to improve FOIA compliance.

David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, welcomes attendees to the final meeting of the 2016-2018 term of the Freedom of Information Act Advisory Committee at the National Archives in Washington, DC, on April 17, 2018

David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, welcomes attendees to the final meeting of the 2016-2018 term of the Freedom of Information Act Advisory Committee at the National Archives in Washington, DC, on April 17, 2018. National Archives photo by Jeff Reed

As the nation’s record keeper, we are tasked with identifying, protecting, preserving and making publicly available the historically valuable records of all three branches of government. We help agencies meet their Federal records management responsibilities through regulations, policies, training and oversight.  Strong records management is the backbone of an efficient, compliant FOIA program and smoother FOIA process. Our role in records management, combined with our role as the Federal FOIA Ombudsman, means that NARA has a critical role to play in pushing forward many of these recommendations. I also look forward to working with counterparts at other key agencies and entities to evaluate and find effective ways to move forward on the Committee’s report.

I look forward to working with OGIS to implement these recommendations. I am also looking forward to announcing the appointment of members to the Committee’s 2018-2020 Term later this summer, and seeing the challenges that the Committee tackles in its next term.

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Making Access Happen through the Digital Public Library of America

Providing public access to Federal Government records is central to the mission of the National Archives. Open access to government records strengthens democracy by allowing Americans to claim their rights of citizenship, hold their government accountable, and understand their history so they can participate more effectively in their government.

Collaboration with stakeholders, the public, and private organizations to make historical records available has long been a priority for the National Archives. It is clear that collaboration is the path to the future, and nowhere is this more apparent than through the efforts of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) to connect people to our nation’s shared history.

DPLA provides a single online access point for anyone, anywhere to search and access digital collections containing America’s cultural, historical and scientific heritage. This collaborative effort has united leaders and educators from various government agencies, libraries, archives and museums of all sizes working together to ensure that all people have access to information they need.

Screenshot of DPLA Browse by Topic page

We’ve been involved with DPLA from its earliest stages. In October 2010, I was in the meeting room at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study when DPLA was born. We hosted the first Plenary Session back in 2011, where more than 300 government leaders, librarians, technologists, makers, students, and many others gathered at the National Archives to share their visions for DPLA and open access.

DPLA has now grown to include more than 21 million records from over 3,000 cultural heritage institutions across the United States. The National Archives is the largest participating Content Hub: nearly 3.8 million NARA records are currently available on DPLA, making up 17.5% percent of the content.

The volume of records that we’ve been able to share over the years has allowed DPLA to test the scalability of their ingestion infrastructure. Testing with such a large data set provides the opportunity to see how large numbers of records affect search and retrieval algorithms. This is an important step, as the goal of DPLA is to provide users with the most accurate search results without overwhelming records from other institutions in their index. We are continuing to work together to share more of our data with DPLA.

The National Archives’ participation in DPLA over the years has been an opportunity to share our content more broadly, open new doors for research and discovery, and engage and connect with users from across the United States and around the world. I am especially proud of the work done collaboratively by the National Archives and participating institutions to expand access to information through DPLA. The ability to seamlessly search across the collections of major cultural, historical, and research institutions alongside the holdings of local museums and libraries improves democracy through education, and furthers the principles of open government.

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International Archives Day

On Saturday, June 9, the National Archives joins with archives around the world to celebrate International Archives Day, a commemoration of the day the International Council on Archives (ICA) was created in 1948. This day is dedicated to promoting the great work of archives and archivists in preserving and providing public access to our communities’ historical records and promoting access to government records for transparency and accountability.

The National Archives is an active participant in the ICA. I am proud to stand beside our colleagues in the worldwide archival profession as we share and learn from each other, address common issues, and promote the value of archives and their importance to our society and democracy.

On International Archives Day, archives all over the world host special events to show off their collections or the work that they do, and share stories with each other and with fans of archives worldwide. You can see an interactive world map of International Archives Day events on the International Council on Archives website, along with a special online exhibition highlighting the history and activities of the ICA from 1948 to 2018.

Join the National Archives in this worldwide celebration for a special event in Washington, DC this Saturday, June 9, 2018, from 10:00am to 5:30pm. There will be hands-on activities in the Boeing Learning Center exploring the work of the National Archives and some of the important records protected here. Peruse the National Archives Museum and see some of the ways that American Memory is protected for current and future generations. This event is free and open to the public.

You can learn more about the history of International Archives Day and the involvement of the National Archives on our Pieces of History blog. We look forward to welcoming you at the National Archives Museum on June 9.

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18th Annual Archivist’s Achievement Awards

Today and every day we celebrate the dedication and hard work of our staff and colleagues at the National Archives. Since 1985, the first full week of May has been set aside as Public Service Recognition Week to honor the men and women who serve our nation as federal, state, county, and local government employees. It provides a fitting time to not only celebrate the contributions of National Archives staff but also the contributions of the entire federal workforce.

This year, we decided to expand to a whole Public Service Recognition Month, allowing us both to participate in the nationwide events and to honor service to the American public with the due measure it deserves. Earlier this week, we celebrated with the 18th Annual Archivist’s Achievement Awards ceremony, which gives me the opportunity to thank our staff for their passion and dedication to serving NARA’s mission and the American people.

During the ceremony, we once again gave our customers a chance to sing the praises of our employees. Almost every day I receive comments praising the work of NARA staff. We were able to incorporate some of these statements into the awards program to hear directly from the people who benefit from the great work that we do:

We had 72 nominations for awards this year. This Archivist’s Achievement Awards ceremony is an opportunity to acknowledge our colleagues who dedicate their time and talents to make the National Archives a great place to work, and recognize colleagues who went above and beyond expectations and succeeded in ways not intended.

This past year, staff across the National Archives scanned many pages for the National Archives Catalog, provided great customer service to House and Senate staffs, moved lots of Obama Presidential Materials, digitized and made available hundreds of reels of World War I and World War II footage, cultivated public participation through social media, assisted Puerto Rico’s archives and cultural institutions in their post-hurricane recovery, modernized the General Records Schedule, and developed and produced the Declarations@NPRC newsletter, providing essential communications to the employee community. And these are just a few examples! You can learn more about these incredible accomplishments in the awards program.

The Archivist’s Awards Ceremony is important to me. This event honors the remarkable work that happens at this agency every single day. And it gives me the opportunity to highlight some of the amazing accomplishments and the chance to say thank you. As I said to the staff at the ceremony: you are the most dedicated group of people. You take tremendous pride in the work you do, and rightfully so. And I am proud of what you do each and every day.

Thank you for your service, and Happy Public Service Recognition Month.

 

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History Hub: A 21st Century Model for Archival Reference

When the National Archives launched History Hub in January 2016, we hoped it would be a game-changing way to provide access to information and diverse sources of expertise.  I’m pleased to share that what started out as an experimental project has become an active community of researchers and experts.

The idea for History Hub began with research into how organizations can best communicate with and serve their audiences. We discovered that our customers expect instantaneous feedback, self-service information retrieval, and personalized interactions with organizations. We were inspired by the success that technology companies have had with online support communities; these platforms invite connections between staff, customers, and enthusiasts who bring their own expertise to the forum. In a resource-constrained environment, we were also excited by the possibility of enabling many-to-many interactions, helping us to serve researchers more quickly and efficiently by harnessing the collective knowledge of internal and external experts.  Informed by these insights and models, the National Archives decided to launch History Hub (history.gov), a crowdsourcing platform for people interested in researching history.  History Hub offers tools like discussion boards, blogs, and community pages to bring together experts and researchers interested in American history.

History Hub homepage

Homepage of History Hub, history.gov

We like to think of History Hub as both a community and an interactive knowledge base that scales and improves in quality over time.  Through History Hub, we aim to facilitate historical research, connect with audiences, enable contributions from people with a variety of expertise, and ultimately improve customer service to researchers.

So, how is our experiment paying off? History Hub has seen a steady increase in traffic and activity since launch, enabling continued growth of the knowledge base that powers the platform. With additional organizations coming on board to participate and provide expertise—and with search engines driving new visits as new questions are asked and are answered—History Hub is showing the potential to reach and serve millions of people per year. Here’s what has happened on History Hub since January 2016:

  • Questions asked: 968
  • Answers posted: 1,068
  • Registered users: 4,355
  • Unique visitors: 71,275
  • Pageviews: 3,811,702

This project is a collaboration across the National Archives, with leadership from our Research Services staff, the Office of Innovation, and IT. Our reference staff are excited by the potential of the platform as well as the opportunity to collaborate more closely with peer institutions. On History Hub, our staff have answered research questions alongside knowledgeable people outside of the National Archives, including citizen historians, scholars, and experts at other cultural organizations. For example, the Library of Congress has come together with NARA staff to provide researchers with more complete answers about their questions related to the 1895 Atlanta Exposition, the Revolutionary War, and Thomas Jefferson’s papers. In other cases, genealogists have assisted others researching their own family history and citizen historians collaborated to identify and interpret a servicemember’s insignia (note: this discussion was one of them most popular in the last year). We are really pleased to see evidence of this kind of many-to-many communication, which is a critical supplement to the one-to-one support the National Archives offers through phone, email, and research visits.  We’re excited to see how History Hub grows and what it will teach us about how archives can provide great reference services in the digital age.

Have you tried History Hub yet? Here are some tips for getting started:

Give it a try and let us know what you think!

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U.S. Coast Guard Logbook Scan-a-Thon

The featured scanning project from the National Archives Innovation Hub focuses on logbooks of the U.S. Coast Guard vessels that served in the Vietnam War. These vessels participated in Operation Market Time, an effort to patrol the South Vietnamese coast to keep supplies from reaching North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces.

The logbooks contain the highlights of each ship’s voyage, written up every four hours by the deck officer on watch. Information recorded may include incidents of shots fired, transportation of detainees, and contact with friendly or unfriendly vessels. Many veterans of the Vietnam War use these logbooks today to help establish their eligibility for veterans’ benefits.

Logbook cover for the USCG Point Glover

Logbook cover for the USCG Point Glover, December 1966. National Archives Identifier 75675099

To support this digitization project, the Innovation Hub recently held a scan-a-thon, inviting staff and the public to help veterans access the history of the ships they served on by scanning logbook pages. Thanks to our citizen scanners, we exceeded our goal of 2,000 pages and scanned a total of 2,314 pages in one day!

Once each month’s logbook is scanned, it is uploaded into our online Catalog and made easily available to everyone. View the completed logbooks in our Catalog.

Among the 20 attendees at the scan-a-thon were five Coast Guard veterans who scanned the logbooks of the ships they had served on in Vietnam. After the event, veteran Tom Livingston emailed to say:

“I had a great time in the Innovation Hub and I appreciate all of the hospitality shown to me by you and your staff. It was a thrill for me to touch some of the documents I wrote 50 years ago in Vietnam. I enjoyed it so much that I will plan another trip to DC this summer.”

Tom Livingston, former commander of the Point Slocum, points to his signature on a logbook page

Tom Livingston, former commander of the Point Slocum, points to his signature on a logbook page

Also attending were Scott Price, Chief Historian of the Coast Guard, and Emily Brockway from the Coast Guard’s Office of External Outreach and Heritage. The Innovation Hub hopes to work with these Coast Guard offices in the future as we continue the project.

Archives specialist Adebo Adetona gave a talk about the logbooks, how they were created, and how they are used today. The talk was streamed on Facebook Live. One attendee emailed later to say:

“I am glad that someone videotaped the lecture portion because the impact became more clear to me about the usage of the scans. Previously, I thought it was about Veteran pension benefits; now, I know that the scans support veterans made ill by Agent Orange exposure receive medical benefits rightfully due to them.”

Adebo Adetona delivers his talk

Adebo Adetona delivers his talk

Many thanks to all of our citizen scanners and scan-a-thon participants for helping to make these important records more accessible to our veterans. We estimate that there are over 100,000 total pages that need to be scanned for this project, so there is more work to be done. If you are interested in helping scan, visit us in the Hub! You can learn more about this project and how to volunteer at the National Archives Innovation Hub.

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Delighting Audiences, One Hashtag Party at a Time

Since launching the #ArchivesHashtagParty in August 2017, the National Archives has brought together over 600 archives, libraries, and museums around the world and reached millions of people on Twitter and Instagram. More than 48,000 tweets have used our campaign hashtags and the initiative has generated thousands of visits to the online National Archives Catalog.

Archives Hashtag Party

Each monthly hashtag theme is chosen to spur discovery of our holdings, interest in our mission, and hopefully to spark delight in discovering archival materials. Although many of these topics– #ArchivesSquadGoals, #ArchivesGameNight, or #ArchivesDanceParty–may seem lighthearted, they make history accessible on a personal level.

After we hosted #ArchivesCute in September, Vox wrote that the theme “provides a glimpse into what a vintage Instagram would have looked like…When we think of historical archives and photos from the past, most of us tend to envision stuffy documentary footage, stone-faced ancestors posing for family photos, or famous moments in history captured by journalists on the scene. We certainly don’t think of history as aligning with the way we view the world around us today.”

Initially, we had planned a six-month run, but we received such positive feedback from audiences and cultural organizations alike that we decided to open up the #ArchivesHashtagParty as regular monthly digital gathering. It’s especially gratifying to see that with each installment in the series, we further our goal to be a convening force for cultural organizations that raises the visibility and impact of archives around the world.

One of the primary goals of the National Archives Social Media Strategy is to “cultivate a community of practice,” and this has been one of the guiding principles behind the #ArchivesHashtagParty. We designed the parties to be inclusive and easy for archives of all types to jump in and feature their own collections. After we saw the power of these digital gatherings to mobilize our community, we realized we had an opportunity to highlight the role of archives by inviting guest organizations to co-host themes.

In February 2018, our first guest co-host was the National Museum of African American History and Culture, who hosted #ArchivesBlackHistory. Today, Friday, May 4, our co-host is the National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. We’ll share photos and stories about animal care and conservation with the theme #ArchivesAnimals. Through these kinds of takeovers we are able to broaden our range of subjects, enliven the series with fresh takes on engaging the public with collections, and reach new audiences.

NOLA Jazz Museum image of musician playing the accordion

The National Archives #ArchivesHashtagParty has ignited a social media phenomenon that is greater than the sum of its parts. Alone, each archive is a single voice in the crowded social media space; together we are attracting viral attention that acts as a multiplier of all of our individual audiences.

I am proud of the National Archives staff who have contributed to this campaign and have collaborated in a meaningful way, taking NARA’s social media efforts to a new, worldwide audience. They have also strengthened the global community of archives, bringing visibility to our collective holdings and the value of the work we do.

Learn more at: archives.gov/hashtagparty

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Thief Sentenced for Stealing Artifacts from the National Archives

By stealing World War II records from the National Archives and Records Administration and selling them to collectors, a thief victimized the American people and damaged the agency entrusted with safeguarding our nation’s records. Antonin DeHays recently received 364 days in prison and three years on probation, eight months of which are to be served in home confinement, along with 100 hours of community service, for the theft of records from the National Archives.

DeHays, a private researcher, stole and sold identification tags and related items from files of American servicemen whose planes were downed in Europe during World War II, as well as other original records from the National Archives at College Park.

Images of stolen dog tags

A few of the items stolen by Antonin DeHays from the National Archives at College Park

Judge Theodore D. Chuang sentenced DeHays at the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland, also ordering him to pay $43,456.96 restitution to those who unknowingly purchased the stolen goods. Chuang said DeHays committed “an egregious, morally repugnant crime” of “auctioning of our history to the highest bidder.”

As Archivist of the United States, I attended the sentencing and delivered a Victim Impact Statement, describing the tremendous damage that DeHays caused the National Archives, and asked for a maximum prison term as a consequence of the crime’s impact and in order to send a message to others about the serious nature of this offense.

I am pleased that Judge Chuang gave DeHays a stiff punishment for his crimes. His sentence sends a strong message to others who may contemplate stealing our nation’s history. The theft of records from the National Archives amounts to stealing from the American people, and it merits a severe penalty whenever it occurs. During his remarks, Judge Chuang stated:

Mr. DeHays, you have committed a very serious offense.  Your actions were an affront not only to every American who has ever served in uniform under the flag that stands behind me, but to every American child … who has ever pledged allegiance to that flag in their classroom, because it is for them that the National Archives are preserved, so that they can be inspired by our high points and learn from our low points, so as to make this nation and this world a better place in the future.  We must ensure that no one will commit the same kind of crime again.”

I remain shocked and angered that a historian would show such disregard for records and artifacts. As a veteran, I am disgusted that anyone would steal records and artifacts documenting those captured or killed in the service of their nation.

When a theft does occur, we rely on the Office of the Inspector General and the Justice Department to build a case and bring the perpetrator to justice. I want to thank them and recognize them for their hard work and collaboration identifying the loss and working to ensure the return of stolen items. We can always learn from a theft such as this, including any weaknesses and vulnerabilities in our processes. The security of the holdings of the National Archives is my highest priority and I pledge to continuously improve our policies and procedures to ensure our holdings are safe, while maintaining the balance of providing access to the records of the American people.

You can read my Victim Impact Statement and the remarks by Judge Chuang.

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Great and Good Friends: National Archives Loans Artifacts to Thai Exhibition

The National Archives played a major role in the grand opening last week of a new exhibition in Bangkok, Thailand, at the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles. An international group effort, the exhibit—“Great and Good Friends: 200 Years of U.S.-Thai Friendship”—features more than 40 records and gifts loaned from the National Archives.

The items exchanged between Thai royalty and American Presidents—including ceremonial letters, head-of-state gifts, and an 11-foot facsimile of the 1833 U.S.-Siam Treaty—have never before been exhibited outside the United States. They will be featured among manuscripts, musical instruments, textiles, and other 19th-century artifacts loaned from the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution.

Members of the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles exhibit loan international install team pose in Bangkok, Thailand

Members of the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles exhibit loan international install team pose in Bangkok, Thailand, on March 3, 2018. National Archives representatives are Presidential Libraries museum collections officer Kim Koons (rear, third from left) and National Archives supervisory conservator Abigail Aldrich (Photo courtesy of Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, Bangkok, Thailand)

The “Great and Good Friends: 200 Years of U.S.-Thai Friendship” exhibit opened on March 21, 2018, at the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles  in Bangkok, Thailand, and continues through June 30, 2018. United States Ambassador to Thailand Glyn Davies had the idea for the exhibition.

The title of the exhibit originates from the formal greeting—“Great and Good Friends”—used by U.S. Presidents in addressing the kings of Siam when contact between the two governments was limited to envoys and letters. The friendship between the nations began when an American sea captain entered the port of Bangkok and initiated an historic association between the two nations. These ceremonial gifts, on loan from the National Archives and our Presidential Libraries, reflect the continuing strong friendship of the American and Thai peoples.

We are pleased to share these and other historic treasures, and are honored to partner with the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Meridian International, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Queen Sirikit Museum on the ‘Great and Good Friends’ exhibit.

While many of the objects are in remarkable condition, particularly for their age, some items underwent conservation to improve their stability in preparation for display. Conservation staff at the National Archives provided professional oversight of the treatment services performed on the decorative objects, textiles, and textual items from the agency.

National Archives supervisory conservator Abigail Aldrich and senior conservator Lauren Varga share several items including a silver niello bowl

National Archives supervisory conservator Abigail Aldrich and senior conservator Lauren Varga shared several items including a silver niello bowl with gold trim given by King Prajadhipok to President Herbert Hoover in 1931. From the Collection of the U.S. National Archives, Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. (National Archives photo by Jeffrey Reed)

Other related resources within the National Archives Catalog include the daguerreotype of King Mongkut and daughter, from King Mongkut to President James Buchanan, 1861; a Siamese sword with scabbard, from King Mongkut to President James Buchanan, 1861; and a letter from King Chulalongkorn to President Theodore Roosevelt. A silver-framed photograph of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, inscribed by the King and given to President John F. Kennedy in 1963, is available to view via the online Kennedy Library catalog.

For more information on items within the exhibit from other sources, see the recent Library of Congress blog post that showcases the Library’s Thai instruments on loan. For more detailed information on the “Great and Good Friends” exhibit and a history of the relationship between the two nations, see the Great and Good Friends exhibition website.

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Celebrating Information Access: Sunshine Week 2018

Sunshine Week is an annual nationwide celebration of access to public information. It was  launched more than a decade ago by the American Society of News Editors, and is embraced by journalists, librarians, concerned citizens, civil society organizations, elected officials, and government employees as an opportunity to discuss the importance of open government and its impact.

Sunshine Week 2018 logo
The National Archives and Records Administration will host several events in observance of Sunshine Week. Events include an educational symposium, a week-long transcription challenge engaging citizen archivists, and a panel discussion. Sunshine Week allows the National Archives to highlight how it is a leader in open government.

Sunshine Week 2018 at the National Archives will begin with a special program on Monday, March 12, 2018, at 1 p.m. in the William G. McGowan Theater in Washington, DC. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont will offer the keynote address entitled “Championing The Public’s Right to Know.”  Several breakout sessions featuring government leaders and experts will focus on innovation in the Federal Government, congressional digital engagement, and open data.

Throughout Sunshine Week, the National Archives will also sponsor a special citizen archivist mission focusing on transcription of the Pentagon Papers, starting on March 12. The Citizen Archivist Dashboard offers more information on how to engage in the transcription challenge.    

To round out the Sunshine Week events, the National Archives will host a panel discussion entitled “Access and Transparency—Records Held at the National Archives” on March 14, 2018, at 2 p.m. in the William G. McGowan Theater in Washington, DC. The program focuses on how to request and access the restricted and non-restricted Federal records held at the National Archives. The panel of staff experts will discuss and answer questions about their work in making records available from our executive, legislative, and Presidential holdings.

The National Archives Sunshine Week events are free and open to the public, but registration is required for the March 12 event. The program will also be available via livestream from the National Archives YouTube Channel.

Learn more and find the full program of events on the FOIA Ombudsman blog.

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