NARA: A Digitization Case Study

NARA: A Digitization Case Study

Kristen Cissne
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8358-7.ch049
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The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is considered the official record keeper of the United States of America. In existence for over 75 years, NARA is responsible for a significant amount of records. With the changing times and technology, NARA has been faced with the challenge of becoming an organization focused on making these records available in a digital format. NARA has risen to the challenge in a multitude of ways. It continues to transform and discover new ways to meet the demands of its customer, the American people. This case study explores the major steps taken towards the digitization effort, and the biggest challenges faced. It covers the successes met thus far and expected plans for growth in the future.
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Setting The Stage

Prior to the age of the Internet, those that wanted to research and enjoy the holdings of the National Archives had to do so in person or by mail. NARA really began to change with the times in the early 1990s, with the Electronic Access Project. About 124,000 digital copies were made available through the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) on NARA’s Web site. The copies included over 15,000 textual documents, 66 architectural and engineering drawing items, 60 artifact items, 323 maps and charts, and 58,399 still pictures (National Archives and Records Administration, 2007). At the time of the project’s completion, NARA was well aware of the difficulty involved with the creation and preservation of digitization. Its available resources at the time were not able to meet the demands of large-scale digitization projects.

In 2006, NARA drafted its strategic plan, which set the ball rolling for a major digitization effort. The United States Archivist at the time, Allen Weinstein, is credited with the start of this effort. He placed the most emphasis on addressing the challenges of Federal electronic records, eliminating the backlog of unprocessed records, including classified records and expanding NARA’s leadership and services in managing the national government’s records (Weinstein, 2007). The plan acknowledged that increasing demand by users for more online records played a major role in its focus on intensifying the digitization effort. NARA stated its dedication as an agency to persistently improve its programs and services through innovation and technological advances. NARA staff would now be expected to participate in continued education and professional development programs (National Archives and Records Administration, 2006).

The plan also recognized that as the record keeper of the nation, the agency is continuously made aware of the various benefits and demands of technology in molding the way the Government does business. The birth of electronic government has uncovered records management issues as the electronic records continue to increase in both volume and format. “The ability to find, organize, use, share, appropriately dispose of, and save records—the essence of records management—is vital for the effective functioning of the Federal Government” (National Archives and Records Administration, 2006, p. 1).

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