Question: If you could personalize your experience of NARA’s research Web pages and online catalog with a customized user account, what features would it include and how would they help you?

If you could personalize your experience of NARA’s research Web pages and online catalog with a customized user account, what features would it include and how would they help you?

Our latest ARC update included a new feature called “My List,” which allows users to temporarily collect, print and email descriptions. These lists can be viewed and added to as long as the ARC session is not closed or allowed to idle for 30 minutes (at which point all collected information is cleared.) While we’ve been really pleased with this new functionality, we know that there’s a lot of room for improvement. For instance, it would be great if researchers could save their lists from one session to the next. What other suggestions would you offer for your ideal customized ARC and website experience?

13 thoughts on “Question: If you could personalize your experience of NARA’s research Web pages and online catalog with a customized user account, what features would it include and how would they help you?

  1. To be honest, I think NARA should focus on making the holdings digitized in high resolution formats like the items in the Library of Congress catalog. Most of the digital items in the NARA catalog are low resolution files that are useless when using them in presentations, work, etc. It’s all public domain and should be available to the public in high resolution files for use. It’s too expensive for many of us to travel to NARA to personally scan the documents ourselves. The Library of Congress catalog is a great resource to emulate on how they handle the digital files.

  2. Ideally, I would like the option for the site to suggest other items from the catalog to explore that are related to what I have saved. For example I search for a Pension record from Revolutionary War. I could click a button “related material” and other NARA sources would appear. I wouldn’t have to be a expert in what is available at NARA…and could possibly find exactly what I need.

  3. I agree with Marcia that a suggestions feature would be fantastic. The holdings at NARA are so extensive there are collections that are vastly under-utilized.

    I would also like an option to personally annotate collections for my future reference.

  4. I use Zotero in my own research and would love to be able to save from ARC into that note taking system. I’m not clear what it takes to configure these “translators” but it would be interesting to learn if that was an option. Zotero is open source equivalent to endnote and other bibliography software. My sense is if the catalog can work with Zotero it could also work with those other systems.

  5. What does it mean to “personalize an experience” ? William Wordsworth was the last one I know of who did this with any success. The expression is not very helpful.

  6. Lucy,
    This is a great idea. The Zotero folks gave us a presentation a couple of years ago. The current version of ARC definitely would need a Zotero translator and one is likely to be needed for the new online catalog, too. It would depend on the coding.

    If anyone has any Zotero translator-writing experience and has some time to give writing a translator for ARC a shot, that would be great! We would love to hear about it.

    Thanks for the suggestion.

  7. The My List feature is an outstanding addition to help users effectively utilize the NARA collections and be interested in returning to find what they have already collected.

    I’m not sure I understand the comments about low resolution since I have always found a link to a higher resolution image also available.

    Keep up the great work!

  8. I’ve been a user of the NARA digital imagery for at least 10 years….you continue to DISAPPOINT me in the low grade, poorly laid out, and far far TOO complicated a system to find and retrieve a PUNY GIF image..who uses GIF anymore of digital images???.
    Here is just ONE example of the TERRIBLE way the software was written…
    Drill into search block, type in Civil War railroad…you should get 48 or 49 images type the same request make railroad PLURAL….ONE HIT, REPEAT ONE HIT…I have tried repeatedly to get someone to address the terrible setup of this search system with no results….in fact, all I got back was a lot of whining and defensiveness on how hard they were trying…..
    Either go BACK to the old NAIL system, or walk over to the Library of Congress and ask them how to do the job properly….still annoyed after all these years…Dave

    1. Hi Dave,
      Thanks for your feedback on the ARC system. At the time it was built, we made an effort to identify the needs of our researchers and to design a system that met those needs. At this point in time, NARA is developing a new system for online public access to NARA’s holdings. This new system will address a number of your concerns, including your frustrations with stemming. For example, instead of searching on the exact word railroads, the system will search for any variation of the word railroad, including the plural. A broader example of this would be a search for the word children, wherein the user would return hits on child and child’s, as well as the original variant. The system will also have a built in recommender function and a more visually prominent hierarchical display, both of which should help with navigation. We’re taking user feedback seriously as we prioritize requirements for the new system, so if you have other suggestions or comments, you’re welcome to send them to us at


  9. One thing I’d like is to be able to subscribe to this blog and to the Open Government Idea forum BY EMAIL (not RSS) and to get the option to subscribe in digest form. All other worthwhile blogs / forums that I subscribe to allow this. Why not this one? Also, could you reorganize the comments so the most recent appear at the top? BTW, I’ve tried multiple times to subscribe to the Open government forum and each time it tells me I’ve subscribed. But the RSS feed is not there nor do I get email. I’ve also posted this very message several times and still no response. If this does not improve soon I’ll quit checking in.
    Thank you.

  10. Well…about the usual; a huge government organization spends an even larger amount of taxpayer money. The results? An unusale maze of nonsense that it is impossible to use.

    1. Hi, Phil –

      Thank you for your comment. We appreciate your feedback and would be happy to address any specific questions you may have. If you have ideas on how we can help enhance your research experience, please don’t hesitate to let us know. You can reach us via e-mail at

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