DC-area Researchers: Welcome to our new discussion space!

Our researchers in Archives I asked for a way that we could continue the discussions begun at our recent researcher meeting at Archives I in Washington, DC. Special media researchers have also encouraged us to make communications easier with staff and managers.

In response, we’re introducing a specialized series here on NARAtions. This new set of posts, called DC-area Researchers, will be a new online gathering place where you can talk with NARA staff about what’s happening at Archives I and II. We hope that you’ll add your ideas, concerns, and comments to the discussion!

To get started, we want to pose a couple of questions: What types of microfilm equipment would you like to see in the Archives I and II research rooms? Are there other types of equipment you would like to have in any of our textual or special media research rooms?

42 thoughts on “DC-area Researchers: Welcome to our new discussion space!

  1. Thanks for asking our opinions! I would like to see microfilm readers where you can scan the image and save it to a flash drive, such as the ScanPro 2000. I saw one in the microfilm room, but you need more. The other option is to limit the amount each person can spend on the machine. Last time I was there one gentleman was on the machine most of the day.

    1. Thanks to all of you for the suggestions and comments about equipment in the research rooms! The staff at Archives I is currently testing various machines that will allow you to save scanned images and plans to have new scanners in the renovated research room. We’ll keep you posted on the results of our testing and on our plans to acquire the new equipment.

      Angela – There isn’t currently a time limit on the use of the microfilm printers or scanners. However, if you do encounter a researcher who seems to be spending excessive time on one copier, please notify the reference room staff. The reference room staff can ensure that everyone has an opportunity to use the machine.
      Karen – We are looking at various book scanners for Archives I. The book scanner is a more expensive piece of equipment than a traditional paper copier so, although the scanner does not use any paper or toner, the fees for scanning reflect the cost of using the machine. NARA periodically reevaluates its fees and the cost of using the book scanner can be included in the next evaluation.

      1. DC-area researchers, we are testing a number of scanners at Archives I. Please stop by to test this equipment and give us your feedback!

        The Scan-Pro all-in-one microfilm viewer, scanner-to-PC printer equipment trial in the Archives I microfilm research room has been extended to March 10th.

        The Scan-Pro offers: High resolution scan of your microfilm in one second; single zoom lens covers 7X to 54X; real time, live viewing right on your PC monitor; use with all film types and micro opaques; and 3600 optical image rotation and digital rotation.

        We also have the ST200X digital film scanner on trial which offers similar scanning capabilities. The company we are working with has a newer model in production. We hope to set up a trial with it in the near future.

        On March 5th, we will have the ZScan 46-II on trial. This is a universal digital microform scanner. This piece of equipment is similar to the MS800 reader-printers that we currently have in the room.

        1. Harold and Lee James – Thanks for sharing your concerns about the maintenance of the current microfilm machines. We hope most of the maintenance issues will be alleviated as we replace the old machines with newer models. We encourage you to stop by Archives I and try out some of the new machines we currently have for testing. Harold, you also mentioned a concern about staff. Please feel free to let Diane Dimkoff or Gary Morgan know of any concerns you have.

  2. We need a good color book scanner in the textual reading room. Saving to a flash drive vs. printing saves money and the environment. The book scanner you have at Archives II is fine, but charging .50 per copy when no toner or paper is being used, is too expensive and researchers will use their digital cameras as an alternative. Charging .10. to .15 per scan is reasonable, and will encourage people to use it. The machine will pay for itself.
    Lower the price at Archives II and you may find that you can pay for the machine faster.

  3. I used the ScanPro1000 at the FHL in SLC. As a scanner it did a great job saving the image to a Flash Drive or print to the printer.

    Using it as a reader was a problem. If you went frame by frame there was a slight delay for the image to re-focus. If you were looking for something and had no idea where it was located on the film the faster you advanced the film the longer it took for the image to focus so it was readable.

    The ProScan is used as a copier not a reader at the FHL. The menu is activated with the mouse and is very user friendly. There was not a great learning curve.

    The image could be enhanced and lightened or darken to assure readability. The “Edit Selected Image Area” which allowed a specific area within the document to be lighten or darken for readability did not allow you to print the document with that area enhanced. This may have been corrected on the 2000 version.

    One of the drawbacks is the machine does have a tendency to overheat and then takes a while to cool down so it can be used again. If it is being used as a reader this could cause a problem after several hours use. This problem may not exist in the later version the ProScan 2000.

  4. At present I spend more time fighting with the equipment in the microfilm room than I do researching through records to find the desired document. Often I find readers that will not focus, lens that either enlarge too much or too little and too many staff members that are totally indifferent to my needs. Then there is the scanner that creates an image that photo editing software will not open. I believe each station must have an all inclusive device where you can view the image, save it to a flash drive, save it to a CD, and print the image. The only justification I can see for having one machine to view the image and another for saving and printing the image is that the two individual machines are each superior to an all inclusive machine.

  5. Speaking both as a researcher and a volunteer consultant, I second Angela and Marie’s comments. A further issue is maintenance. Current equipment is used hard and by people who aren’t familiar with its operation. There’s no way around that fact in a public facility. It’s a given and can’t be controlled. What can be controlled, however, is the promptness of repair. I’m sure that a maintenance contract that calls for prompt service is more expensive than one that is less demanding. But if the number of reader/printer/scanners is to be cut to half or less, it’s vital that they be in working order. As a benchmark, I would think that a piece of equipment should not be out of service for more than a week.

  6. Rebecca

    Can you have a sign up sheet for the scanners that are being tested? That way one person would not be able to stay on a machine for the whole day. If each machine had a sign up sheet for an hour at a time the researchers could move from machine to machine knowing there was a specific time limit.

    1. Hi Marie – Great suggestion! Beginning this morning there will be a sign-up sheet in the reference room for the scanners that are being tested at Archives I.

      There is also a survey available in the reference room so you can give us your feedback about the scanners. And we would love to hear your opinions about the machines right here on NARAtions too!


  7. I, too, would like to thank you for seeking our opinions. It is a 3-hour ride for me and my fellow Delaware researchers to come into NARA and it can be frustrating when the equipment is either not working properly or not available for use becaus other researchers are using one machine exclusively. While you are experimenting with scanners, I have used some that when it comes time to print or to save to a drive, I can only get a partial image. It takes several scans to get a large newspaper article for example. Is there a way to resolve this, so you don’t have to piecemeal the larger articles?

    1. Sally – Thanks for sharing your experiences using scanners. We’ll keep in mind the need for machines that can scan large documents as we test potential new machines. If you are going to be in Washington any time soon, I hope you will have the chance to stop by Archives I to try out the machines we have in the research room.


  8. As a researcher who lives in Florida and only occasionally has access on business trips to the DC area, I’d like to make the following observations:
    – The proposal to require staff to pull microfilm would be disasterous to me as I am time limited on my visits. It is currently very difficult to access material upstairs because I must put in pull request and then wait. I seldom can arrange my time to fit into the schedule of pulls. If I faced this same issue on microfilm I fear my reasearch would be virtually shut down.
    – The current machines used for printing copies of microfilm are old and in very poor condition – copies are frequently unreadable and it may take several tries to get a reasonable copy.
    – Many of the microfilm machines are in poor condition with handles not working.
    – The new machine which allows writing to CD is extremely slow and it is very difficult to review saved images thus I find myself home with poor quality images.
    – If space is an issue, I’d suggest consoldiating into 5 or so fully functioning and well maintained readers and perhaps 3 of the newer readers like those at the Family History Library in Salt Lake. These are not extremely costly machines and they do a wonderful job. They save the results very rapidly (2 to 3 seconds verses the 10 to 20 seconds of the one machine in DC).

    1. TC- I hope you’ll be happy to hear that you’ll still be able to pull your own films when you come to visit us. Based on researchers’ feedback, we are keeping the microfilm in the reference area.
      In addition, we will be replacing the microfilm readers as part of the remodeling of the research space in Archives I. The current plans call for 15 microfilm reader/printers and 15 microfilm scanners in the remodeled research room but we are still in the planning stages and are continuing to gather input from the researchers.

  9. Thank you for your quick response. I know there is a group from Delaware scheduled to come up in mid-March for research.

    I have another comment but it is not related to the equipment specifically. The microfilm readers are a distance from the drawers with the films. I understand the reason for only havine one film at a machine at a time. Is it possible to select several films from the drawers and putting them on hold at the staff desk in the reader room? There are times that the film I choose does not have what I need but the next one does. It would speed up the process. Just a thought.

    1. Sally – Thanks for the great suggestion! I passed it along to Diane Dimkoff, the Director of the Customer Services Division. Diane thought it might be an excellent solution for researchers who are interested in multiple films and she will see how it could be implemented. I’ll keep you posted here as I find out more.

  10. I agree with Marie’s earlier comments on the ProScan, presently used by the FHL in SLC. I had never used the equipment before. It was an easy orientation, fast and easy to use, a vast improvement over paper copiers for the many reasons cited above.

  11. I second what some have already said, but thought that it would not hurt to have another voice say it again. I would like to see an area where I could scan and save images to a flash drive and not be limited to having just a few machines on which time would be limited. This is especially good when there is a film for which I want to take many images from that I can review later in the comfort of my own space at home. More machines with the capability to scan images to digital media such as a flash drive is really needed as I don’t believe that limiting access by time really works in most cases.

    1. Diane – Thanks for sharing your thoughts. We are planning to have many more scanners in the Archives I research room than we currently have. The current remodeling plans call for 15 scanners and 15 reader/printers in the remodeled research space but, we’re still gathering researchers’ feedback before we finalize any of our plans. As the plans move forward I’ll be sure to keep everyone up to date here on NARAtions.

  12. Sally’s suggestion seems excellent to me. I’ve never understood why FHL can get by allowing researchers to pull 5 films at a time while NARA restricts us to one. If NARA cannot be comfortable with larger film pulls, Sally’s idea–pulling several film rolls and leaving all but one on the staff desk–is worth considering seriously (the parallel to pulling several original records and then accessing only one at a time in Room 203). This would be especially helpful when one is working with indexes and records at the same time.

  13. At one time the MRR kept a list of dates that groups were planning to use facility. If 2 or more groups planned on arriving the same day they were told that another group would also be there. With the drastically reduced number of readers it might be a good idea to keep a list of when groups will be arriving. Even posting the list for others to know that they have to arrive early or plan their research to use 203.

    1. Marie – I checked with the Customer Services Division and they do still keep a list of groups that are planning a research visit. If you, or anyone else, is planning to bring a group to Archives I, we encourage you to let Jessie White in the Customer Services Division know. She can be reached at jessie.white@nara.gov or 202-357-5333.

      – Rebecca

  14. In addition to the great comments being made about new hardware and it usage, I would strongly urge NARA management to plan on increased staff time for introducing researchers to the kinds of equipment. New users will require orientation to the machines or they (o.k., we) will mess it up. Increased staff time equals increased costs. NARA would do well to plan ahead for this.

    1. Lee James – Thanks for the suggestion. We are planning to hold some orientation sessions on using the new microfilm machines after the machines are installed at Archives I. When the dates for the orientation sessions have been determined, I’ll let everyone know here on NARAtions.


  15. I visit the NARA at least once a year. I agree with all of the other comments. It would be nice if the film readers were updated or at least maintained. Pull-on Demand film by staff is a terrible suggestion! It would even take more precious time away from one’s research. Time is money for everyone who visits NARA and this would make it even more expensive for us who have limited time there. As for staff, well it would be nice if the staff were more cross-trained in areas. The last few years the staff at the desk or the person in the film area tends to direct you to the Finding Aids/Consultants area for any questions relating to what you do or do not find in the film room or the archives in general. This was not true 5 to 20 years ago. The staff in the main or film areas are rarely helpful. Also, it would be nice not to have to sign out at the main area and then sign in at the Finding Aids/Consultants area by having only one sign-in all together. Also, there is still a lot of time wasted waiting to see the “correct consultant.” Again, they do not seem to be cross-trained. You have to wait to talk to the the one that is most knowledgeable about your region (which could be the next day or next week (if you have the luxury to afford to stay longer). These consultants are also the ones that take the time to help you fill out the search forms correctly for documents that are pulled. So, I can’t understand why NARA wants to reduce the Finding Aids/Consultants area. I also have a suggestion for the future (when budgeting allows), isn’t there some way you can notified us when our item has been pulled? Again, this would be a time-saver for us. The other thing I would like, again when you have the budget, is to have things pulled at least one day a week during night hours. There is more, but we tend to take things in better with small bites, so I will stop now

  16. Today at NARA I tried the two microfilm reader / scanners (the third, the ZScan 46-II, that was supposed to be there today wasn’t–or at least the staff in the room did not know about it if it was there).

    ST200X: I could not figure out (even with staff assistance!) how to operate it. After finally getting the image displayed I was never able to save it to my thumb drive or to print it. The image was mirrored and when I switched to the PC mode (to save to stick drive) I could not “unmirror” the image (staff could not figure it out either). I finally gave up in frustration. If this model is chosen, a lot of staff training will be needed so that the staff can then train users.

    ScanPro2000: I had much better success with this one. I found it much more intuitive, and never had to call on staff for help, though this was the first time I’d used it. I did get it to display and I got a good, crisp picture saved to my thumb drive. One BIG problem is that the USB port for the drive is hard to get to, as the tower is on the floor. Picture this: I had to crouch down on all fours, way down near to the floor, to insert the thumb drive. Not a pretty sight for passers-by (smile!)

  17. Would it be possible for you to reorganize the comments on this blog so the most recent appear first? That way we wouldn’t have to scroll all the way to the bottom to follow the conversation.

    Second: Can I subscribe to this blog in digest form, PLEASE?

    Finally, I’ve been trying to subscribe to NARA’s other blog (Open Government Idea Forum), which I’d encourage all researchers to visit at:

    I’ve “subscribed” three times and each time it tells me I have subscribed. But I’ve yet to receive anything.

    1. Claire – We are looking into how we can provide the blog to people via email but we don’t currently have that feature. When we know more we will post an update on NARAtions.

      I checked on the RSS feeds from the blog and the Open Government Idea Forum as well as the email subscription for the Open Government Idea Forum. All three appear to be functioning correctly. If you still aren’t receiving the RSS feeds or the email notices it may be that they are being blocked by your spam filter.


  18. I was at NARA on the 8th and used the three scanners that were available.

    ScanPro2000: I agree with Claire, the computer needs to be on the desk not on the floor. This will then increase the footprint of the machines, which in turn may cause a problem in the new proposed renovated space. A larger desk will mean less readers, so a bus load of out of town researchers will probably have a waiting list for a reader. With the proposed space for the “new” MRR there will only be 30 readers.

    Using this scanner the Navy Pension cards on T288 were completely readable. I took an image that was totally black and increased the light until I could read the complete card.

    ST200X: The written instructions and the tool bar across the top helped slightly, but it is still a bear to use. I tried copying T288 Navy Pension Cards and could not adjust the scan to get a readable image. I was able to pick up parts of the image but not enough to be able to read all the numbers.

    The 3rd scanner [I didn’t write down the number] which arrived on the 5th of March is similar to a microfilm printer. The end of the film has to be perfectly flat or it would not go through the automatic feed. This meant each roll of film I used had to have the end cut off by a member of the staff. Not all of the microfilm will have a long lead. It was an awkward machine to use, no instructions, and did not improve the Navy cards at all. The footprint of this machine appeared to be the largest of them all.

    The ST200X still does the best job. But the Dell computer used with it has the USB port in a most awkward place. If the computer is going to be on the floor to take up less space on the desk, so there are at least 30 readers, the USB port needs to be in a readily accessible area.

  19. My RSS reader (NetNewsWire, an excellent program) shows only four news items for this blog since 12 February:
    1. DC-area Researchers: Welcome to our new discussion space! (12 February)
    2. NARA and the 2010 Census (2 March)
    3. DC-area Researchers: Mark your calendars for the next researcher meeting. (4 March)
    4. DC-area Researchers: Agenda for the Researcher Meeting on March 19th at Archives II (16 March)

    I realize there are comments under the four items (I subscribe to those), and I realize there are other “categories” of the blog besides “DC-Area Researchers.” But for this one category, am I missing something? Recently I was told NARA’s system was working properly. My program seems to be working properly, too. Do you think I’m getting everything?


  20. Twenty-four hours ago I posted a question about the lack of activity on the blog. (see 29 March, 9:05 a.m. posting, immediately above this). A day later I’ve received no response, and as far as I can tell NARA has posted nothing new on its blog. If all is really working properly, I suspect a “blog” that bloggers feed this infrequently will not work in the end. Subscribers will lose interest.

    Can someone at least reassure me that I’m getting everything?

    Thank you…with waining hope that this new initiative will keep users involved / engaged.


  21. Claire–I check in to see what is new about once a week. As the editor for our local genealogical society, I have included this blog in our upcoming newsletter to let our members know about it.

  22. I am wondering if there will be anyone to discuss the equipment issues during NARA’s open house next month.

  23. Hi, Claire. We aim to post on NARAtions about twice a week – typically Wednesdays and Fridays. We posted on Monday, Thursday and Friday last week and plan to post again today.

    It seems to me that your RSS reader is working properly. There have been 4 posts in the category DC-area Researchers so far. By the way, we are working on finding a solution to allow for email updates about new blog posts.

    Sally, thanks for checking in with us every week and mentioning us in your newsletter! By Open House, I’m guessing that you are asking about our 6th annual Genealogy Fair which is scheduled for April 14 and 15. I will check with the organizers to find out if anyone plans to discuss equipment issues. If you have specific questions, feel free to post them here.

    Jill (Admin)

  24. Jill–I did mean the Genealogy Fair. It is a really great event and well worth the travel and time for those of us who are not too far distant from D.C. It might be useful to have someone available to demonstrate the various machines to attendees.


  25. Hi Sally,
    We checked with the Genealogy Fair’s organizer, Nancy Fortna, and while there won’t be any sessions or demos of the equipment specifically, she does invite you to come talk to her for a few minutes at the Fair. She won’t be able to answer all of your questions that day, but would be glad to hear your concerns so that they can be addressed after the Fair. If you’re interested, you can ask for her at the Welcome Desk, as she plans to stop by every half hour or so to check on things. She also suggested that if you’d rather not wait, you can bring a list of your questions and leave them for her at the desk.

    I hope this is helpful- and enjoy the Genealogy Fair!

    -Kristen (admin)

  26. For those of you thinking microfilm is on it’s way out I came across an article from yesterday’s Gainesville (GA) Times that explains, better than anything I’ve read, about the importance of microfilm. It also talks about how digitization makes information easier to use and provides greater access to the information. Read the full article here: http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/news/article/25447

    1. Hi Sally,

      The following message is from Ann Cummings, the Director of Access Services, regarding the pension files:

      Since the November 19th User Group Meeting at Archives 2 (College Park, MD), we have not had any further discussions pertaining to moving the Civil War Pension to the NARA facility in St. Louis. Moving the Civil War Pension files is just one option for how to address the space issue at Archives 1 (Washington, DC). No decisions have been reached on this matter. The minutes of the November 19th User Group Meeting have been posted to the NARAtions blog and are available here: http://blogs.archives.gov/online-public-access/?p=3829

      We will keep you apprised of any more discussion on this matter.
      Thank you!

  27. Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed our visit yesterday to the NARA Genealogy Fair. Although I could not stay long enough to take advantage of the sessions, I did enjoy talking with all the staff available to answer questions. An added benefit was the exhibitors.

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