On Saturday, August 6, more than a dozen Wikipedians attended the backstage pass tour and scanathon at the United States National Archives in College Park, Maryland. The day began at around 11 a.m., as attendees mingled casually among snacks and swag in a lecture room while others passed through security and registered for visitors passes, property passes, and researcher cards. By about 11:30, we got under way.
Kristen Albrittain, a member of NARA’s social media team on the open government staff, welcomed the Wikipedians and offered the National Archives’ perspective on the importance of working with Wikipedia (and its sister projects in the Wikimedia family, like Wikimedia Commons). She also announced that the National Archives is actively exploring ways to continue its relationship with the Wikimedia projects after the end of the summer when the current residency is scheduled to end.
Dominic, Wikipedian in Residence at the National Archives, gave a talk on the various NARA WikiProjects (on Wikipedia, on Wikisource, and on Wikimedia Commons). In particular, there was discussion about NARA’s ongoing batch upload of more than 100,000 of its digital files and the logistics of metadata, scripting, and categorizing. Attendees were also introduced to Wikisource, Wikimedia’s repository of primary-source texts, with which many were unfamiliar. Afterward, our hosts had pizza delivered for lunch and provided National Archives chocolate.
At around 2 p.m., attendees were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour by Dr. Kenneth Heger, Senior Supervisory Archivist at the National Archives. Ken took the group back into one of the stack areas for textual records which houses the State Department’s consular records. He showed us pension files, which can often contain hidden gems like an appropriately oversized naturalization certificate from Texas, and this bundle of correspondence tied together with real government red tape (which now illustrates the article).
Finally, those who could stay spent the last 2 hours or so in the research room. The day before, NARA staff had pulled a full cart of boxes with records from the Treasury Department, Navy, Bureau of Ships, and Signal Corps, including some requested ahead of time on Wikipedia. Working on three scanners at once, we helped to scan these never-before-digitized documents in high-resolution for Commons (see Category:August 2011 NARA Backstage Pass for the scans and other pictures from the event). Others also worked on articles, transcribed on Wikisource, or categorized images on Commons.
The documents scanned will now be entered into the National Archives’ online catalog and these new scans will be used in NARA’s catalog records. For example, check out Nicole (at left), a French Resistance fighter who helped capture 25 Nazis in Chartres.1 This incredible photo, from the records of the Signal Corps, was scanned and uploaded by a Wikipedia volunteer. Before Saturday, that document wasn’t even described at the item-level in the online catalog; now you’ll not only find Nicole and her automatic rifle in ARC, but you can also download the high-resolution TIFF file from the scan at Commons. And now all researchers at the National Archives and its web site will be able to benefit from Wikimedians’ efforts even if they had never even heard of Wikimedia Commons, while at the same time, writers on Wikipedia looking to illustrate their articles will have ready access to high-quality historical documents already uploaded to the site for them to use.
We hope this is only the first of many such events, and are already planning our next scanathon for September or October! Special thanks to the Wikipedians, Blue Wizard, Carl Lindberg, CutOffTies, Cyde, Danaman5, Frederic Chalfant, Jarek Tuszynski, Kirill Lokshin, Larry Morse, Marek Tuszynski, Max McBride, Slowking4, and Wehwalt, for spending their Saturday at the National Archives, and to the NARA staff, Kristen Albrittain, Benjamin Christensen, Meredith Doviak, and Kenneth Heger.
Pictures from the event
Sampling of scanned documents