Introducing the Updated National Archives Catalog

Today, the National Archives will roll out the new, updated National Archives Catalog. For over a year, NARA staff worked with the firm Search Technologies to design and develop a robust catalog that will facilitate the Agency’s big, hairy, audacious goal to Make Access Happen. While at first glance, it doesn’t look much different from the Online Public Access (OPA) system, once our users start searching, the differences are apparent.

First and foremost, there’s a new address – check it out at http://www.archives.gov/research/catalog.

Screenshot of catalog search for "Truman"

And now, about what users won’t see – the “under the hood” stuff. First, the catalog is powered by a completely new search engine with improved relevancy rankings and faster response times. The system has been scaled up to initially handle 100 terabytes of data with a future capacity of up to 10,000 terabytes – so we’re more than ready to handle the millions of digital images that have been created through our external partnerships. We’re also pretty excited that the catalog is the second system at the National Archives to be launched completely in the cloud and is fully integrated with the backend system that NARA staff uses to enter descriptions and upload digital content. What does that mean for our end users? Minimal down-time for system maintenance and weekly updates of new content to search and discover.

Once users start searching in the catalog, they’ll see a new look and feel to the user interface (UI). Based on user feedback, the search results have been streamlined into a tabbed interface that groups results. Users who click into a search result that has digital content associated with it will notice an improved viewer that now allows PDFs to be viewed within it, instead of having to download the file. The UI has been optimized for mobile so users can search, discover, and contribute to the catalog on any mobile device.

Let’s talk contributions. Based on the successful transcription pilot in the Citizen Archivist Dashboard, we’ve integrated transcription directly into catalog. We’re proud to note that NARA is the first archives to do that! By registering for an account, users can now not only tag records but they can transcribe them too. Tags and transcriptions will be indexed nightly and fully searchable creating an enhanced level of access that wouldn’t exist without the help of our citizen contributors.

Screenshot of Truman Doctrine transcription screen

Concurrent with the development of the catalog, NARA also developed a public read-write API for the catalog. The API will allow developer communities to use, re-use, and contribute to our data. By Making Access Happen through the API, others can make even more access happen.

We’ll be posting more about the catalog in the next few weeks, explaining new features and highlighting new content. And while we’re excited for the roll-out, the catalog is still a work-in-progress. We’ll be tweaking over time and we want you to be a part of that. Have an idea for an enhancement? Find a glitch? Email us at
catalog@nara.gov
so we can pass it along.

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