It’s a fact that the National Archives holds billions of records. It’s also true that, even with the awesome level of description that staff accomplish each year, it’s a challenge to make items available online as fast as we’d like. Large scale digitization partnerships help, as does every individual record scanned by Citizen Archivists in the Innovation Hub, but we’re always looking for new ways to increase access. Over the past couple of years, the National Archives at Boston has been brainstorming the question and just last month some of the first fruits of their labor became available as part of the Massachusetts Digital Commonwealth.
Early in 2015, National Archives at Boston Director, Alfie Paul, noticed the work that other Massachusetts cultural institutions were doing as part of their membership in the Digital Commonwealth. This state-wide program seeks to provide online access to the records held by libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies in Massachusetts. Of particular interest was the free digitization services offered to member institutions by the Boston Public Library (BPL), through its Library for the Commonwealth initiative.
The Archives reached out to BPL Digital Projects Manager, Tom Blake, and soon Director Paul and senior archivist Nathaniel Wiltzen were visiting the digitization lab at the library to make sure it would meet the Archives’ security and safety standards. The National Archives at Boston formally joined the Digital Commonwealth, received the required agency permissions, and submitted an application to have two series of Naval District photographs digitized. These series, Photographs Depicting Naval Shore Establishments, 1939-1947 and photographs culled from the Administrative History of the First Naval District in World War II, 1946 are among the most heavily used records at Boston. While 110 images are currently available in NARA’s online Catalog, more than nine hundred others had yet to be scanned. That changed this past March when Paul and members of his staff hand delivered the photographs to the BPL lab. In July, the prints were all scanned and the landing page for the collection on the Digital Commonwealth went live with 1,064 images.
As part of the partnership, the National Archives received digital copies of all scans and Boston’s staff are now working to add these popular items into the Catalog, where they’ll join more than 14 million other digital objects. We look forward to sharing highlights from the series here as the project progresses, and have plans for tagging missions that will give Citizen Archivists a chance to explore, engage, and share these records more easily than ever. Check back soon for updates!