NARA’s Record Group Explorer: A New Path into NARA’s Holdings

This post was written by Pamela Wright, Chief Innovation Officer.

With billions of pages of records, there’s no question that the holdings of the National Archives are vast. The breadth can be intimidating to researchers and online users, especially first-time users, who may not have familiarity with the organization and management of archival material.

One of NARA’s strategic objectives for improving access to our holdings is the development of new digital tools that help users navigate the universe of records held at the National Archives. That’s why we are excited to announce our first step in achieving this objective: the Record Group Explorer.

This new pathway into NARA’s holdings provides an intuitive interface for users to understand the scale and organization of our holdings and to explore what is available online via the National Archives Catalog.

By clicking on any of the blue boxes, users are provided with an overview of the scans available online within that Record Group and links that encourage further discovery and investigation. To provide a sense of the scanning progress, each Record Group page has a progress bar that provides an estimate of the percentage of textual pages that are currently available online.

In addition to links to records organized by format, you’ll also find a link to records in that Record Group that have been described in our Catalog, but do not yet have digital objects attached.

Want to join us as a Citizen Archivist? Follow the link on each Record Group page to learn more about tagging and transcribing historical records in our Catalog to make them more searchable and accessible.

For two decades we have been putting data into the National Archives Catalog. We currently have more than 24 million descriptions and over 92 million digitized pages in our Catalog. Our efforts with this project are in direct response to numerous comments we continue to receive as the Catalog gets bigger: researchers are drowning in the sheer number of records we hold.

We see this new tool as a way into the great ocean of our records for a first-time swimmer. Instead of starting with the deep dive, which the Catalog search provides, this finding aid allows users to browse NARA’s holdings and more gradually drill down into the records in a way that has not been previously possible.

As we continue to learn from our users, we will work to develop additional tools that allow us to present data in the way our users want. Our ultimate goal is to enable visitors to our Catalog to develop their own, user-generated, finding aids, and create their own pathways to research and exploration of NARA’s holdings.

For now, give our Record Group Explorer a try! We’d love to hear your input on how this might be beneficial to you in your research, and your ideas about how we could further refine this data visualization for future projects. Also, this data powering the Record Group Explorers will be updated monthly, so check back to see what we have added and what changes have been made.

What do you think?

9 thoughts on “NARA’s Record Group Explorer: A New Path into NARA’s Holdings

    1. Thank you for alerting us to this problem. The link has been fixed and should now direct you to the Record Group Explorer web page.

  1. when licking on the link Record Group Explorer there appears to be a problem with both Chrome and Firefox stating:
    An error occurred during a connection to qa.archives.gov. PR_END_OF_FILE_ERROR

    The page you are trying to view cannot be shown because the authenticity of the received data could not be verified.
    Please contact the website owners to inform them of this problem.

  2. This is an interesting idea, but does it assume an existing understanding of Record Groups to use? For example, does user have to know that signed proclamations are in RG XX or the signed INF Treaty is in RG YY? I get that it’s complicated, but I think that it would be helpful to provide at least a numerical list of Record Groups somewhere.

    I do love the visual display of the percentage of scans to records! So well done, you.

    1. Thank you for your comments!

      The Records Group Explorer page does offer you an option to “Switch to List View.” This option can be found directly above the blue boxes representing the Record Groups, adjacent to the menu icon on the right hand side. In the list view you can sort the Record Groups by Record Group number among other options or you can use this direct link to the table: https://www.archives.gov/findingaid/stat/discovery

  3. I tried to “explore” RG21, but clicking on maps or photographs yielded an error message:

    Something went wrong
    The servers are unable to handle your search at this time. Please try your search again in 5 minutes, then contact catalog@nara.gov if you continue to encounter this error message.

    1. We were experiencing difficulties with the Catalog but this problem has since been resolved. Sorry for any inconvenience.

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