The Wartime Films Project: Narrowing the Focus of our User-Centered Design Pilot

This post comes from the team working on the Wartime Films engagement project, and is part of a series outlining how NARA is using design thinking to reach new and existing audiences. This project was made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation and a generous gift from an anonymous donor. Read the whole series here.

Two weeks ago we introduced the user-centered approach NARA is taking to engage existing and new audiences with our Wartime Films holdings. This week we look at how research and analysis has helped us narrow our focus on particular audiences and a subset of relevant content.

Of course, one of the major challenges at a cultural heritage institution with the size and scale of the National Archives is narrowing the scope of a project like this so that it’s not completely overwhelming. Because we were in the middle of the 100-year commemoration of World War I (from 2014-2018), and had enough lead time to be prepared for the United States entering the War in 1917, we felt that the 2017 anniversary was a natural kickoff for our engagement efforts. In addition to the films, about 100,000 rarely seen WWI images are being digitized and cataloged, all amounting to a lot of new metadata that can be combed for new data analysis.

Grid charting engagement and impact levels for all audiences

From the nine target audiences we identified earlier, we narrowed it down to three different audiences that we thought we could either effectively reach or could develop a deeper level of engagement with. We settled on: educators, museums, and digital humanist/coders. NARA has an amazing education team who works with teachers in regional locations and online through DocsTeach, and can help guide development of teaching aids and curriculum using this newly available content. For the museum partner segment, we are taking full advantage of the fact that all of the content being released for this project is in the public domain. We hope to get the digitized films and photos into the hands of regional and local community museums,helping them to find ways to reuse content in their own exhibits and community events. The NARA exhibits unit has started to lend their expertise toward that end, as well as to make available a WWI-themed traveling exhibit. Finally, we intend to reach out to digital humanists and coders that will have an interest in the metadata about the photos and films for their own uses and scholarly research. For instance, we are exploring how this audience might help parse out names of U.S. training camps and locations mentioned, or whether it’s possible to break out films by scene and compare them with newly-digitized shot lists that provide detailed metadata about each shot.

The three groups we chose to focus on represent the biggest potential for helping NARA reach new audiences and amplify local community efforts.

Persona summary for teachersEducators: This group includes teachers and teacher trainers working at the
K-12 level. Currently, NARA provides strong support to this group through our Education Department and a network of Education Specialists across our regional branches, the
DocsTeach program, and educational publications. There is potential for heavy engagement with this group by collaborating with education staff to complement their programs and getting the wartime film archives into teaching materials.


Museums: This group includes history museums nationwide of varying sizes. There is potential to grow engagement with this group, some of whom, have previously searched for NARA content to utilize in exhibits or in their own programming. We can increase museum engagement by tapping
into existing networks and promoting the wartime films as a seed to open up local collections and personal connections in diverse communities around the country.

Personas-CodersDigital Humanists/Coders (originally called History Enthusiasts):  This group currently has limited interaction with NARA and represents a challenge for us to reach. However, close collaboration with NARA’s Innovation Hub offers the potential for high-return results.


You can read in-depth personas for each groups’ primary needs, behaviors, and ultimate goals for sharing NARA content in this report.

In the next post in this series, we’ll explore the specific goals and outcomes identified for this pilot.

Posted in Digitization, Films, partnerships, Photographs, Preservation, Questions, Research, Social Media (Web 2.0), Uncategorized, Veterans / Military | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

National Archives and Law Library of Congress Host Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon on Proposed Amendments

The following guest post is by Andrew Weber, a legislative information systems manager at the Library of Congress. It is cross posted on the Law Library of Congress blog, In Custodia Legis.

The National Archives and the Law Library of Congress are hosting a Wikipedia edit-a-thon for the proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives Innovation Hub on Friday, July 29 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

The edit-a-thon is part of the Amending America initiative at the National Archives, which celebrates the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights with an exhibit and a series of National Conversations on Rights and Justice.

Promotional banner for Amending America edit-a-thon, showing National Archives, Wikipedia, and exhibit logos.

There are a variety of great resources that people can draw from for the event.  The National Archives published the dataset of more than 11,000 proposed constitutional amendments to while A Century of Lawmaking For a New Nation contains U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates from 1777-1973.  There are also many items that you can search and find in

Interested in joining the edit-a-thon in-person or online? Please visit the Wikipedia page for more information and to register as either an on-site or remote attendee. You don’t need to have any previous experience editing Wikipedia; we’ll teach you everything you need to know. We’d love to have you!

Posted in crowdsourcing, DC-area Researchers, Events, exhibits, Social Media (Web 2.0), Uncategorized, Wikipedian in Residence | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

#ElectionCollection Challenge

Todays post comes from Jeannie Chen, Social Media Coordinator for the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives. This post can also be found on the American Experience PBS blog.

Share your quirky, cool, and surprising historic memorabilia!

#ElectionCollection banner

Get out your historic buttons, bumper stickers, hats, and banners! We’re starting a weekly Instagram challenge called #ElectionCollection to feature your Presidential campaign memorabilia.  

The Presidential Libraries of the National Archives and American Experience PBS invite you to share the unique personal histories surrounding Presidential campaign memorabilia. Cultural organizations keep these artifacts for their historic importance, and individuals save them for the feelings they evoke on a personal level.  #ElectionCollection is a space for people to share their favorite mementos from past campaigns.

We’re encouraging museums, libraries, and cultural organizations to make #ElectionCollection their own by sharing artifacts from their collections. We’re also inviting the public to post images of their own memorabilia and tag it with #ElectionCollection.

In honor of Election Tuesday, we’ll publish a new #ElectionCollection Instagram challenge every Tuesday from July 26 until the Presidential election on November 8, 2016. We’ll also feature quirky, cool, and surprising historic #ElectionCollection memorabilia on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and the blogs of the National Archives and American Experience.

How it will Work:

  1. Each week, we’ll invite the public and our community to a new #ElectionCollection challenge.
    • We will feature objects from the holdings of the Presidential Libraries, the National Archives, and videos and imagery from American Experience PBS.
  2. Each challenge will ask people to feature a different category in election memorabilia.
  3. Show off your cool memorabilia!
    • Post your memorabilia photos on Instagram and tag #ElectionCollection.
    • Tell your friends! Get your followers and community involved in showing off their own #ElectionCollection treasures. You never know what you’ll find in Grandma’s attic.
    • We’ll share highlights from each week of what you all post.

Not on Instagram? No problem!  You can share your #ElectionCollection on any social platform.  Here’s where we’ll be posting:

National Archives:

American Experience:

Talking picture unit designed by the Transport Publicity Corporation for Herbert Hoover’s 1928 campaign. Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

Talking picture unit designed by the Transport Publicity Corporation for Herbert Hoover’s 1928 campaign. Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman campaign button, 1944. Truman Presidential Library and Museum.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman campaign button, 1944. Truman Presidential Library and Museum.

John F. Kennedy campaign poster, 1960. JFK Presidential Library and Museum.

John F. Kennedy campaign poster, 1960. JFK Presidential Library and Museum.

JCPL Carter gold donkey pin

Carter gold donkey pin, 1976. Carter Presidential Library and Museum.


Sunglasses designed and manufactured by A. Dean Watkins Co. for Gerald R. Ford’s 1976 presidential campaign. Ford Presidential Library and Museum.

Reagan-Bush campaign hat with bumper sticker, 1980. Reagan Library.

Reagan-Bush campaign hat with bumper sticker, 1980. Reagan Library.



Posted in crowdsourcing, Photographs, Presidential Libraries, Social Media (Web 2.0), Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

National Archives program trains Wikipedians in cultural heritage outreach

Editors’s note:  On June 14–16, the National Archives hosted its second GLAM Boot Camp. This program, funded by the National Archives Foundation, is an outreach-focused, skills-building workshop for Wikipedians partnering with cultural institutions. You can read more about our first GLAM Boot Camp in 2013 over on the Wikimedia D.C. blog. The following summary of the event comes from three of our participants: Kelly, Rob, and Kevin.

GLAM Boot Camp attendees with Archivist of the United States David Ferriero (CC-BY-SA, by Fourandsixty)

GLAM Boot Camp attendees with Archivist of the United States David Ferriero (CC-BY-SA, by Fourandsixty)

Last week, fifteen Wikipedia editors converged on the National Archives to attend the GLAM Boot Camp. “GLAM” stands for Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums and “GLAM-Wiki” is an initiative to encourage the Wikipedia community and cultural institutions to create partnerships to the benefit of both.

The participants came from across the United States. Thirteen states were represented: California, Florida, Louisiana, Indiana, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Some were veteran Wikipedians of many years, others were relatively new. All were interested in bringing back what they learned to help engage in local efforts with cultural institutions like museums, libraries, universities, and historical societies. Previous attendees of GLAM Boot Camp have worked with institutions like the University of California, Berkeley and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). One graduate of the GLAM Boot Camp 2013, Alex Stinson, is now the GLAM-Wiki Strategist for the Wikimedia Foundation, and returned this time as a main trainer for GLAM Boot Camp 2016.

The boot camp was a three-day intensive training provided by staff from the National Archives, the Smithsonian Institution, American University, and the Wikimedia Foundation. Most of the training occurred in NARA’s Innovation Hub, but participants were also able to go behind the scenes at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Attendees learned how to work with different types of cultural institutions and how they could engage those institutions and their audiences with not only Wikipedia, but other Wikimedia projects, including Wikimedia Commons (a free image and file repository), Wikidata (a collaborative metadata knowledge base), and Wikisource (an online library of public domain texts). They also gave individual lightning talks about the work they were doing with their own local cultural institutions.

Participants also got a chance to implement what they’d learned by participating in an editathon at Innovation Hub that was open to the public. An editathon is a public event where Wikipedia editors, members of cultural institutions, and the general public help each other collaborate on editing Wikipedia about specific topic areas. As part of NARA’s Amending America initiative, National Archives staffers hosted an editathon about LGBT history.

Several GLAM Boot Camp participants will be taking what they learned back to their respective universities. Kelly Doyle, a Wikipedian in Residence for Gender Equity at West Virginia University Libraries, works to close the well-documented gender gap on Wikipedia by recruiting students and academics alike to add content about women to Wikipedia—and specifically women from the Appalachian region. Kelly plans to partner with archival libraries throughout West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania by adding information and freely licensed images to Wikipedia from these institutions holdings about this underrepresented group on Wikipedia. Kevin Payravi, an undergraduate at the Ohio State University, leads a student organization, called Wikipedia Connection, that encourages Wikipedia editing for students and faculty through weekly workshops, editathons, and other events. Kevin plans to take what he learned back to fellow Wikipedia Connection members, and then work as an organization to collaborate with the University’s libraries and archives to bring free content to Wikipedia.

Why is work like this important? Everyone reads Wikipedia. It is often said that Wikipedia is the encyclopedia that “anyone can edit,” but, unfortunately, relatively few people do. Even cultural and information professionals are often hesitant to edit, unfamiliar with the website’s rules, jargon, and tools. GLAM Boot Camp graduates can work with their local cultural institutions to help them engage with Wikipedia and other Wikimedia websites, tools they can use to enhance their collections, further their educational missions, and expand their audience beyond the walls of their institution. As the seventh-largest website in the world, Wikipedia has the potential to offer even the smallest cultural institution a global reach.

Kelly Doyle, Wikipedian in Residence for Gender Equity at West Virginia University

Robert Fernandez, Assistant Professor, Reference/Instructional Librarian, Saint Leo University

Kevin Payravi, President of Wikipedia Connection at the Ohio State University

Posted in crowdsourcing, Events, Open Government, Social Media (Web 2.0), Wikipedian in Residence | Leave a comment

Pokemon Go has come to the FDR Presidential Library and that’s a good thing.

Today’s post is written by Paul Sparrow, Director of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, and was originally posted on the Library’s Forward with Roosevelt blog.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is swarming with Pokemon Go characters. Visitors are wandering around staring at their phones, and catching them left and right.

Man holds smartphone near Library entrance

Facility Manager Corey Gower surveys the grounds for Pokemon possibilities.

I’ve caught four and I never played the game before and only spent ten minutes at it. We have several Poke Stops as well.

Pokemon Go screen shotWhat does this say about us? Is it the end of civilization as we know it? Probably not. And if Pokemon Go brings new people to the FDR Home and Museum than that’s a very good thing indeed. Having younger more technologically savvy visitors is critical if we are to remain relevant in the future.

Yes we all know Pokemon Go is the latest fad sweeping the country. Even the New York Times mentioned it (with a whiff of vox populi.)

It’s the best selling app right now, soon to overtake Twitter in daily users, and has driven the stock price of Nintendo through the roof. But what does it say about our culture when people are looking at their phones while visiting a museum? Well that will depend on what they do when they look up.

I welcome any Pokemon Go players who want to come to the FDR Library and Museum, and I hope they will take a moment to think about why those characters are here.

According to Blaire Moskowitz one of the geolocation sources that Nintendo uses to determine where characters appear is something called the Historical Marker database, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The database includes the FDR Presidential Library, and eight other markers within two miles of the Library.

Informational plaque about the FDR Presidential Library & Museum

I hope players will think about what makes the location important enough to earn a marker.

One of the markers on the site reads:

“All that is within me cries to go back to my home by the Hudson River.’ – Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1944

It was only when passing through the gates at the end of this road that FDR felt truly at home. Roosevelt loved Springwood’s forests and fields. He found stability in the peaceful regularity of life here. As he neared the end of his life, Roosevelt often experienced his longing to return to this beautiful setting. “

Another marker is for FDR’s grave site. Labeled “The World Mourns” it reads:

“I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.’ – President Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt’s successor.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945, was a personal loss for many. Statesmen and ordinary citizens alike mourned his passing. The nation buried him here, in the Springwood rose garden on April 15, 1945 (photo shown).”

Informational plaque about the Roosevelt's Rose Garden, Home of FDR National Historic Site

Both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt are buried here at the Home of Franklin Roosevelt National Park.  I hope the Pokemon players will look up from their phones and look around the beautiful garden and take a moment to contemplate where they are. They are in the presence of perhaps the most important couple in American history.

View of Rose Garden gravesite, Home of FDR National Historic Site

So while it is fun for people to use their phone to capture Clifairy, I hope they don’t miss the bigger picture of standing next to greatness.

The Director captured this cutie spotted right outside his office.

The Roosevelts are global icons for freedom and democracy. They embraced new technology in their day, and Franklin particularly loved playing games. When he was a teenager FDR loved to capture birds for his collection on exactly the same spot that this new generation is capturing Pikachu. So while some may see it as disrespectful to play a game while walking on the grounds of the Roosevelt home and museum, I think it is fine. As long as they realize that if it were not for the Roosevelt’s they might not have the freedom to play that game.

Posted in Presidential Libraries, Social Media (Web 2.0), Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Wartime Films Project: Taking a User-Centered Design Approach at NARA

This post comes from the team working on the Wartime Films engagement project, and is part of a series outlining how NARA is using design thinking to reach new and existing audiences. This project was made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation and a generous gift from an anonymous donor. Read the whole series here.

In a series of blog posts over the next few weeks, we’ll be going behind the scenes to explore how the National Archives is taking a user-centered design approach toward engagement on a major digitization initiative of a unique collection of Wartime films and rarely seen still images from WWI.

Promo reel showing some of the many films being digitized and preserved as part of the Wartime Films Project.

NARA has had a unique opportunity, thanks to an anonymous donor, to spend several years focused on the digitization and preservation of rare WWI and WWII moving image archives. The importance of this work called out for a co-designing approach with particular audiences with whom we wanted to engage, so that these films would be discovered and reused by as wide a public as possible. The first step in a user-centered design approach is to identify and gain empathy for your users. To that end, NARA teamed up with Historypin to develop an in-depth process of audience analysis and engagement.

After nearly nine months of research, we published our findings, which included an analysis of potential audiences and their community reach, what motivates these particular users to engage with historical materials, and how we might connect with them and make our nation’s archives available in the most useful way. You can download the full report, which includes analysis, user personas, and case studies as well as explains the methodology we followed in the research.

Report Cover: "Encouraging Reuse of NARA Wartime Moving Image Archives Steps Toward Meaningful Engagement"

We conducted interviews with 30 people from audience groups we selected as community hubs, with a focus on broader reuse and dissemination, from classrooms to blog posts to portrayal in Hollywood blockbusters. The nine groups we focused on were:

  • Teachers/teacher trainers
  • Scholars (professors, grad students)
  • Local groups (community groups, history groups, veterans groups)
  • Cultural organizations and local authorities (learning networks, cultural affairs departments, local humanities organizations, NPS, etc.)
  • Libraries/archives/museums
  • Filmmakers
  • Producers (freelance, Hollywood, PBS)
  • Creatives (artists, designers, gamers, musicians)
  • History enthusiasts (interns, volunteers, hackers, Amara transcribers)

Amongst those interviewed, we found strong interest in the wartime moving image archives, though a limited knowledge of what the NARA holdings include, how to access them, or how the content can be reused. There was near universal interest in better tools to search and explore the content.

In next week’s post, we’ll dive more deeply into three specific audiences (teachers and educators; museum partners; and digital humanist/coders) and explain how we narrowed the content focus for outreach and engagement.

Posted in Digitization, Films, Photographs, Preservation, Questions, Research, Social Media (Web 2.0), Uncategorized, Veterans / Military | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

National Park Service Turns 100

Summer is here and we hope your plans include visiting one or more of the 411 national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails in the National Park System.  If you can’t make it to one of the locations found in every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands – join the National Archives online to celebrate the records of the National Park Service.


“The Tetons – Snake River,” Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. National Archives Identifier 519904



Letter from Frederick Harvey, owner of Fred Harvey Company to M. R. Tillotson, Superintendent of the Grand Canyon National Park. National Archives Identifier 27753707

Transcribing the digitized records in the National Archives Catalog is an important way to improve search results and increase accessibility to these historical records.
New to Transcription? Learn how to get started.

Are you ready to transcribe?  Jump right in and select the National Parks Transcription Mission.


Tagging is a fun and easy way for you to help make National Archives records more discoverable online. By adding keywords, terms, and labels to a record, you can do your part to help the next person discover that record.  Take a look at these photographs from the National Parks and add keywords that describe what you see.


Trail of the Ancients – Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park. National Archives Identifier 7722478

New to Tagging? Learn how to get started.

Are you ready to tag? Select the National Parks Tagging Mission and get tagging!


In the 1930s the Department of Interior made a series of films on the nation’s growing park system, from trails blazed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in Yosemite, California, all the way up to Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes.  Now you can see what your local parks looked like during the Great Depression, a time when many old parks were upgraded and many new parks were created.

View highlights from the National Archives’ collection of films from the National Park Service.

Now go and #FindYourPark!

Posted in Catalog, crowdsourcing, transcription | 1 Comment

NARA’s Inaugural Tumblr Answer Time with Amending America Curators

Today’s post comes from our Tumblr guru and Today’s Document lead, Darren Cole.

"Amending America" Tumblr Answer Time banner featuring Christine Blackerby and Jennifer Johnson

 Where are the aliens?”

“Did Nicholas Cage ever return the Declaration of Independence?”

“What’s the worst amendment ever proposed?”


Tumblr Answer Time bio picture and signatures for Christine and Jennifer

These are just a sampling of the questions recently put to National Archives curators during our inaugural “Answer Time” Q&A session on Tumblr.

On May 17, Tumblr users were invited to the National Archives Exhibits Tumblr to ask co-curators Christine Blackerby and Jennifer Johnson questions about the new “Amending America” exhibition.

Opened in March at the National Archives in Washington, DC, “Amending America” explores some of the 11,000 attempts to amend the Constitution.  It includes petitions, interactives, landmark documents, and political cartoons addressing issues including child labor, prayer in schools, free speech, suffrage, civil rights, and more.  The National Archives Exhibits Tumblr blog serves as a companion portal, sharing these items and others that couldn’t fit in the exhibit online.

tumblr several questions

The  live, online chat provided a great opportunity to engage with audiences about the mission and work of the National Archives. During the event, Christine and Jennifer fielded a variety of questions from Tumblr users, ranging from classic interests like exhibit design and the inner workings of the National Archives to the more niche topics of ‘craziest failed amendments’ and favorite sandwiches.

NARA's First Tumblr Answer Time

National Archives exhibit curators Christine Blackerby, Jennifer Johnson, and Alice Kamps confer on a question. (Photo by Jeff Reed, National Archives)

tumblr aliens question

The biggest challenge was keeping up with the steady deluge of questions.  By the end of the session, over 1,100 questions had been submitted.  Ultimately the hosts were able to respond to 32 questions over the course of the 2 hour event. The most popular topic? Queries about “aliens in the Archives” comprised over 11% of user submissions.

NARA's First Tumblr Answer Time

Some members of our Answer Time team: Darren Cole, IT Specialist; Hilary Parkinson, writer-editor; Cindy Sandoval, writer-editor;  Meredith Doviak, Digital Engagement Specialist; and exhibit curators Jennifer Johnson and Christine Blackerby. (Photo by Jeff Reed, National Archives)

Questions included the serious, silly, and speculative.  The most popular question asked whether the National Archives might hold records on the comic book character “Captain America.” While the subject may have been fictional, it was a great intro to more realistic archival topics, including military personnel records, declassification issues, and actual comic books in our records.

tumblr fighting american


  • Preparation was essential.  Our curators had documents and images from the exhibit ready to go as needed.
  • Staying on top of the questions was exhausting.  Our team of six started reviewing questions that morning, only to see them gradually double over the course of the day.  Most fell into thematic groups so we tried to choose representative questions from each set.
  • Divide and conquer.  To make the session run smoothly, each member of our team had an assigned task.  Some questions were answered jointly by the curators but in general they assigned according to their specialty and interest.  A member of the communications staff then proofread and edited their draft answers.  Relevant images and links to relevant blog posts and pages on were added to the answers by the Web & Social Media staff and finally queued up for posting.
  • Keep it fun. Don’t avoid the silly or lighthearted questions. They’re still a great opportunity to engage with users and add some levity to the conversation.

    NARA's First Tumblr Answer Time

    Darren Cole, IT Specialist; Christine Blackerby, exhibit curator; Jennifer Johnson, exhibit curator; and Hilary Parkinson, writer-editor. (Photo by Jeff Reed, National Archives)

See the complete thread of questions and answers at:

Catch our next AnswerTime on July 1 when you can send your questions to Archivist of the United States David Ferriero at !

Posted in exhibits, Social Media (Web 2.0), Uncategorized | 3 Comments

“BEWARE: It’s Addicting!” Citizen Scanning in the Innovation Hub

Today’s post comes from Dina Herbert, Innovation Hub Coordinator at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

I recently met Cindy Norton at the Innovation Hub in Washington, DC when she arrived to scan Civil War pension files. Once she started, she never stopped! We now see Cindy a few times a month; she even celebrated her birthday with us by scanning records in the Innovation Hub!

Cindy was kind enough to answer some of my questions about what it’s like to scan records in the Innovation Hub. She is our biggest cheerleader and a great citizen archivist and scanner.

You too can be a citizen archivist! Visit us at the Innovation Hub, or learn more about the opportunities to tag, transcribe, subtitle or upload and share:

How did you hear about the Innovation Hub at the National Archives?

I came to the National Archives in late February 2016 with the intent of scanning a Civil War pension file. I had previously made paper copies of several files, but wanted the advantages of a digital scan. When I put in my request for Military Records I was asked if I wanted to scan this file for FREE! I said, “Free is good!” I was informed that the only stipulation was that I had to scan the ENTIRE file. That was not a problem – in fact I always get a copy of ALL the documents in a pension file. After my first day in the Hub I was hooked! I have been trying to run down to the Hub as much as I can ever since.

Citizen Archivist Cindy Norton scans records in the Innovation Hub. Photo by Jeffrey Reed

Citizen Archivist Cindy Norton scans records in the Innovation Hub. Photo by Jeffrey Reed

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What motivated you/interested you in citizen scanning?

I was an intern at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 1995. I worked primarily with Connie Potter and Claire Kluskens. As an intern I became aware of the importance of preserving the records that have been created by the federal government. I also became aware of how many records had not been microfilmed, i.e. Civil War Union Pension Records. I LOVE old records and the stories they tell. As a family historian I appreciate these documents that help me know my ancestors. Fast forward 20 years to July 2015 and the launching of the Hub and the introduction of citizen scanning. The tools in the Hub are amazing! As an intern I did not have these resources available to me back in 1995. I had reels of Microfilm that were black and white. I also had a copy machine that made black and white copies. Currently is scanning the Civil War Widow’s pension. These are excellent images, but they are also black and white. In the Hub I have the distinct advantage to scan documents in color. It makes analyzing these documents far easier for me as I can distinguish the different colors of ink.

How did you get into genealogy and family research?

I have been interested in genealogy for a long time. I started in 1977 taking a class offered by my church in Columbus, Georgia. My interest REALLY took off while I was attending Brigham Young University (BYU). To graduate I had a few religion classes to take. One of the religion electives was an introduction to Family History. I took this class in 1978, but it wasn’t until 10 years later when my husband was the PMS (Professor of Military Science) of the Army ROTC at BYU that I changed my major once and for all to Family History.

Are others in your family interested in genealogy?

There are some sparks of interest in my family that need to be fanned. My husband asked me what I wanted to do for my 60th birthday and I said I wanted him to come with me to the Hub and scan records. He was a GREAT sport and came with me!

How much have you scanned so far?

I have scanned 25 Civil War pensions, a few Compiled Military Service Records (CMSR) and a Bounty Land Record.

What is the most interesting thing you have found while scanning?

The most interesting thing I have found is a Father’s pension. It listed the pertinent dates and places for the soldier, his father, mother and brother. I have not found much about a soldier’s parents so this has been a unique experience.

Do you have a favorite subject area?

Anything associated with soldiers. My favorite subject to scan is Civil War Pensions.

Citizen Archivist Cindy Norton reviews her scans in the Innovation Hub. Photo by Jeffrey Reed

Citizen Archivist Cindy Norton reviews her scans in the Innovation Hub. Photo by Jeffrey Reed

Why do you think citizen scanning is important?

Scanning is important because it gives researchers the ability to study old fragile records without having to physically handle those records causing additional deterioration. It makes it easier to transcribe, abstract, and tag these documents by enlarging the images on a computer screen. Because the scans are in color it is easier to distinguish between the different authors found on a single document.

Do you have advice for other citizen archivists and scanners?

Come to the archives at your earliest convenience. BEWARE, it is VERY addicting! If you enjoy handling old records than you will LOVE scanning them. There is a lot of work to do, but if a million researchers scanned just two records each we could literally have these records at our fingertips. If you cannot come to the Archives, consider going online and transcribing or tagging the available scanned records.

Posted in crowdsourcing, DC-area Researchers, Digitization | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

The new read–write API for our catalog

We’d like to introduce you to the National Archives’ online catalog API, a major feature of the revamped catalog. If you are not already familiar with the magic of APIs (or “application programming interfaces”), you can think of it this way. Underlying both the API and the browser-based catalog is the dataset of archival descriptions, authority records, web pages, and other information. And just as the web site you see in your browser is the interface which allows you, a human, to interact with and search our dataset, the API is the interface by which computer programs can interact with the dataset—by following documented methods to retrieve or alter the structured data in the system.

The dataset for our catalog API contains all archival descriptions, authority records, digitized records (the images, videos, and so on) and their file metadata, all NARA web pages, and public contributions (tags, transcriptions, and comments). The API will allow developers to retrieve all of this metadata in specified formats (JSON or XML) for any given record or search results set. This means it is much more flexible than the advanced search or refinement options in the user interface, since the API can search using keywords or any field in the system, filter based on type of record, search within ranges, apply sorts, specify only particular fields to return, or any combination of these options. You can also generate a bulk export of your search results (including digital media), just like you can do in the catalog. The API is also writable, which means you can use it to post tags, transcriptions, or comments to records. We believe it is one of the first public write APIs in operation at a cultural institution. In order to support these functions, there are also methods for user registration and login—though accounts are the same in the UI and API. We just rolled out in-catalog transcription last year and comments this year, and we think building it into the API from the beginning has the potential to take it to a whole new level.

National Archives API sample

This is what our catalog records look like as structured data! (Formatted by JSONView.)

In addition to being read–write, the API is open source and follows the principles of REST. In designing our API, we were strongly influenced by the Digital Public Library of America’s API philosophy, especially their principle of a “presumption of openness”. Following this approach, we designed a system not for any particular use case, but one that is as open as possible to accommodate the creativity of the public. No API key or account at all is required to do basic searching. All original API source code has been released under the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0), and you can find the it in our GitHub account. And, of course, all of our metadata and most of our digitized records are in the public domain, as works of the U.S. federal government, and can be freely reused and remixed without permission for any purpose.

We think this is a big deal. NARA’s recently revised mission statement affirms our commitment to “drive openness, cultivate public participation, and strengthen our nation’s democracy through public access to high-value government records.” Our mission is bigger than just our research rooms and web sites. In a recent essay, museum theorist Ed Rodley writes that the “spread of digital assets is a key factor in delivering on museums’ missions to educate, inform, stimulate, and enrich the lives of the people of the planet we live on.” We believe that our API will become a major way in which users are able to access our records, because the fundamental purpose of open data is to make our data sharable and reusable in many contexts outside of NARA itself. For example, in 2013, OCLC noted that 98% of the usage of their Virtual International Authority File comes via its API. This means they are succeeding in making their data useful to the public where people already go on the web, undertaking projects like linking hundreds of thousands of VIAF identifiers from the Wikipedia articles for their subjects. We think there are several ways we might make use of the API ourselves, like creating programs to gamify transcription of our records, uploading all of our data and digital assets to Wikimedia Commons or Wikidata, or setting up automatically curated social media feeds with our content. However, what excites us most is the potential for creative and unexpected uses of our API by the public, for any purpose.

Our API is still relatively new. We have documented several known issues which are still being worked out. But we encourage you to give it a try and see what you can create with it. The API is located at, but we also recommend you start out by reading some of our documentation pages on GitHub, or playing in our interactive documentation feature to learn the ropes. And, also, be sure to give us feedback (whether questions, bug reports, or ideas for improvement) either in a comment below, in our GitHub repo’s issue tracker, or by emailing Let us know what you make!

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