Open Government Forum for Researchers

National Archives Open Gov logo

Wednesday, April 20, 2016
3:00 p.m. Eastern

National Archives at College Park, MD
Lecture Rooms C and D

Join remotely at:
Meeting: 8883316674
Access code: 5335828

Please join us to discuss the agency’s next Open Government Plan and initiatives and seek your suggestions, ideas, and feedback on how we can improve. We are looking for your ideas on:

  • How we can improve the researcher experience?
  • How can we provide greater transparency to our records or our processes?
  • What new or different kinds of services would you like from Research Services?

Share your ideas on the Open Government space on History Hub at
or email


  • Open Government Plan Process – Pamela Wright, Chief Innovation Officer
  • Innovation Flagship Initiative – Pamela Wright, Chief Innovation Officer
  • Research Services – Ann Cummings, Access Coordinator
  • Ideas, Comments, and Suggestions – Participants are asked to share their thoughts on what NARA should do to strengthen open government.
Posted in DC-area Researchers, Open Government, Research | Tagged , , ,

Civilian Records Round Table at Archives 1

If you’re in the Washington, DC area and want to learn more about the Civilian Records held at the National Archives Building in the Nation’s Capital, come participate in next week’s Reference Round Table on March 30. Archivists will be available to discuss frequently requested records, share new discoveries, and answer researcher questions from 11 AM to noon.

Event flier for Reference Roundtable 3/30/2016

Posted in Uncategorized

We want to help you crowd-source your research

Today’s post comes from Kelly Osborn, History Hub Community Manager, and Naomi Lieberman, National Archives Intern.

Do you have cable TV, a smart phone, or some other technological gadget? If you’re like me, when something breaks, you probably head to your favorite search engine and usually end up on a community forum where someone has asked a similar question to yours. There’s often a string of responses, some from regular people like me who have figured out a solution, and some from various technology experts who can give you the information that can be technically correct but maybe not easily understood.

At the National Archives, we wondered, can we use that same approach to make research easier for family historians, citizen archivists, and open government advocates? Can we create a way to crowd-source research that would normally have to be conducted by email or in person? Can this platform answer questions before they’re asked, saving time and frustration for the public?

The National Archives has embarked on a ground-breaking experiment with History Hub, a pilot support community for historians and other history enthusiasts, researchers, genealogists, citizen archivists, open government advocates, and archival professionals.

What can I do on History Hub?

It is a place to ask questions, share information, work together, and find help based on experience and interests. History Hub offers tools like discussion boards, blogs, and community pages to bring together experts and researchers interested in American history. Think of it as a one-stop shop for crowdsourcing information related to your research subject.

For example, if you have ever been curious about your genealogy, you can ask your pressing questions and receive either answers or guidance on where to look for further information, from knowledgeable individuals both inside and outside of the National Archives. Or, if you happen to be conducting a research project on U.S. soldiers in WWI and you are looking for military records from a specific time period and location, the History Hub can point you in the right direction.

History Hub is a game-changing way of providing access, information, and diverse sources of expertise to the public. The pilot will run until the end of May and inform how we approach customer service and crowdsourcing in other areas of the National Archives, from the online catalog to how we respond at our call center. We will apply what we learn to a longer-term solution that can be used by federal government agencies and other interested organizations looking to expand public participation. This phase is all about learning lessons. So check it out, ask a question, answer a question, and let us know what you think. We want to make the final product as useful as possible, and we need your input.

Explore, ask a question, answer a question, start a discussion, or try something new to help us all find out how the History Hub might be useful to our community.

Visit us now at!  

Posted in crowdsourcing, Genealogy / Family History, Online Research, Questions, Research

Share your ideas for our next Open Government Plan!

National Archives Open Gov logoWelcome to Sunshine Week, the week we celebrate open government and access to public information. This week, we are kicking off the development of our next Open Government Plan for 2016-2018. We need your ideas, suggestions, and feedback to make it happen!

Submit your ideas by April 15, 2016:

How do you think we should increase the three pillars of open government — Transparency, Participation, and Collaboration — in the way we do our work at the National Archives?

We are looking for your ideas on how we can improve:  

  • Your research experience – in person and online
  • The experience of veterans in accessing military records of the National Archives
  • The National Archives Catalog and
  • Our engagement on social media and crowdsourcing projects, including History Hub
  • Innovation at the National Archives, including the Innovation Hub  
  • Our work in records management
  • Our work in declassification
  • Our implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
  • Our efforts to digitize records

We will carefully consider all ideas. In the past, we’ve received more than 100 suggestions and we report on these and respond in an appendix to the Plan. Even if you’ve shared an idea before, please share it again. We need your ideas on how we can better serve the public.

Take a look at our last Open Government Plan and for more information.  Is there something that you think we could be doing better?  Let us know!

Also, join us for Sunshine Week as we work to transcribe more than 2,000 pages! Every day there’s a new transcription mission on the Citizen Archivist Dashboard. How many pages can  you transcribe?

Posted in Open Government | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Catalog Search Gets an Upgrade

In today’s edition of Catalog Updates, Jason Clingerman, the National Archives’ new Digital Public Access Branch Chief will focus on the improved search features that make it easier for you to find what you’re looking for. 

What’s changed?

  • You shouldn’t have to start your research with a hunt for the Search bar. We’ve relocated it to the center of the homepage hovering over the background image so it can’t be missed (don’t forget to refresh the page and see the different images!)

catalog search bar

  • To create an advanced search, leave the search bar blank and click the magnifying glass button. Click the Advanced Search link at the top of the new page..

There are also big changes to the advanced search itself:

  • We’ve simplified the “Limit search to:” field. Your new options are:
    • Archival Descriptions – only descriptions of records, excludes digitized records
    • Archival Materials Online – only digitized records and their related descriptions
    • Authority Records – only descriptions of authority records, e.g. organizations, individuals, etc.
    • Web Pages – only and presidential library web pages

Advanced search: search limit and dates

  • We’ve enhanced the date search features. There are now three ways to search dates:
    • Search by Date Range – enter a range with begin and end in MM/DD/YYYY format
    • Search by Exact Date – enter an exact date in MM/DD/YYYY format
    • Search by Recurring Date – enter a recurring date (i.e. without any specific year) in MM/DD format
  • Record Group/Collection ID search field has moved towards the top.
  • All fields are now visible but are activated and deactivated depending on where you enter your search terms.

These new options allow for much more flexibility in filtering your searches. Here’s an example, showing the fields you’d fill in to pull back all digitized moving image or photographic items related to the Fourth of July, and held by the Harry S. Truman Library:

catalog advanced search fields screenshot

Let us know what you think of the newly improved search in the National Archives Catalog, and don’t forget to check back here for new posts. Happy researching!

Posted in Catalog, Online Research, Research, Uncategorized

Searching for Something? Try the New Catalog!

Today’s post comes from Jason Clingerman, archives specialist in the Office of Innovation, Digital Engagement Division 

new catalog homepage- ship

Updated homepage featuring Austro-Americana & Fratelli Cosulich poster (NARA ID 7455537)

Have you visited the National Archives Catalog lately? Now’s a great time to stop by! The Catalog is the online public portal to National Archives records and information about our records. We’re excited to announce some big changes that will make it easier to use, more interactive, and an even more valuable research tool. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be highlighting these features along with tips on how to get the most from your visit. To get started, here’s a preview of the improvements you can expect in this new release:

  • Enjoy the updated homepage featuring background images from catalog records
  • Add your comments on digitized records, descriptions, and authority records
  • Find what you need with a more intuitive advanced search
  • Efficiently browse hits with better “Next Page” link placement
  • Track your Citizen Archivist contributions with updated user account pages
  • Add data from scanned records to your developer toolbox with increased API functionality

Want Catalog news and tips delivered directly to your inbox? Sign up for our occasional newsletter here. It’s a quick, fun read, and we promise not to spam you.

If you have questions and comments about the new version, or about the Catalog in general, please leave a comment or email us at

Posted in Catalog, Online Research, Research, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Special Report from WikiConference USA at NARA

As David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero, announced earlier on his blog, the National Archives was the 2015 host of WikiConference USA, the annual national conference for the Wikipedia editor community and enthusiasts. For NARA, the conference represented an opportunity to further our engagement with the Wikipedia community, which serves our mission of public access, and we found the event to be a resounding success—full of enlightening presentations and invigorating conversations with citizens dedicated, like us, to innovation and open knowledge.

WikiConference USA at the National Archives

WikiConference USA at the National Archives. (CC-BY-SA, by Gerald Shields)

The conference was held from October 9–11, and the following account comes from Robert Fernandez, a Wikipedian and Assistant Professor, Reference/Instructional Librarian at Saint Leo University’s Cannon Memorial Library. If you are interested in catching up on the conference’s proceedings, you can check out the hashtag at #WikiConUSA and watch the archived stream on NARA’s YouTube channel.

Robert Fernandez (left) speaks at WikiConference USA

Robert Fernandez (left) speaks at WikiConference USA. (CC-BY-SA, by Gerald Shields)

I’ve been a pseudonymous Wikipedia editor for over a decade, but at this weekend’s WikiConference USA at the National Archives I made my first public appearance as a Wikipedian.  Once a hobby I kept entirely separate from my professional life, like tinkering with a train set in the garage, it has now become an integral part of my professional career and research. Like the National Archives and other librarians, archivists, and information professionals and the institutions they work for, I’ve realized that Wikipedia and its associated projects are key resources for disseminating and preserving information, knowledge, and cultural heritages.

The conference opened with remarks from Pamela Wright, NARA’s Chief Innovation Officer, who outlined how NARA has been collaborating with Wikipedia in that effort, a collaboration that dates back to Wikipedia’s decennial celebration in 2011.  That collaboration has included hosting over a dozen Wikipedia-related events and uploading over a hundred thousand files to Wikimedia Commons, the online repository for freely usable media files, including most of the images and files on Wikipedia. In 2011, NARA hired the first Wikipedian in Residence in the US Federal Government, Dominic Byrd-McDevitt. Wikipedians in Residence are experienced Wikipedia editors embedded in archives, museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions to help them engage with the encyclopedia.

The keynote speech was delivered by Andrew Lih. Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, has become a sort of spokesperson for the encyclopedia, explaining it and its importance to the outside world. Professor Lih plays something of the same unofficial role for academia and the Wikipedia community itself. His rousing speech, “What Wikipedia Must Do”, was a call to action for editors in eight important areas—usability in a time of growing mobile traffic, improving social interaction on the encyclopedia itself, gender and diversity, expert engagement, reimagining ways in which Wikimedians contribute original content, improving access to multimedia content on Wikipedia and related projects, partnerships with other organizations and institutions, and improving relationships between different groups of stakeholders.

After lunch, Dr. John Howard, Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discussed how the US Federal Government’s “science partners” wanted to engage with Wikipedia, especially after noticing how many of the incoming hits to the CDC’s website came from Wikipedia. He noted that Wikipedia was “a major channel for transparency and dissemination of government information and science”.  The National Archives is hosting a NIOSH-led workshop on Wikipedia for federal research agencies next month.

David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, followed with a discussion of the importance of working with Wikipedia, noting that his involvement with online encyclopedias dates back to the abortive Interpedia project back in the early 90s.  Ferriero appears to have a talent for delivering readily quotable statements, and this was no exception, saying that “What better way of engaging the American people than engaging the Wikipedia community to get the word out.

A panel presentation from the National Archives followed – including Wright, Byrd-McDevitt, Andrew Wilson, and Darren Cole – discussing the work NARA was doing with and related to Wikipedia, open access, and information dissemination.  Exciting projects like the Innovation Hub and the new API for NARA’s catalog take the DIY ethos and open access commitment of Wikipedia and apply them to traditional archival tasks. Citizen scanning of archival documents and the ability of people to add tags and transcriptions to items in the online catalog will be ways in which NARA, like Wikipedia, can use crowdsourcing to provide more access to and a richer context for its holdings.

The next morning, I emerged from the Metro stop on Pennsylvania Avenue to the sounds of a brass and drum band playing “Poison” by Bel Biv DeVoe. It was the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, and the sidewalks and streets were filled with vibrant celebration and activity. Inside NARA, that day’s keynote was delivered by Alice Backer of AfroCrowd. AfroCrowd is a new organization devoted improving the representation and participation of Africans and African-Americans in Wikipedia and other open access projects. It was important that their vital work was on center stage at this conference, and not scheduled during the concurrent sessions as an optional “diversity” session that most conference participants might skip.

Highlighting the example of the documentary Garifuna in Peril and topics related to Garifuna, a Central American language and ethnic group of African and indigenous origin, Backer noted the problems encountered by editors mentored by AfroCrowd when attempting to write about topics that the white male-dominated editor base of Wikipedia are unfamiliar with. This problem is hardly limited to AfroCrowd and happens with many different  groups of new editors and topic areas. Many in the audience, including myself, were able to examples of their own experiences with these difficulties. The audience liked my suggestion that instead of having programs like AfroCrowd events only one-way educational experiences, where new editors are educated about Wikipedia, we needed to make the education a two-way process, where established Wikipedia editors are also informed about the significance of topics that groups like AfroCrowd are trying to document. How exactly to do this remains a challenge.

Another significant challenge to Wikipedia was discussed during the final day’s keynote. Danielle Citron, law professor at the University of Maryland, spoke on “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace“, the subject of her book last year from Harvard University Press.   Online harassment is an issue that Wikipedia is dealing with, and failing to deal with, more and more in recent years.  Following Citron’s presentation, many audience members shared their opinions and experiences with harassment on Wikipedia and looked to her for potential solutions.  From the audience, librarian Megan Wacha posted on Twitter “I do love that we’re all so engaged with this issue that we are way over time and no one cares”.  That’s certainly true, but taking that passion and employing it to solve this issue will require some hard choices by the community and perhaps some reassessment of our key values and approaches to Wikipedia.

In between all these speeches were the concurrent sessions where Wikipedians, including myself, presented workshops, presentations, and panels.   It isn’t fair to highlight particular panels or presentations just because I was able to participate in or attend them when there were so many Wikipedians talking about their work on topics ranging from education to metadata to pomological watercolors to dance.  While online, the atmosphere can sometimes, unfortunately, become heated or negative, at this conference I met scores of Wikipedians who were engaged, energized, and passionate about Wikipedia.

Posted in Events, Online Research, Research, Wikipedian in Residence | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Announcing NARA’s Digitization Priorities

We asked! You told us!

A few weeks ago, we asked the public for suggestions and feedback about NARA’s digitization priorities to help us develop an agency-wide priority list.  This list will guide the work of the digitization program over the next couple of years. After putting out that call, responses flooded into us with comments here on NARAtions, emails to, and votes left in our first ever online town hall on Crowd Hall. We were excited by all of the responses and it was fun and interesting to see what you, the public, wanted to see NARA digitize.

Overwhelmingly, people asked us to digitize records of genealogical interest, including immigration and ethnic heritage records; military and veterans records, especially those from World War I and II; and, of course, records that had preservation concerns. People also suggested that we digitize records that relate to specific research themes, including diplomatic relations, law enforcement, and intelligence. When specific records were cited, we assessed the feasibility of digitizing those records and adding them to the list. In one case, the public demand for the “Helper Files” in RG 498, Records of Headquarters, European Theater of Operations, U.S. Army (WWII), was so great that those records were added to the list. I am happy to report that staff has already started to digitize those records and they will be available in the National Archives Catalog in a few months, if not earlier.

Public feedback – and public use of our records – was an important factor in determining what was included in the agency-wide digitization priority list. Many of the topics and broad themes that were publicly suggested are evident in the list, representing a broad range of materials that will enable NARA to further engage with our researchers online. We are excited about sharing the priority list with you and increasing the online availability of our holdings over the next few years.

The following represents our top priorities – it is by no means the entire list of what we would like to digitize over time; however, these projects will be our primary focus over the next 18-24 months. Please note, list order does not reflect order in which projects will be undertaken.

RG/Coll.              Title

Multiple                  Microfilm Publications
Multiple                  Records from Anchorage, Alaska Facility
Multiple                  Records from the William J. Clinton Library
Multiple                  Records of the U.S House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, 1789-1817
(records from the first 14 Congresses)
Multiple                  Treasure Vault Materials at National Archives at College Park (A2)
Multiple                  War Time Films and Photographs
RN-WHT                Nixon White House Tapes
JFKCO                     John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection
65                             Headquarter Files Pertaining to the Assassination of Martin Luther
21                              All Naturalization Records
21                              Bankruptcy Dockets (within certain parameters)
26/36                        Seamen Records / Crew Lists
24                              Naval Muster Rolls
24                              Logbooks of U.S. Navy Ships, 1801-1940
24                              Logbooks of U.S. Navy Ships and Stations, 1941-1978
24                              Bureau of Naval Personnel Casualty Case Cards, 1964-1977
129                            Inmate Case Files (Leavenworth) – first 10,000 case files only
226                            Office of Strategic Services Personnel Files, 1942-1945
59                              Department of State Name Index, 1910-1959
59                              Department of State Central Decimal Files, 1910-1929
15                              Case Files of Disapproved Pension Applications of Veterans of the
Army and the Navy Who Served Mainly in the Civil War and the War
with Spain, 1861-1934
15                              Case Files of Disapproved Pension Applications of Widows and Other
Dependents of Veterans of the Army and Navy, 1861-1934
109                           Record Books of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Offices of the
Confederate Government, 1874-1899
498                          Helper Files, ca. 1945 – 1947 – 19 series/multiple countries
407                           World War II Operations Reports, 1940-1948
29                             1950 Census Enumeration District Maps
373                           German Flown Aerial Photography, 1939-1945
145/114                   Indexes for Aerial Photography of Agricultural Stabilization and
Conservation Service, 1934-1954 / Indexes for Aerial Photography of
the Soil Conservation Service, 1934-1954
210                            Drawings of Relocation Centers, 1942-1945
111                            Signal Corps Photographs of American Military Activity, 1918-1981
80                             General Photographic File of the Department of Navy, 1943-1958

If you have any questions about the digitization priority list, please email

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Introducing the Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit

Today is an important day for participation and innovation in the federal government. The White House officially launched the Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit, a tool that provides information and resources to help federal agencies use the power of public participation to help solve scientific and societal problems.

The launch of this toolkit solidifies the White House’s commitment to advancing the culture of innovation, learning, sharing and doing in the federal community. Through crowdsourcing, we can create approaches to educate, engage, and empower citizens to apply their curiosity and talents to a wide range of real-world problems.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Addresses Crowd at the White House Easter Egg Roll, 4/14/1941. National Archives Identifier 17343446

Franklin D. Roosevelt Addresses Crowd at the White House Easter Egg Roll, 4/14/1941. National Archives Identifier 17343446

Crowdsourcing is not new for us. Back in 2010, the Archivist of the United States introduced the concept of the Citizen Archivist, an effort to engage researchers, educators, historians and the public and provide them with the tools and support necessary to contribute their talents, knowledge and creativity to the mission of the National Archives.

Since then, we have worked hard to create opportunities for citizens to make substantive individual contributions to the records of the National Archives, making those records more accessible to the public.

With more than 12 billion pages of textual records, it’s clear that our mission to “Make Access Happen” would not be possible without the help of our citizen archivists. Each day, we are grateful for our citizen contributors who help make our holdings more discoverable by tagging and transcribing items in our online catalog, subtitling historical videos on Amara, and scanning records in our new Innovation Hub.

We are pleased to be featured as a case study in the White House’s new toolkit, with acknowledgment of the Citizen Archivist Dashboard as a demonstrated success story in federal crowdsourcing.

Citizen Archivist Dashboard Case Study

In support of today’s event at the White House, we’ve created a special “science takeover” in our Citizen Archivist Dashboard. Here you will find several new tagging missions, all containing science-related records from the National Archives.

And while you are there, take a look at the many other ways you can get involved. From tagging missions to transcribing documents, scanning photos to subtitling videos, there is a way for everyone to participate and contribute.

We would love to hear your ideas for how we can continue to expand the dashboard. As a citizen archivist, how do you see yourself contributing your knowledge and talents to the National Archives?

Posted in Events, Open Government, Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Archives Library and Information Center Roundtable

Please join us on Wednesday September 30, 2015 at 11:00 am for our next Reference Roundtable, hosted by the Textual Reference Services Branch at the National Archives at College Park (Archives II).

Jeff Hartley, NARA’s Chief Librarian, will be discussing the Archives Library and Information Center (ALIC). Join us to meet Jeff and learn more about ALIC at the National Archives and the wonderful resources it has to offer. Q&A will immediately follow the presentation.

Date: September 30, 2015
Time: 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Location: National Archives at College Park, Maryland. Lecture Room B

This session is free and open to the public. All researchers and staff are welcome to attend. We hope to see you there!

Mildred C. Crabtree, a civilian librarian, selects books in the library. 7/7/1976

Mildred C. Crabtree, a civilian librarian, selects books in the library for distribution to the wards at Kenner Army Hospital. 7/7/1976.

Posted in DC-area Researchers, Events, Research | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments