What Are You Working On, Sara Lathom?

Ever wonder what exciting new projects the many employees at NARA are working on? The “What are You Working On?” blog feature aims to introduce a variety of NARA employees and highlight some of the exciting projects we are working on around the agency.

What is your name and title?
Sara Lathom, Student Trainee (Archival Science), Archives Technician

Sara Lathom

Sara painting Aunt Polly’s white fence for Tom Sawyer in Hannibal, MO the boyhood home of Mark Twain.

Where is your job located?
National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, MO

What is your job in a nutshell?
I recently became a Correspondence Technician in November 2014 under the Pathways Program. I respond to requests for military, medical (inpatient and outpatient) for military and dependents, and all other records needed. I send these to veterans, family members, Congressional offices, and any other customer who has authorization for the records. I also respond to Freedom of Information Act and Archival (records 62 years or older) requests.

What are you working on right now? (Why is it cool/why does it matter?)
I am two-thirds of the way through training. There is so much to learn about military records! I really enjoy it because there is always something new to learn, and I enjoy the challenge.

How long have you been at NARA? Have you worked at any other NARA location?
I have been with NARA for over a year now. I came to NARA in December 2013 as a temporary Pathways employee, working in the Records Retrieval Branch – Refile department here at NPRC. I do not miss climbing the ladders!

What has changed since you started at NARA?
There have been some shifts in personnel. I am always excited to see people with great talent moving up.

Do you have a favorite day at NARA, or a favorite discovery or accomplishment?
We had a “Chip In” over-time event back in September 2014 where I came in as having refiled the most records for the day – 1,211!

What are your passions or interests outside of work?
I hopefully will be in possession of a bassoon here in the next couple weeks. I studied bassoon in my undergraduate with a member of The Cleveland Orchestra. I’m excited to have the time and opportunity to play with a local community orchestra this year!

What is the last book you read, or the last book you loved?
I recently read one of Mary Roach’s books, and it was oddly interesting. I think I’d like to read “Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal” next.

Are there any other cool facts that you would like folks to know about you?
I moved here from Ohio to take my first job at NARA. It was a huge risk: I didn’t have any money to move and I wasn’t sure my car was even going to make the drive. Thankfully it all worked out! I am really happy to be working for NARA. I hope that maybe someday I can transfer to an east coast facility, so I can be closer to my family in Pittsburgh.

Posted in NARA Coast to Coast, What Are You Working On Wednesdays | Tagged , ,

Navy Maritime Reference Roundtable

Join us on Wednesday, March 25, 2015 at 11:00 am for our next Reference Roundtable session on Navy and Maritime related records.  The session will be held in room G-25 at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Learn from the experts who work with the records! We will be discussing new searching tools and finding aids and recent discoveries, including a late 18th Century British Navy Letter Book and Lighthouse Reservation Files.

Please see the full agenda here: Navy Maritime Reference Roundtable Agenda

This session is free and open to researchers and the public. We hope to see you there!

Constitution sail plan

RG 19, Bureau of Ships, Still Picture Division, 19-N-9982, National Archives Identifier 512970

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

What Are You Working On, Jessica Sims?

Ever wonder what exciting new projects the many employees at NARA are working on? The “What are You Working On?” blog feature aims to introduce a variety of NARA employees and highlight some of the exciting projects we are working on around the agency.

What is your name and title?

Jessica Sims (I go by Jessie) and I am an Audio-Video Preservation Specialist.

Jessie Sims

Where is your job located?

Audio-Video Preservation Lab – Archives II – College Park, MD.  Some folks don’t even know we exist, but we do and are located in the basement!

What is your job in a nutshell?

In a nutshell, I make new copies of old sound recordings and videotapes so that they can be accessed by researchers and staff and preserved for the long term.  Due to the inherent instability of audio and video records, our goal is to create high-quality master preservation files of the original content in digital form that will not only serve as a preservation master of the original, but also may be easily accessed for research purposes.

For both analog and digital formats, the more the media is used and migrated, the more at risk the overall recording becomes – so we take our job very seriously when it comes to ensuring we make the best possible transfer of our records.

What are you working on right now?  (Why is it cool/why does it matter?)   

We currently have a few exciting things going on in the A/V Lab!  I am working on an audio preservation project from the Ford Presidential Library as well as a video preservation project in our SCIF.

To give a bigger picture of things going on in the Lab, we are updating our storage infrastructure to support the  increasing amount of data we create in the Special Media Labs.  With the help from staff in Information Services, the Audio-Video Lab has recently acquired 30 terabytes of working storage on spinning disk with an additional 350 terabytes of permanent storage using a managed LTO-6 tape library.  Storage is a very important aspect of our job because we create very large, uncompressed preservation files.  All derivatives are sent to the online catalog, but we continue to run into the issue of running out of storage because we are creating more and more digital content.

While this upgrade most definitely helps us for the time being, the Special Media Labs as well as the rest of NARA will continue to need more storage as we create more data and we will need to move our focus to an agency-wide level infrastructure update at some point in the very near future to support our mission to preserve and make accessible NARA’s records.

How long have you been at NARA?  Have you worked at any other NARA location?

I’ve been at College Park for six years – prior to coming here, I worked at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in the Audiovisual Archives.  At the Library, I wasn’t a full-fledged government employee just-yet, I worked for the Foundation.

What has changed since you started at NARA?

A lot has changed since I started, including making a complete analog to digital transition which means we have strictly a digital workflow in the Lab.  We have just implemented new video editing and encoding workstations after significant R&D and we are providing more files to the online catalog than we have been able to do in the past.

Do you have a favorite day at NARA, or a favorite discovery or accomplishment?

A few years ago, we received a handful of Tokyo Rose glass disc recordings in the Lab that needed to be reformatted for preservation.  While fragile and not in the best shape, these recordings were pretty awesome!  Used as propaganda during World War II by Japanese radio to lower the morale of GI’s in the South Pacific, the programs we received were hosted by Orphan Ann; she would often refer to troops as “wandering boneheads of the Pacific Islands,” and provide playful banter and sappy American love songs during the program.

There’s speculation as to whether the broadcasts actually hurt morale of the GI’s, but nonetheless, it was a pretty entertaining program to listen to!

What are your passions or interests outside of work?

Outside of work I love to cook, bake, and run.  I have a dog (named Jazz) and he is the perfect running partner, so we spend a lot of outdoors time together.

Jessie Sims

What is the last book you read, or the last book you loved?

The last book I tried  to read was Game of Thrones – I love the HBO series, but just can’t get through the book!  I would have to say the last book I loved was a collection of short stories from NPR’s National Story Project: I Thought My Father was God and Other True Tales.  All true-life stories, this book gives a wonderful insight into the human experience of life and was absolutely wonderful.

Are there any other cool facts that you would like folks to know about you??

I’ve done a number of triathlons and while I’m not currently training for one, I continue to keep up with my workouts at the NARA gym with a group of friends.  We meet for spin on a regular basis and it’s a nice time to catch up and enjoy our time together.

I’m also a huge Lord of the Rings fan and have read the books and seen the movies many times!

Posted in Digitization, Preservation, What Are You Working On Wednesdays | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Transcribe #1000pages for Sunshine Week

NARA is excited to participate in Government-wide Sunshine Week activities by launching our first Transcription Challenge in the National Archives Catalog!

Here at the Archives, we like to say that there is a story in every box. Help us unlock those stories by transcribing the digitized records in the catalog.  Our goal this week is to complete 1,000 transcriptions from Monday, March 16th through Monday, March 23rd.

#1000pages graphic

Get started by visiting the Transcription Challenge page on the Citizen Archivist Dashboard. You’ll find instructions on how to create an account and transcription missions, tips, and individual records to transcribe.

Do you have favorite records already online the catalog and you think they’d be good for the challenge?  Email us at catalog@nara.gov so we can add it to our web page.

Tweet us @USNatArchives using the hashtag #1000pages to let us know what you’re working on and what you find in the records!

Follow us throughout the week to keep up with our progress.  Will we reach #1000pages?  Not unless you accept the challenge!

Ready.  Set.  Transcribe!

Posted in Catalog, Digitization, Open Government, Social Media (Web 2.0) | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

@ThisisArchives staff Twitter account

Are you interested in learning more about the many different projects and employees at the National Archives? We are excited to introduce a new staff-run Twitter account: @ThisisArchives!

Each week, a different National Archives employee will take a turn on Twitter, sharing details about our profession, projects we are working on, and what it’s like to be an employee at the National Archives.

We think this will be a fun way to show the diversity of NARA staff and jobs across the country, and give you an opportunity to get to know our staff while we provide an inside look at some of our current projects.

Image of Women in county vocational school, 1942.
What are you working on, NARA employees?
Image from Record Group 208: Records of the Office of War Information, 1926 – 1951. National Archives Identifier 535579

This project is inspired by similar projects from the State of Vermont (@ThisisVT) and Wikipedia (@WeAreWikipedia).

We’ll be kicking off the project on March 16, just in time for Sunshine Week. You can follow along at @ThisisArchives. We can’t wait to introduce you to some of the great people and projects at the National Archives!

For Sunshine week, we will also be kicking off a Transcription Challenge with the goal of transcribing more than 1,000 pages in a week!  We need your help to meet that goal.  We hope you’ll join us in working to transcribe historical records in our new National Archives Catalog and join in on Twitter with the hashtag #1000pages.

Posted in Social Media (Web 2.0), What Are You Working On Wednesdays | Tagged , , , , ,

What's New On Amara?

Last March we introduced you to our new crowdsource video caption tool, Amara. This neat tool allows anyone with an interest in transcribing our motion picture collection to join our team and start typing what you hear! After the captioning is done in Amara, the captions are transferred back to YouTube, making our holdings accessible to even more people and 508 compliant (a win win!).

One of the projects that has been very successful on Amara is with World War I & II films, an ongoing digitization project.  We’ve already uploaded 15 videos with full audio, and asked our team members to caption the dialog in those videos. While this project has helped us overcome disabilities and language barriers with our users, we also have over 50 silent films that we would like to make more accessible too. How will we do this? With tagging, of course! Take a look at our tagging instructions for the World War I Silent Films, and help us pioneer this new way of approaching digitizing these videos.

Project Goal

The goal of the Tagging Project is to describe the visual information within a specific project of videos on the National Archives Amara team. These tags will make it easy for users to search our video archive for what they’re looking for.


1. Go to this project on the National Archives Amara team:


2. Click on a video thumbnail

amara 1

3. Click “Add a new language”

amara 2

4. Then select English for both drop down selections

amara 3

Since these videos have no spoken audio, your role will be to add text describing the visual information. The more specific you can be with your text, the better. For example, instead of saying { Tank } it would be better to say { Iosif Stalin Tank }. To help distinguish these tags from captioned text, please include these tags within curly brackets { like this! }.

Happy tagging!

Posted in Digitization, Films | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

What Are You Working On, Lloyd Beers?

Ever wonder what exciting new projects the many employees at NARA are working on? The “What are You Working On?” blog feature aims to introduce a variety of NARA employees and highlight some of the exciting projects we are working on around the agency.

What is your name and title? My name is Lloyd A Beers, Jr., and my title is Senior Appraisal Archivist.png;base64a66e68fd9c5ad497

 Where is your job located?

I am part of ACNR at Archives II in College Park.

What is your job in a nutshell?

 As an appraisal archivist, I assist agencies in identifying and describing their records, determining which records are temporary or permanent and then developing records schedules that formalize the proper disposition of those records.  The ultimate goal is to ensure that permanent records which possess enduing archival are retained by the National Archives and preserved for future use.

 What are you working on right now?  (Why is it cool/why does it matter?)  

 I am currently working with the General Services Administration on a comprehensive (“big bucket”) records schedule that will schedule all of the records generated by GSA that are not covered by the NARA General Records Schedule (GRS).  This matters because this work is integral to NARA’s mission and involves a number of NARA goals and objectives which are a naturally occurring part of my work.  Records appraisal and scheduling are the first in a number of steps to facilitate public access to high value government records.  The work I am doing now will determine the permanent records that NARA will accession in the years to come.  This work is helping to reform and modernize records management policies and practices in conjunction with being responsive and understanding with regard to the needs of our agency customers.  I like to think that my current and future work will strive to best address and serve the lifecycles of all manner of government records.

 How long have you been at NARA?  Have you worked at any other NARA location?  

 I have worked at NARA for 8 years.  I started in Research Services as a processing archivist in the Archivist Development (ADP) program.  I have not worked in a permanent position at any other NARA location.  However, did spend several months at the WNRC working on a project that involved an inventory of classified records.  This gave me insight into some of the challenges of record center work. What has changed since you started at NARA? I arrived at NARA during a transition period.  Until recently my vantage point was the processing branch in Research Services.  Around 2006 a number of long time employees had recently retired and a new generation of archivists professionally trained in archival studies programs began joining NARA’s ranks.  I was a member of this cohort.  It has been gratifying to see a shift in emphasis from historical to archival expertise.  This is not so say that the new archivist’s lack education or interest in history, because they do not.  The difference is that the new generation self-identify as professional archivists, and view their work and its relationship to the goals of NARA’s strategic plan in those terms.  This is important because professionally processed and described holdings greatly contribute to making access happen.

 Do you have a favorite day at NARA, or a favorite discovery or accomplishment?

I enjoyed sense of accomplishment as part of the team effort to process and describe approximately 40,000 cubic feet of Department of Justice case files and enclosures during FY 2013.  This was a huge undertaking that significantly improved the accessibility of these records.  This work also brought to light significant materials relating to Justice Department investigations into matters of civil rights, voting rights, equal education, and prison conditions.  Particularly poignant were files that contained handwritten letters from the late 1950’s and early 1960’s sent to DOJ from all over the country pleading with the Department to investigate citizen claims of civil rights violations.   

What are your passions or interests outside of work?  

 My current hobby is cars.  I have owned Mercedes-Benz automobiles for the last 20 years.  Within the last few years I decided acquire and fix-up (restore is too strong of a word) a 1990 S Class sedan that has become my daily driver.  I also have another 1988 “rescue” car in my garage that I am currently rebuilding the transmission with the hope of making it roadworthy.

 What is the last book you read, or the last book you loved?

 Of late the only books I read are related to my research into the psychology of archives.  The last book I read was Collecting: An Unruly Passion: Psychological Perspectives by Werner Muensterberger.  Though not specifically about archivists, there are many parallels that can be drawn.

 Are there any other cool facts that you would like folks to know about you?

Working at the National Archives is a dream come true.  Being a professional archivist is a second career for me.  Prior to 2006, I worked in various capacities in the maritime shipping business including 20 years as an officer in the Merchant Marine, as an Operations Manager for two shipping lines, and as a marine surveyor for a national company.  It is rare to be able to completely change careers late in life and have as successful of a transition as I have enjoyed.  I never lose sight of how lucky I am.

Posted in What Are You Working On Wednesdays | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Stories From Our Holdings: Irish Researchers Study Civil War Records from the NARA/Fold3 Collaboration

Through the holdings of the National Archives are a myriad of stories that are ready to be told, from struggle and misfortune to triumph and perseverance. In this “Stories From Our Holdings” series, we will endeavor to highlight works that have been created utilizing the tens of millions of our primary source documents, photographs, and films. In accomplishing this mission, we also hope to give well deserved exposure to the individuals who have come through the doors of the National Archives and discovered these stories.

Many stories are discovered while researching the records at the National Archives. One story, “‘The Hard Industry of My Own Hands’: Three American Civil War Widows in Ireland Struggle to Survive,” was created by Damian Shiels, an Ireland- based archaeologist specializing in conflict archaeology, which was first published on his website, Irish in the American Civil War. Mr. Shiels shared his research journey with us by email.

Damian Shiels
Damien Shiels, Photo courtesy of Goodreads, 2014

As he researched his story, Mr. Shiels utilized records culled from the pension files of the National Archives, including personal letters and official government correspondence between Washington D.C and the U.S. Consulate in Ireland, to tell the story of the hardships faced by three Irish women: Eleanor Hogg, Maria Sheppell and Honora Cleary. Although these women were from different religious and geographical backgrounds within Ireland, they shared unenviable commonalities in that all three were poor, illiterate, and had lost their husbands to the American Civil War. Interestingly, they also share the similarity that there is no evidence that any of these women ever set foot in the United States.

Shiels believes that the husbands of these women, Francis Michael Cleary, Farrell Hogg, and Nicholas Sheppell, left  poor lives in Ireland in order to eventually make a better life for their families in America. During this time, service on behalf of the Union Army in the American Civil War was much more financially lucrative than a farmer or laborer’s allowance in impoverished Ireland. As he continued to research the connections between these women, Shiels discovered appeals made by an employee of the U.S. Consulate in Ireland to the Commissioner of Pensions in Washington, DC. The records showed that a case was made for the women to receive their deceased husbands’ pensions. The records indicate not only where, when, and at what age the men had passed away, but also that they left behind 15 children among them.

Because these records were digitized through a partnership with the National Archives and Fold3, they were available for a researcher in Ireland to discover and use. Since Mr. Shiels is based in Ireland and has no physical access to the U.S. National Archives, finding these records online was extremely valuable. In addition to labeling the NARA/Fold3 holdings on the Civil War Widows’ Pensions an “underused resource by many Civil War scholars,” Shiels also states  that:

“I firmly believe it is one of the finest repositories of information on 19th century Irish emigrants both in Ireland and the US available, but is completely unknown by Irish historians… None of my work on pensions would be possible without the exceptional effort currently taking place in the National Archives to digitize this material and make it available online via Fold3.”

170th New York, Corcoran's Irish Legion

170th New York, Corcoran’s Irish Legion on reserve picket duty. A significant amount of Irish immigrants fought for both the North and the South during the American Civil War. Photo Courtesy Library of Congress

If you’d like to learn more about the digitization project that Mr. Shiels used in his research, check out the Civil War Widows’ Pension Digitization Project video on the National Archives’ YouTube channel.

Posted in Digitization, Online Research, Research, Stories From Our Holdings | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What Are You Working On, Michelle Farnsworth?

Ever wonder what exciting new projects the many employees at NARA are working on? The “What are You Working On?” blog feature aims to introduce a variety of NARA employees and highlight some of the exciting projects we are working on around the agency.

What is your name and title?

​Michelle Farnsworth, Digital Imaging Technician​

Michelle Farnsworth

Where is your job located?

​I am located at A1 in Washington, DC.

What is your job in a nutshell?

​I consider myself an in-house custom photo lab for NARA. I work with the Exhibits (LX) department to scan and photograph records that are going on exhibit or being loaned out. I make facsimiles for exhibit purposes, as well as many gift facsimiles​ ​for AOTUS, The White House, and The State Department. I also work with Jane Fitzgerald in Research Services, to fulfill any high-quality scanning and printing re​quests from the public.

What are you working on right now?  (Why is it cool/why does it matter?)

​Right now I’m working on scans for our upcoming exhibit, Spirited Republic. Some items that we are borrowing from other NARA libraries have arrived at A1 and they need to be photographed for use online, and in the eBook that will accompany the exhibit. ​

​It’s cool because the items themselves carry historical significance as they belonged, or were gifted, to former U.S. Presidents. The items themselves are often challenging to photograph, which is a nice change of pace from my usual subject matter. ​

How long have you been at NARA?  Have you worked at any other NARA location?

​I’ll be celebrating 8 years with NARA, this spring. When I started, I was working up at the College Park Digital Imaging Lab, but moved down to A1 after a few months to get this lab up and running.  ​

What has changed since you started at NARA?

I was brought into NARA by the late, great Steve Puglia. He had hired and created a small, but very effective team of skilled Imaging Technicians who were excited about the work and environment. That original team was then combined with the former Photo Lab staff to create a bigger Digital Imaging team. We were originally  part of Preservation, but then got moved to IT, and now we are located under the Office of Innovation. It feels a bit like Prince Charming trying to find just the right fit for Cinderella’s shoe!

Do you have a favorite day at NARA, or a favorite discovery or accomplishment?

​I will always remember the two occasions that I was able to photograph Magna Carta. The first time was when David M. Rubenstein had just bought it and the document made it’s way back to NARA. Conservation had taken it out of it’s case to assess it, and we set up an imaging environment in the A1 Conservation Lab so we could work with the conservators to photograph its condition.  ​

​The second time, it was out at A2 after having been newly treated, and I was asked to photograph the process of it being put into it’s shiny new case, which is now on permanent display in our Records of Rights exhibit.​

What are your passions or interests outside of work?

​Outside of work I’m a photographer. ​I’m a chef. I’m a baker. Occasionally, I’m a runner. And on Monday nights, you’ll find me with my girlfriends watching The Bachelor and filling out our Bachelor brackets.

What is the last book you read, or the last book you loved?

​I read Beautiful Ruins by  Jess Walter, over Christmas. But the last book I loved?  That would be We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Listen to the audiobook, the reader does the most amazing job conveying the emotion of this story.  ​

Are there any other cool facts that you would like folks to know about you?

​My instagram followers join me on my vacations because I share so many travel photos, you feel like you’re there with me…kind of against your will. Also, my photo of the fall leaves is hanging in the hallway at A2!

Posted in Digitization, Photographs, What Are You Working On Wednesdays | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Emmy Award Winning Sound Editor Teams with NARA

Harry Snodgrass has dedicated his life to editing, mixing, and producing sound in films. After his first foray into the business as a student at Temple University’s School of Radio Television & Film, Harry moved to Hollywood where he launched a career as a post production sound supervisor, sound editor, and sound mixer.

After beginning work for 20th Century Fox in 1988, Harry was credited as being one of the first to utilize electronic editing by developing and adapting software tools such as Avid and Digidesign to fit the needs of studio sound editors and mixers.

After his success at 20th Century Fox, Harry was offered a position at Universal Studios where he eventually became the manager of the post-production sound editorial department. While serving as Manager of Editorial, he oversaw a large production staff and worked with other studio departments such as film/TV production and studio operations.

From his work on the cult classic Napoleon Dynamite, to the restoration of the 1958 Orson Welles masterpiece Touch of Evil, Harry’s work spans many film genres. In addition to Touch of Evil, Harry’s sound restoration work includes Rear Window, Vertigo, and The Big Red One. Recognition and appreciation for his multifaceted, 100+ film career has led to multiple Emmy award nominations culminating in a win in 2006 for his work as a sound editor on the film Flight 93

Harry Emmy
Harry accepts 2006 The Emmy Award for Outstanding Sound Editing for a Mini-series, Movie or a Special. Photo Courtesy of IMDb

Harry recently brought his skills and talents to the National Archives and Records Administration where he is now working with the Motion Picture Preservation Lab as a preservation technician.  Although sifting through thousands of hours of fragile World War I and World War II era films and stills can be extremely tedious, Harry has enjoyed working on the myriad of thought-provoking, interesting and unusual films that reside in the NARA vaults.

Harry HD transfer
Harry uses a non-linear editing system to prepare an HD transfer of 35mm film for transcode to access files.; Location: Archives 2 – Motion Picture Preservation Lab, College Park, MD; Photographer: Richard Schneider

In addition to the hands-on aspects of sound/film preservation, Harry also documents and promotes the work that the Motion Picture Preservation team does in the blog The Unwritten Record.

Harry Altra
Harry is setting up the Altra for an HD transfer.; Location: Archives 2 – Motion Picture Preservation Lab, College Park, MD; Photographer: Richard Schneider

The films that Harry and the rest of the Motion Picture Preservation Lab are currently working on will be assessed, digitized and uploaded to the National Archives YouTube channel. Users can view the digitized films as part of this project on this playlist.

NARAtions and The Unwritten Record will continue to highlight the works of the Motion Picture Preservation Lab team in the coming months.

Posted in Digitization, Films, Preservation | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment