Not Just a Dusty Attic: National Archives in a Digital Age

Information Professionals Blog Series

In an increasingly digital world, information management professionals are taking center stage. But outside of the IT tech guys we associate with online world, we forget about the original records managers: the Archivists and Librarians. This blog series will attempt to highlight how culture is changing within federal archives and libraries and how it affects other agencies. It also gives an opportunity for this usually quiet group of federal employees to finally speak out.

On February 19th, I attended the #SocialGov 2013 Summit: Advancing Citizen Engagement event for Social Media Week 2013 in DC. Representatives from various organizations ranging from GSA to NASA spoke about ways that their agencies were using social media to reach their constituents.

The other panelists jokingly griped about having to present in the same room as NASA. NASA is treated as the golden child when it comes to inspire interest in the public (what could be cooler than tweeting from Mars?). Though I thoroughly enjoyed Jason Townshend’s NASA presentation, my interest was especially sparked in the one made by NARA.

Pamela Wright, the Chief Information Officer at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) took the stage to discuss how the National Archives, an assumedly dusty and old-school agency, was utilizing social media to bring archivist activities to the 21st century public.

Currently NARA is working on 135 projects on 13 different social media platforms such as Wikipedia and Flickr. However, instead of just sharing information, the agency is looking for direct collaboration with the public through Citizen Archivist Dashboard.

A while back, several GovLoopers posted blogs discussing the, then upcoming, Citizen Archivist Initiative. Now, in 2013, the program has been in full swing and has shown to be a worthwhile experience, with thousands of articles already transcribed.

The public is encouraged to:

-Tag, transcribe, edit articles in wikisource
-Tag photographs in Flickr

Surprised at how successful it was so quickly, NARA decided to post items in foreign languages (some rather obscure) to see if anyone would transcribe them. Not too long after, those items were also accurately transcribed.

Many people were concerned that “trolls” or other online pranksters would post irrelevant content when transcribing or tagging items, but Wright excitedly stated that so far everyone has been professional and extremely helpful.

The goal now is to link NARA-related material on multiple social media sites, especially posts by patrons to encourage a more active online community.Wright says her hope is to one day collect data relating to National Archives’ collections posted by the public. She shared an example of when a patron found an interesting document with Abraham Lincoln’s signature on it while in the research room at NARA, so he posted the picture to a social media site. (Maybe Facebook’s analytics might help with this)

What do you think about NARA’s method of crowdsourcing meta-data?

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Cynthia Hinkle

I think that this wonderful how the National Archives are becoming more digital. The National Archives are such a wonderful resource and the more people who are able to access it and get help through online communities the better.