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Thanks for your question, Mr. Burnett. NARA published its Strategy for Digitizing Archival Materials for Public Access, 2015-2024 in December 2014 which sets forth our long-term objectives regarding digitization of our holdings and making that digital content freely available via the National Archives Catalog. The strategy is available here: Strategy for Digitizing Archival Materials | National Archives
The archival units within the Office of Research Services have made great strides over the last several years digitizing our holdings for inclusion in the National Archives Catalog. Last year, staff across Research Services archival units digitized a variety of record formats - textual, special media, microfilm - and added over 2M digitized pages to the catalog for access by our researchers. Colleagues in the Presidential Library system are doing the same. Many of those same staff members are also a critical part of prepping records that are being digitized by NARA's Imaging Lab and our various digitization partners. I defer to my colleagues in the Office of Innovation's Digitization Division and Digital Public Access Branch to detail further efforts around digitization streams and how we are working to make those images fully accessible online.
You mention organizations who make digital copies available online of files requested and fulfilled by others. This is commonly known as Scan on Demand, an approach NARA has explored in the past and continues to consider as we move forward in our digitization efforts and investigate efficient, cost-effective ways to digitize our records.
Chief of Digitization
Office of Research Services
National Archives and Records Administration
Thank you for the update. I am writing a longer response to Andrew Wilson and hope that some of my comments may be taken constructively. I realize the vast amount of records you maintain represents a daunting challenge but for those of us who, because of economical or age reasons, are limited to researching remotely, access to digitized records in a searchable .pdf format would be our dream.
Out of curiosity, has the National Archives explored what technological options are available (or being researched) for rapid, high quality digitization?
To the best of my (admittedly limited) knowledge, duplication currently is limited to flatbed scanners/copiers for loose records (or camera images depending on quality requirements) and cameras for bound records. Current flatbed scanner technology (at least, anything affordable and portable) is capable of good quality images but is quite slow at archival resolutions (my Innovation Hub experiences, IIRC, were in the ~300-400 pages per day range, working steadily) and overhead imaging of bound records without something to press the pages flat (which is almost always not done - and to my knowledge *never* done by citizen researchers) results in distorted images which must be post-processed to (try to) correct the distortion.
It seems from my perspective that developing new approaches (perhaps projected light grids combined with Dr. Brown's work on distortion removal of scanned print materials, or even directly using 3d point cloud scanners and flattening algorithms...) would have a potentially huge payoff for both the NARA's digitization efforts and researchers looking to digitize records. Has doing or supporting work on new techniques been considered by the NARA?
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NARA has a long history of investigating technological solutions to provide greater access to our records. In terms of digitization, there are several offices that work together to find and implement new solutions. This is particularly important as we expand our systematic mass digitization approaches in-house. Over the last few years, we have been exploring a wide-range of digitization equipment and workflows to execute digitization projects, including autofeed and conveyor-belt scanners. This is similar to what many of our colleagues at other archives both here in the U.S. and internationally are also doing and it's been exciting to have conversations with them to exchange ideas and share knowledge.
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Mr. Burnett - I’d like to thank you for your question as well. I think my colleague, Denise, did a good job of highlighting the overarching strategy to our digitization and public access efforts as well as the work in her office. The main takeaway that I would like to reemphasize is that the National Archives Catalog is intended to be the primary mechanism by which our holdings are made available online. This includes digitization work done by partners, digitization through crowdsourcing efforts such as those conducted at the Innovation Hub and digitization work done by NARA staff.
However, I’d also like to add a few comments about findability as well. There is a tremendous amount of material currently available in the Catalog (currently over 38 million objects) and this number is growing every day. As we endeavor to grow the size of our holdings online, we are also working very hard to improve the findability of those records. It is of no help to anyone if something is online but not findable. This work takes multiple forms including:
- Improving search via performance enhancements and better metadata;
- Conducting audience research to inform improvements to the User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) of the Catalog; and
- Developing other platforms and channels to assist with discoverability such as through topic-based “portals” on Archives.gov (see WWI Centennial) and the National Archive Catalog Newsletter.
And, once again, thanks for taking the time to comment.
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Thank you for the expanded response. A number of us have been involved in research at the national and state archives for most of our lives and I've reached the point where age and health no longer let me make the trip to research on site. Based on my own research circle, I'm not the only one in that position.
Traditionally, when we could visit the Archives, we planned far in advance, pulled as many records as we could, filled photo memory cards with as many shots as we could take and then upon returning to our home offices, spent the next several months researching our "findings." Any many cases, as with Allied Prisoners of the Japanese Website, several of us then transcribed records for weeks on time in order to make them useable in our research and to our friends. I might add that the vast majority of this work was done at our own expense and records then made available to others at no cost. Even today, I continue to help second and third generation family members locate information about their family members who were members of the military in World Wars I and II, Korea and even Vietnam.
Since we are limited by the destruction of service records from the 1973 fire, much of our research is in other areas and my comparison to the Australian Archives and the Military Museum regarding digitized files as well as to Maxwell AF and Army History were that when records are found and pulled, it seems to make sense to digitized them at that time and then post. Of course, a broader strategy to digitize all records is great but do we researchers have the ability to "vote" or suggest certain prioritization? Mine, of course, would be War Department and Army unit records (day reports, etc) 1917-1950.
In any case, thank you for your efforts on our behalf.