About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for the 35th Biennial Congress of the International Association of Paper Historians

Greetings from the National Archives’ flagship building in Washington, DC, which sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to be a part of the 35th Biennial Congress of the International Association of Paper Historians.

Long before the United States was a nation, record keepers understood the importance of keeping records. Starting with the Continental Congress and the Revolutionary War, the government was creating records. As the bureaucracy grew, so did the amount of records. Documents were piling up all over Washington in damp garages, basements, etc. Finally in the 1920s, Congress approved funds for a “Hall of Records,” which became the National Archives Building in the mid-1930s.

Congress established the National Archives to centralize federal record keeping. Our core mission is the same as it was the day we were created in 1934. 

We collect, protect, and provide access to the most important government records. We make the records available so that the American public can hold its government accountable and learn from our past. We keep about two to three percent of all of the records created by the government each year. But they are the ones with long-term historic or legal interest.

Today that collection translates into over 15 billion sheets of paper, 44 million photographs, miles and miles of video and film, and more than 6 billion electronic records—the fastest growing record form. 

We serve customers at 44 locations all over the country, not just in the Washington area. This includes our massive National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, presidential libraries, and regional archives.

We are committed to the preservation of original records as they provide us with important information about our material culture and give a tangible connection to our history. This can be a challenging time to find resources for preserving original records, when digitization, electronic records preservation, and providing online access can absorb so many of our resources. The National Archives’ Preservation Strategy shows our commitment to preserve the vast holdings that document our nation’s historic record on paper by expanding our paper-based treatment services. Within our Preservation Programs Division, we have elevated Heritage Science Research and Testing to its own branch and hired a new director, so that the National Archives can continue to provide leadership in scientific-based preservation guidance essential for our own records and those of other archival institutions.

Our experienced conservators are internationally recognized experts in the treatment of historic papers, as you will see in the presentation by NARA conservators later in the conference. Even during the pandemic, Preservation Programs staff conserved Revolutionary War pensions to preserve these historic documents and support their digitization for wider access. Also, they treated military service papers so veterans and their families could claim needed benefits.

Complementing the hands-on work of conservators and technicians, the National Archives uses preventive preservation strategies such as environmental management, holdings maintenance, and preservation policies to ensure the safety of all our records. Science, conservation treatment, and sensible management are the three-pronged approach of the National Archives preservation program. I personally know the value and connection to history that original records can convey. I see preservation of original records as a fundamental mission of the National Archives and support it as such along with our goals of providing digital access to these records and preserving the newer electronic records of our nation.

During this Congress, you will hear a presentation by two National Archives staff members Halaina Demba and Yoonjoo Strumfels from our Conservation Branch. They will talk about “Developing a watermark database for the First Federal Congress records” during the "Studies in Paper" portion of your program.

I wish you a successful and enjoyable Congress.