Digitization at the National Archives

NARA Principles for Partnerships to Digitize Archival Materials

  1. Agreements with partners to digitize archival materials will be nonexclusive. We will be open to multiple digitizing partners for different sets of materials, but a group of original archival materials will be digitized by only one party.

  2. After an agreed-upon period of time, otherwise known as an embargo period, NARA gains unrestricted rights to the digital copies and the associated metadata transmitted to NARA by the partner, including the right to give or sell digital copies in whole or part to other entities, if NARA so chooses. If resources permit, we will try to make the digital materials available in our online catalog within the same year they are no longer in the embargo period.

  3. Partnerships will support the goals of increased access and enhanced preservation of archival materials. NARA considers its partnerships to be one component in pursuit of these goals because partnering will accelerate the digitization of our physical records. However, we will continue to pursue digitization of records by other means, such as grants to provide funding for digitization.

  4. To further the goal of full access and to achieve preservation benefits, partners will digitize full series or cohesive, substantial file segments of records, not just selected documents. This practice will allow for the removal of the original records from research room use. NARA may permit the digitization of selected archival materials, when a partnership primarily intends to support the development of educational materials, online exhibits, and other thematic presentations—or when partial digitization may otherwise support NARA’s access and preservation goals.

  5. Public access to publicly owned resources will remain free. Partners may develop and charge for value-added features, but access to the digital copies ultimately should be readily accessible and free. NARA acknowledges partners' potential proprietary interest in the digital copies and to value-added features. We also emphasize our own need to maintain and provide an "archival view" of the materials that allows us to understand the actions of Government (e.g., Who created the records? Why? How were the records used? What is their original order? What is their hierarchical arrangement? How do they relate to other records of the same person or organization?).

    • Access to the products of the partnership will be free to the public in all NARA's research rooms.
    • Partners will provide NARA without charge a full set of the digital copies produced by the partnership. These copies shall adhere to NARA's technical specifications. Ultimately, NARA will have unrestricted ownership of these copies, including the right to make these copies freely available online for download.
    • Partners will provide NARA without charge a set of metadata generated by the project sufficient to make the digitized copies usable by NARA; it must adhere to NARA's descriptive standards. Ultimately, NARA will have unrestricted ownership of this metadata, including the right to make this metadata freely available online.
  6. NARA will structure partnerships to balance the interests of the American public with the partner's financial investment in the project. There is no single required partnership model.

  7. NARA currently cannot guarantee the authenticity of the digital copies. NARA requires the partner to take reasonable measures to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the digital copy, including assurances to protect against hacking or other security violation of converted materials. However, NARA cannot endorse the authenticity of archival materials hosted on a digitizing partner's website. Although NARA will guarantee that our digital copies have not been altered after we take possession, copies for users requiring certification will be made from the original documents or NARA-created microfilm.

  8. No partnership agreement to digitize restricted-access materials shall permit the release of these materials before an agreed-upon date or specific contingency, nor shall it delay timely public access.

  9. The safety and accessibility of original records will be maintained at all times during the digitizing process.

    Archival materials will be handled according to NARA’s preservation and security standards at all times.

    • NARA makes the final determination whether archival materials are too fragile for digitization through a partnership.
    • To minimize handling wear-and-tear, original materials normally will only be digitized once.
    • Digitization will take place at a NARA facility or at another facility that NARA has approved.
    • NARA and its partners will seek to minimize the amount of time archival materials will be removed from public access for digitizing.
  10. While respecting the interests of our users and our partners, NARA makes the final determination whether materials may be digitized.

    • Any use of the NARA brand must be approved in writing by NARA.
    • In posting images of NARA records in digital format, a partner will clearly indicate that the original records are in a National Archives facility.
    • A partner may be responsible for costs associated with the digitizing partnerships, to include project management, document identification, collections security (including Federally required staff, contractor, and volunteer background investigations), document preparation (including access review and preservation activities), metadata collection and quality control, data management, digital conversion, and partner's delivery, marketing, and maintenance. NARA may also seek partner assistance in defraying NARA's own delivery, marketing, and maintenance costs. All costs to be borne by the partner will be outlined in a project plan. Any costs not outlined in a project plan or in the partnership agreement will be considered waived.
    • The partner may not claim copyright in the digital copy.
  11. NARA will publicize and seek written comment on proposed partnerships when there is an embargo period before the agreements are signed.