National Archives News

Citizen Archivist Contributions Push Catalog Enhancements Past 2 Million

By Victoria Macchi | National Archives News

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"Wilbur Wright Flying Over a Field of Sheep Near Rome," from the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Public Roads, is one of the records in the National Archives Catalog tagged in a surge of online work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

WASHINGTON, July 12, 2021 — The National Archives Catalog recently surpassed two million pages of records enhanced with tags, transcriptions, and comments, thanks to the record-breaking efforts of citizen archivists, as well as agency employees working from home.

This was the second major milestone in a year for the Citizen Archivist project, which began in 2014. Enhancements reached one million on August 10, 2020, and two million on June 1, 2021.

"After pursuing and achieving the goal of enhancing one million records over several years, we were stunned to surpass the two million records enhanced mark in only 10 months,” said Pamela Wright, the agency’s Chief Innovation Officer. “Citizen archivists and NARA staff have been working hard to make the public's records more accessible to users, and achieving this milestone so quickly is a testament to their dedication."

Citizen Archivists contribute to records by tagging them, making comments, or transcribing documents to make searching easier and allow more members of the public to find documents relevant to their research. (Read more about how keywords help researchers in the NARAtions blog.) The Citizen Archivist team prepares “missions” for contributors to work on, focusing the momentum on particular groups of records at one time.

We’ve had a huge increase in users since the pandemic hit. We made our one million goal a couple of years ahead of time. The contributors are working so fast, and we're trying to make sure we create new missions so people have work to do,” said National Archives Catalog community manager Suzanne Isaacs. “It has been nonstop for many, many months.”

Since August, citizen archivists completed missions that include:

While the public worked on those projects, the National Archives staff enhanced 171,910 pages of the one million since August and completed other missions, including United States Navy Fleet Problems I to XXII, Correspondence Relating to Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Activities , ca. 1937–ca. 1942, and the Repeal of the 18th Amendment.

For many agency employees whose usual work involved working with the physical records on-site, the opportunity to telework throughout the pandemic allowed them to connect with the archival materials in a new way, said Meredith Doviak, National Archives Catalog community manager.

“I think one of the interesting things was that a lot of people who were working on processing records or preserving them or digitizing them were able to then transcribe those records in the catalog. So they were seeing the records from a different perspective,” Doviak said.

Isaacs and Doviak also write a biweekly newsletter featuring the latest projects available to Citizen Archivists that now reaches more than 300,000 subscribers. Sign up for the newsletter.

The work continues on the Catalog’s approximately 142 million individual records, photographs, films, sound recordings, and other documents. Read more about the Citizen Archivist program, including how to register to start tagging and transcribing records, and explore the ongoing missions that citizen archivists can work on from anywhere.