National Archives News

Archives Jackpot: Citizen Archivist Contributions Top One Million

By Victoria Macchi | National Archives News

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"Harvest," one of the records from the Federal Works Agency collection, "Completed Murals and Sculptures in United States Post Offices and other Federal Buildings, 1935 - 1943." The artwork was one of the items tagged during a now-completed Citizen Archivist mission.

WASHINGTON, September 17, 2020—The Citizen Archivists who tag, transcribe, and comment in the National Archives Catalog recently achieved a milestone: their contributions have now enhanced more than one million pages of records.

The community-sourced project witnessed a surge in contributions this fiscal year, then got an additional boost from the public and from National Archives staff, when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted increased telework for the agency and across the United States, beginning in March.

From March 2020 to August 2020, the average number of weekly contributors more than doubled, from 202 to 496. During the same period, the average number of pages enhanced per week increased from 4,000 to more than 19,000.  

The end result was a leap in community participation that pushed the Catalog from about 634,000 pages that had tags, transcriptions, or comments, to 1 million pages.

“When the pandemic hit, National Archives staff who had never had the chance to work in the Catalog found themselves with an opportunity to contribute,” said Pamela Wright, the agency’s Chief Innovation Officer. “For many of them, this was their first chance to do so. The quality and quantity of the work has been impressive. Their work, along with the ongoing excellent work from our Citizen Archivists, has been essential to providing access to our records.” 

The early effects on the Citizen Archivist project were notable, with triple the usual number of enhancements happening in the first month of stay-at-home orders.

“The response from both Citizen Archivists and National Archives staff has been just tremendous,” said Benjamin Petersen, Digital Partnerships and Outreach Director in the Office of Innovation. “Without their contributions, achieving this milestone would not be possible.”

National Archives Catalog community managers Meredith Doviak and Suzanne Isaacs knew their goal was approaching early last month. They had watched the numbers of enhancements climb annually in the past several years, and more than doubling in the last year.

Since Fiscal Year 2020 began last fall, Citizen Archivists have enhanced 566,024 pages, compared to 223,983 pages the previous year, and 122,799 pages in FY 2018.

On August 3, they saw their years of efforts to increase public interest in improving the Catalog come together to reach the 1 million mark.

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.) This year, the community focused on tagging and transcribing a variety of records on subjects including woman suffrage, military awards, Civilian Conservation Corps photographs, Chinese American history, and African American history, as well as records from each of the Presidential Libraries, noted Isaacs.

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"Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway - View from Emory Pass Vista," part of the ongoing "America's Scenic Byways" Citizen Archivist mission. Sign up to contribute to these and other records online.

“It is remarkable to think that more than 1 million pages of records are now more searchable and easier to find in our Catalog,” said Doviak. “This allows people who would have never been able to visit the National Archives in person, especially during a pandemic, to more readily access these records from anywhere in the world.”

The million-record goal is part of the National Archives Strategic Plan, 2018–2022, which was established as a way to Connect with Customers, encouraging the public to engage with their government and explore American history by contributing unique content to the National Archives Catalog. 

The work is not over, however. The Catalog contains approximately 118 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.

The Community Managers also write a biweekly newsletter featuring the latest projects available to Citizen Archivists. (Sign up for the newsletter.)