National Historical Publications & Records Commission

Digitizing Historical Records

Grant Announcement (Initial):

Digitizing Historical Records

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission promotes the preservation and use of America's documentary heritage essential to understanding our democracy, history, and culture.

The following grant application information is for Digitizing Historical Records Projects.

Funding Opportunity Number:   DIGITIZING-10

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) Number:   89.003

  • Draft Deadline (optional):   April 1, 2009
  • Final Deadline:   June 5, 2009

NHPRC support begins no earlier than January 1, 2010.

Grant Program Description

The Commission seeks proposals that use cost-effective methods to digitize nationally significant historical record collections and make the digital versions freely available online. Projects must make use of existing holdings of historical repositories and consist of entire collections or series. The materials should already be available to the public at the archives and described so that projects can re-use existing information to serve as metadata for the digitized collection.

To make these projects as widely useful as possible for archives, historical repositories, and researchers, the applications must demonstrate:

  1. The national significance of the collections or records series to be digitized;
  2. An effective work flow that repurposes existing descriptive material, rather than creating new metadata about the records;
  3. Reasonable costs and standards for the project as well as sustainable preservation plans for the resulting digital records;
  4. Well-designed plans that evaluate the use of the digitized materials and the effectiveness of the methods employed in digitizing and displaying the materials.

Projects may not use grant funds to create descriptive metadata or edited transcriptions of the digitized materials.

Award Information

A grant normally is for 1 to 3 years and up to $150,000. The Commission expects to make up to 5 grants in this category, for a total of up to $400,000.


Eligible applicants:

  • Nonprofit organizations or institutions with IRS 501(c)(3) tax exempt status
  • Colleges, universities, and other academic institutions
  • State or local government agencies
  • Federally-acknowledged or state-recognized Native American tribes or groups

Ineligible applications will not be reviewed.

Cost Sharing

Cost sharing is required. It is the financial contribution the applicant pledges to the cost of a project. Cost sharing can include both direct and indirect expenses, in-kind contributions, non-Federal third-party contributions, and any income earned directly by the project. The NHPRC will provide up to 50 percent of the total project costs.

Application and Submission Information

You must submit your application via See How to Apply for information on how to fill out the application forms.

A complete application includes the Application for Federal Assistance (Standard Form 424), Assurances -- Non-Construction Programs (Standard Form 424B), a Project Narrative, Summary, Supplementary Materials, and Budget.

Before beginning the process, applicants should review the Federal grant administration rules and regulations governing grants from the NHPRC listed in the Administering an NHPRC Grant section.

Project Narrative

The Project Narrative is a description of the proposal. It should be no more than 20 double-spaced pages in 12-pt type on 8.5 x 11 inch paper with standard margins. Please organize your narrative in sections:

I:   Begin with a brief overview of the project that explains the national significance of the historical materials and your methods. Then, explain how you selected the materials to be digitized. Relate that selection to the mission of your institution. Describe the nature and scope of your holdings. Demonstrate that virtually all of your holdings are available to researchers and that all new accessions receive a basic level of processing within a reasonable time.

Explain in further detail the historical significance of the materials. Specify how the project's collections document individuals, events, developments, organizations, and places. Indicate how researchers already have used these collections by providing citations. Characterize the project's audience, and show how the activities proposed will increase public understanding of American history, culture, and the national experience.

II:   Explain your methods for providing access to these materials. Include relevant portions of the existing finding aids or indexes in your proposal's supplementary materials as well as a link to them if available online. Indicate the quantity of materials to be digitized (estimate by sampling the materials). Demonstrate the demand for the materials by providing usage statistics over the past three years. Be sure to indicate that your institution has all necessary rights to digitize the collection(s) for delivery online to the general public. Restricted materials should either be excluded or make up only a small percentage of the materials.

Indicate which digitization standards you intend to use, and why. Describe what kind of hardware and software you plan to use or develop to make these collections available online. Explain whether you plan to use a vendor for any part of the project and your selection process. If you plan to do the work in your repository, discuss what capacities you have and which you will need to develop (including personnel, training, equipment and software).

Explain how your proposed method of digitizing and providing access will ensure that users understand the context, content, and structure of the collection. Show how existing finding aids or other descriptive records will serve as the descriptive metadata for each digital image. Describe what kinds of searches and display methods you will offer the users and how these will take advantage of existing information about the materials. The Commission will not fund projects where there will be a charge for access to the materials.

Explain how your preservation plans will protect the digitized materials beyond the end of the grant period.

Discuss how you will evaluate the success of your project. The Commission requires a final report that describes your results, with recommendations regarding digitization for other repositories and a proposed business model for how you intend to continue archival digitization in the future.

III:   Include a plan of work that outlines the tasks and project costs (both grant funds and cost sharing) associated with the following stages:

  1. preparing the historical records for digitizing
  2. digitizing
  3. making the materials accessible for use, and
  4. evaluating the project.

In your supplementary materials, include a month-by-month project plan that indicates which project staff and resources will be used to accomplish each of the stages. As part of the project, applicants will be expected to document each stage, including any changes in work flow, as well as the actual costs of each stage.

IV:   Describe the products of the digitization project including websites, manuals, and documentation that you plan to complete. Indicate if you plan to present the results of the project in professional newsletters, conference presentations, and journal articles. Describe how you will market your program and its website with press releases, brochures, speeches, websites and other types of outreach. A public website describing the project's methods is required in addition to the site where people access the digitized materials.

V:   Provide a narrative explanation of the skills and qualifications of the staff named in the project budget that will make this project successful. Describe staff experience in digitizing or supervising digitization projects or closely related experience. In supplementary materials, provide a résumé of not more than two pages per person for all staff named in the project budget. For those staff to be hired for the project, provide job descriptions or the call for consultants.

VI:   List four to six quantifiable objectives in the proposal by which you and the Commission can evaluate the project following the submission of the final report. For example, how many digitized images are available, what per-unit cost does the project achieve, how many people hear presentations about the materials, how many people used the materials.

Project Summary

The Project Summary should be no more than 3 double-spaced pages in 12-pt type on 8.5 x 11 inch paper with standard margins, and it should include these sections:

  • Project's Purpose and Significance
  • Methods
  • Plan of Work for the Grant Period
  • Products to be completed during the Grant Period
  • Names, Titles, Institutions, Phone Numbers, and E-Mail Addresses of the Project Director and Key Personnel
  • Performance Objectives

Supplementary Materials

Attach up to 20 pages of Supplementary Materials to your Narrative, including:

  • Résumés of named project staff (required)
  • Position announcement for any new positions to be paid for by grant funds (required, if applicable)
  • Plan of work, indicating activities by month (required)
  • Samples from existing finding aid(s) or indexes for selected materials (required)
  • Institution's preservation plan for digital materials (if available)

If these materials are available on a web site, please provide a URL.

Project Budget

Applicants will be asked to compute the project costs to be charged to grant funds as well as those that will be supported by the applicant through cost sharing, which includes both direct and in-direct expenses, in-kind contributions, non-Federal third-party contributions, and any income earned directly by the project. All of the items listed, whether supported by grant funds or cost-sharing contributions, must be reasonable and necessary to accomplish project objectives, allowable in terms of the applicable federal cost principles, auditable, and incurred during the grant period. Applicants should review the appropriate Office of Management and Budget circulars on cost principles.

Charges to the project for items such as salaries, fringe benefits, travel, and contractual services must conform to the written policies and established practices of the applicant organization.

  • You must submit a budget on the the NHPRC Budget Form available on the Application Instructions page. Note that the form itself contains additional instructions. You may include with your application a narrative budget supplement for budget categories not otherwise explained in the project narrative.
  • Provide specific budget figures, rounding to the nearest dollar.

Budget Categories

In preparing the budget, please follow the suggestions below in each of the categories:

Salaries:   List each staff position and the full salary to be charged to the project and show the percentage of time each staff member will devote to the project. Indicate which positions are to be filled for the proposed project and which personnel are already on the staff of the applicant institution. Grant funds may be used to pay the salaries of only those individuals actually working on the project. You may count the time provided to the project by advisory board members.

Fringe Benefits:   Include employee benefits using your organization's standard rates. No separate benefits should be included for positions that are computed at a daily rate or using honoraria.

Consultant Fees:   Include payments for consultant services and honoraria. Provide justification for large or unusual consultant fees. Include consultant travel expenses in the "Travel" category.

Travel:   Include transportation, lodging, and per diem expenses. The NHPRC does not fund staff travel to professional meetings unless the travel is essential to accomplish the goals of the project.

Supplies and Materials:   Include routine office supplies and supplies ordinarily used in professional practices. Justify the cost of specialized materials and supplies in a supplemental budget narrative.

Services:   Include the cost of duplication and printing, long-distance telephone, equipment leasing, postage, contracts with third parties, and other services that you are not including under other budget categories or as indirect-cost expenses. The costs of project activities to be undertaken by each third-party contractor should be included in this category as a single line item charge. Include a complete itemization of the costs in a supplemental budget narrative.

Other Costs:   Include costs for necessary equipment above $5,000, stipends for participants in projects, and other items not included in previous grant categories. The NHPRC does not provide grant funds for the acquisition of routine equipment such as office furnishings and file cabinets, but we may allow for the purchase of archival equipment, such as shelving units, and technical equipment, such as computers and peripherals, essential for a project. Include specifications for equipment over $5,000 in a supplemental budget narrative.

Indirect Costs:   Include reasonable or negotiated "overheard" costs. See the Budget Form instructions to determine how to calculate indirect costs.

  • You should not include indirect costs that exceed your cost sharing obligation.
  • You may waive indirect costs and instead include specific overhead costs in the appropriate budget categories.

Submission Dates and Times

  • Draft (optional) Deadline: April 1, 2009
  • Final Deadline: June 5, 2009

Applications must be submitted electronically by midnight Eastern Time on June 5, 2009.

The Commission considers the application in November 2009. NHPRC support begins no earlier than January 1, 2010.

Deadline Policy: Given that technical or administrative difficulties with may periodically delay the timely submission or receipt of applications, the Commission staff will make provisions for the receipt of such applications past the established deadline. Applications that fail to meet deadlines for reasons other than those noted will not be considered for funding.

Application Review Information

The NHPRC staff will acknowledge receipt of the application soon after we receive it. The following evaluation criteria and weights will be used by NHPRC staff and other reviewers to form recommendations:

  1. The national significance of the records to be digitized. (40 percent)
  2. Ability to complete the project's proposed objectives, judged by the qualifications of the staff, prior experience in digitization, and the reasonableness of the work plan and budget (including cost share). (30 percent)
  3. The efficiency of the project, as judged by the likely output versus costs (cost per unit). (15 percent)
  4. Effectiveness of the dissemination plans for the digitized materials and project methods. (15 percent)

Application Review Process

After submitting a proposal, an applicant should not discuss the pending application to the NHPRC with any Member of the Commission.

  • State Boards
    Your State Historical Records Advisory Board may evaluate the application on technical merits as well as its relation to state plan priorities.
  • Peer Reviewers
    We may ask 5 to 10 external peer reviewers to evaluate the proposal.
  • Commission Staff
    Approximately three months after the submission deadline, the Project Director receives blind copies of reviewers' comments and questions from the Commission staff. Applicants have the opportunity to expand on the material provided in the application, clear up any misconceptions, and generally strengthen the proposal before the Commission meeting. Then, staff makes overall recommendations to the Archivist, who chairs the Commission, based on the appropriateness of the project in meeting the Commission's goals, the proposal's completeness, conformity to application requirements and overall eligibility, and answers to the questions letter.
  • The Commission
    After reviewing proposals, the comments of peer reviewers, the applicants' responses to the reviews, and evaluations by the Commission staff, Commission members deliberate on proposals and make funding recommendations to the Archivist of the United States who, as Commission Chairman, has final statutory authority. Throughout this process, all members of the Commission and its staff follow conflict-of-interest rules to assure fair and equal treatment of every application.

Award Administration Information


Grants are contingent upon available appropriated funds. In some cases, the Commission will adjust grant amounts depending upon the number of recommended proposals and total budget. The Commission may recommend to the Archivist to approve the proposal and extend an offer of a grant with applicable terms and conditions, or it may recommend rejections of the proposal.

Grant applicants will be notified within 2 weeks after the Archivist’s decision.

Agency Contact

Applicants are encouraged to contact Lucy Barber, Deputy Executive Director, 202-357-5306, or at the NHPRC who may:

  • Advise the applicant about the review process;
  • Answer questions about what activities are eligible for support;
  • Supply samples of successful applications;
  • Read and comment on a preliminary draft. Applicants should submit a draft at least 2 months before the deadline.

Applicants may also contact your State Historical Records Advisory Board Coordinator about your proposal and seek the board's advice. Many state boards have requirements for submitting draft proposals with deadlines earlier than those of the NHPRC.

For more information on how to comply with Federal regulations, see our Administering a Grant section.

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