Heritage Science Research Strategy (2018-24)



NARA is committed to preserving and maintaining access to its holdings in all formats, from paper and books to born digital content. NARA’s Research and Testing Division has a pivotal role to play in supporting preservation and access.     



This Heritage Science/Research and Testing Strategy supports NARA’s strategic priorities, values, and mission and aligns with Preservation Services Strategy 2018-2024 and NARA’s Digital Preservation Strategy.



As  a hub of  scientific expertise, NARA’s Heritage Science Research and Testing Lab, will drive an interdisciplinary program of applied research  to find solutions to the preservation challenges of a 21st century archive.

Our research program will be delivered by:

·         Using our internal expertise to deliver research projects

·         Working with others to extend our expertise through collaboration, building on existing networks, developing new relationships to undertake work we cannot do ourselves

·         Creatively disseminating published research outcomes to a wide community of users

Heritage Science Research and Testing Strategic Goals 2019 – 2024


Strategic Theme 1: Managing Risk and Building Resilience

This strategic theme supports Preservation Programs ambition to prioritize building resilience over preventing risk failure. To deliver this objective requires better understanding of material change, the significance of change over time, and when the threshold of change is critical.

This theme will be addressed in these areas

·         Environmental management: To mitigate the risks of climate instability, and to improve energy efficiency we will exploit the potential of data analysis and modelling to predict building performance and improved emergency response.

·         Modern analog materials: We need to understand better many of the methods and materials used to create records over the last fifty years, the mechanisms, and rate of decay as well as thresholds of acceptable loss.

·         Dynamic and digital media: Building on existing research, we will seek to better understand the rates of change and obsolescence for some formats. We will seek to define the significant attributes or properties for some formats, e.g.: audio, word processing, images etc., and the metrics needed to define and measure loss.

Strategies for achieving this:

·         Exploiting the potential of data analytics, we will set-out the options for improved storage environments and energy economy and to enhance emergency response planning by utilizing environmental monitoring data.

·         Working with Digital Preservation, we will seek to identify the significant properties of selected digital formats and develop the metrics to define the loss and when it becomes significant.


Strategic Theme 2: Integrating research into policy and preservation practice

We will continue to undertake scientific analysis of our holdings to inform practice, address archivist and access concerns, to inform how to preserve our holdings, and add value to our holdings.

This theme will be addressed in these areas:

·         Technical Analysis:  We will use advanced n instrumentation and scientific analysis to characterize our records to better understand their making and meaning to inform the historic narrative as well as inform conservation and preservation practice.

·         Material testing and evaluation:  We will take a leading role in national material testing initiatives underway, and continue to monitor and report our material evaluations. 

·         Data Collection and Analysis: We will analyze the data we collect, to better understand and predict material change.

Strategies for achieving this:

·         Develop and implement updated specifications in collaboration with the Washington Conservation Science Network. Contribute and promulgate guidance and national and international standards for the sector.

·         We will seek to standardize the collection of data within NARA and within the DC Conservation Science Network. Where possible we will promote data sharing with allied organizations with the view to developing trend data to predict changes to collections.

·         We will lead in setting sector standards for anoxic encasements based on our on-going evaluation of the Charters of Freedom.

·         Exploit the potential of proteomic analysis to discover more about the Charters of Freedom and how they were made.


Strategic Theme 3: Adopting, adapting, and implementing 

Heritage Science Research is a growing internationally with a proved track record for developing new tools, instrumentation and processes to address the preservation challenges facing cultural heritage.  Yet despite this success, implementing the outcomes of research remains slow.  To address the very critical need to transfer the knowledge of experts to practitioners or end users of research needs commitment and resource.  

Our aim is create an environment where we can trial and adapt new thinking, and exploit the potential al of scientific instrumentation to address preservation challenges, and to share this to a wide community of practitioners.

Strategies for achieving this:

·         Undertake a scoping exercise that sets out a proposed plan of development

·         Trial information, guidance and services in collaboration with the academic community through Preservation Commons

·         Identify partnerships, external funding opportunities, and collaborations.

How will our research be evaluated to determine the impact and benefits we deliver?



·         We will creatively reach key audiences for our work, through published academic journals and internal reports. We will signpost our work on the website, and provide briefings on the ‘state of the art’ in research affecting conservation and preservation of NARA’s holdings.

·         Explain analytical findings to an art and archival specialist community so that the pertinent information is presented


·         Number of publications and outputs

·         Evaluation of outcomes that lead to transformational change

Enabling factors

·         There are many factors that will contribute to the success of this Heritage Science Research Strategy.

·         Staffing/Resources: There are a range of skills needed to deliver this strategy, those skills related to born digital and some modern media may not currently reside in the laboratory and may need to be found through partnerships and collaborations.

·         Support for collaboration with the university sector as well as actively pursuing opportunities for external funding.