The National Archives Experience Fact Sheet

The National Archives Experience celebrates the American spirit and reveals how our nation’s past is a living part of our nation’s future. This multi-million dollar initiative, started in 2003, transformed the visitor experience at the National Archives Washington, DC building, and included a renovation of the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom and the creation of the award-winning “ Public Vaults” permanent interactive exhibition, the state-of-the-art William G. McGowan Theater, the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery for special exhibits, the Boeing Learning Center, and the new Digital Vaults online exhibit. These components make the rich resources of the National Archives accessible to Americans nationwide, both the one million onsite visitors each year and those who are unable to travel to Washington, DC.

The National Archives Experience was created by the National Archives and Records Administration in partnership with the Foundation for the National Archives.

Components of the National Archives Experience include:

The Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom is the permanent home of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States, and Bill of Rights. These three documents, known collectively as the Charters of Freedom, have secured the rights of the American people for more than two and a quarter centuries. Flanking the permanent display of the Charters is the exhibit, "A New World Is at Hand," a selection of milestone documents from the National Archives’ holdings that chronicle the creation of the Charters and their impact over the course of history in the United States and around the world.

The Public Vaults exhibition
The “Public Vaults” exhibition invites visitors to go behind-the-scenes to explore the Archives’ vaults and stacks. Visitors can listen in on the deliberations of Presidents as they faced some of the country’s greatest challenges, explore newly declassified top secret documents, make a documentary using file clips from front lines of the World War II D-Day invasion, follow the original investigation into the sinking of the Titanic, read a teenager’s plea to keep Elvis out of the army, and experience many other of the extraordinary events of our history.

The “Public Vaults” exhibition combines interactive elements and original materials from the Archives, exploring not only well-known people and historic turning points, but also little-known events that provide surprising perspectives and insights. For more information, visit the Public Vaults web page.

The Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery features special exhibitions developed by the National Archives that draw on the billions of documents it holds to explore newsworthy and timely topics. After premiering at the National Archives, selected exhibitions travel nation-wide. The Gallery also features traveling exhibitions from the National Archives Presidential libraries and other organizations. See what’s currently on display at the gallery.

The William G. McGowan Theater features continuous showings of “Democracy Starts Here,” a short signature film about the National Archives that shows the relationship of records and democracy through the lives of real people. This film serves as an introduction to The National Archives Experience, and can also be viewed online.

By night, the McGowan Theater becomes the Capital region's most important outlet for documentary film as well as a forum for exploring the great issues of American history and other topics related to the National Archives' holdings and mission. See more information about the McGowan Theater.

The Boeing Learning Center offers in-depth education programs for middle and high school students as well as workshops geared to the needs of parents and teachers. Programs and resources include a Learning Lab, Resource Room, Digital Classroom, and Primarily Teaching, a national professional development program for teachers. Boeing Learning Center staff train educators in the effective use of primary sources in the classroom with facsimile documents, instructional videos, sample lesson plans, and other tools. The staff engages walk-in visitors, of all ages, with hands-on activities to enhance civic literacy and promote an understanding of the American stories found in the records of the Federal government. See more information about the Boeing Learning Center.

The Digital Vaults web site delivers an online experience that is unlike any other. With a database of some 1,200 documents, photographs, drawings, maps, and other materials and a keywording system that visually links records, the Digital Vaults enables visitors to customize their online experience and to create posters, movies, and games that can be shared by e-mail. Each record in Digital Vaults is also linked to the National Archives' National Archives Catalog, so visitors who want to know more can take the first steps toward a research journey into the National Archives. This comprehensive web site serves as a gateway to the vast and rich records of the National Archives. Selected computer interactive elements from the ‘Public Vaults’ exhibition will also be included on the site, as well as materials for teachers and students. Visit the Digital Vaults online.