Prologue Magazine

Construction Projects Now Under Way Will Protect Records of the Past . . . And of the Future

Spring 2003, Vol. 35, No. 1

By John W. Carlin

Archivist of the United States


Rotunda dome being painted Scaffolding in the Rotunda dome of the National Archives Building, Washington, DC. (Photo by Earl McDonald, NARA)

A vital part of preserving the record of our nation and providing "ready access to essential evidence," as stated in our Strategic Plan, is having modern, appropriately equipped facilities for maintaining those records and making them available to the public.

In order to fulfill this mission, the National Archives and Records Administration has construction projects under way around the country to upgrade our facilities. The improved buildings will help ensure that records in our care are maintained in proper environmental conditions to prolong their existence. And of course, our customers are best served by providing them the best possible facilities.

Our biggest construction project is the renovation of the historic National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., funded through a public-private partnership between the government and the Foundation for the National Archives. The sixty-eight-year-old building is being renewed for the twenty-first century with expanded and updated research facilities and the addition of a major new attraction— the National Archives Experience.

The Rotunda is being readied for the return in September 2003 of the Charters of Freedom— the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights— which are now undergoing conservation work before being placed in new state-of-the-art encasements.

Surrounding the Rotunda will be something new— the Public Vaults, a permanent, interactive exhibit that takes visitors "inside" NARA. The spine of the exhibit is the Record of America, containing dozens of original records— from George Washington's letters to Congress to the first presidential web site. The exhibit is being designed to simulate the look and feel of walking though the stacks of the Archives.

Individual vaults, drawing their themes from the Preamble to the Constitution, branch off of the Record of America. For example, in We the People, you can turn the panels to find out why NARA may have records of your family. In To Form a More Perfect Union, you can hear a congressional debate and cast your vote. In Provide for the Common Defense, you might use records to recreate a mini-documentary on D-day 1944.

And the Public Vaults are just the beginning.

We are also building a new 275-seat theater. By day, the theater will repeat a film on the relationship of records to democracy, through the stories of real people found in our holdings. By night, it will show documentary films— many from our vast film archives— and host debates on public policy. A Special Exhibition Gallery will feature document-based exhibits on timely topics or visiting exhibitions from presidential libraries and other sources. A Learning Center will help students, as well as their parents and teachers, use our rich resources either through on-site workshops or distance learning. A new Research Center will meet the needs of modern-day researchers.

The National Archives at College Park, Maryland, is being equipped with a new security-screening area and a redesigned lobby to accommodate it. This work is part of our effort nationwide to improve security for our holdings, our customers, and our staff.

Many of our presidential libraries are now involved in extensive renovation projects designed to update and expand exhibit programs, create exciting new learning centers and educational opportunities, and better care for our historical collections of presidential materials and artifacts. To accomplish these goals, we work in close partnership with each library's private foundation. Funds rais