At the National Archives, Pursuing Two Great Goals to Improve Service to Our Customers
Summer 2005, Vol. 37, No. 2
By Allen Weinstein
Archivist of the United States
I am honored to assume the leadership of NARA, this confident and vigorous independent agency, and am already working to broaden the Archives' programs and introduce initiatives to better meet the needs of its stakeholders and customers—the American public.
I have asked the NARA family—with help from our friends in the broader historical and archival community—to commit to a total effort over the next half-decade to achieve at least two great goals simultaneously.
The first involves fulfillment of NARA's major electronics records initiatives, the Electronic Records Archive (ERA), the Electronic Records Management (ERM) initiative, and related ones including the continued evolution of strategic directions for the Federal Records Management initiative. In short, NARA should assume its leadership role in the fulfillment of electronic archival and records management projects at this crucial moment in design of a government-wide system.
At the same time, NARA is committed to create, expand, extend, and—where necessary—redesign educational and public programming throughout its orbit. This can be done while pursuing a greater number and variety of public and educational programs—linked to school curricula where possible—involving Washington, D.C.'s educational resources, those of every NARA regional archives and records center, and the extraordinary resources of the Presidential library system—acting in partnership where possible with state and local archivists.
At the National Archives Building here in Washington, D.C., three key components of the National Archives Experience—the William G. McGowan Theater, the Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery, and the "Public Vaults" exhibit—were completed in the last year. All of these have been made possible by the public-private partnership of the National Archives and the Foundation for the National Archives, which to date has raised more than $18 million from citizens, foundations, and corporations committed to the advance of civics education and public enrichment through the public records. It is my personal goal and NARA's to work with the National Archives Foundation to take this success and build on it nationally: to provide access to the National Archives Experience through the Internet; to expand our exhibit programs across the country; and to join with partners in unleashing the power of primary sources to advance the cause of American history and civics education.
In order to bring more of the resources of NARA to the public, a new design of our public web site, www.archives.gov, will be launched this summer. The changes are intended to make the web site easier to navigate and to provide more information of interest to all.
On the redesigned home page, there are a number of new features.
- "Archives.gov For": areas of our web site written specifically for groups such as genealogists/family historians, veterans and their families, educators, students, and researchers.
- "Most Requested": information about historical documents and services most often requested by our customers and visitors.
- "America's Historical Documents": an area that provides a rapid path to the many interesting documents preserved and held by the National Archives.
- "Online Databases and Tools": immediate access to our Archival Research Catalog (ARC) and Access to Archival Databases (AAD) systems, which you can use to learn about, and in some cases see, records in our holdings; and to our Order Online and eVetRecs systems, which you can use to begin the order process for certain records.
All of the information that was available on the old site is included in the new web site, with more additional information to assist you. I invite you to visit us online.
I know that document security at NARA locations is a concern shared by our visitors. NARA has undertaken a number of initiatives to increase security. Among them: we have installed or are in the process of installing video cameras in all of our research rooms; we are creating several pilot projects including special markings on documents of high intrinsic value; a special classified research room is now in operation at National Archives Building; and we are developing a new web site to help recover lost and stolen documents
In my previous work both in this country and abroad—whether in developing the National Endowment for Democracy, managing the Center for Democracy for 18 years, or trying to assist conflict resolution in Central America, the Philippines, or southern Africa—I have tried to build consensus. Under my stewardship, NARA will remain absolutely nonpolitical and professional. Researchers will receive candid and courteous treatment at all times. Internal disagreements will be debated respectfully. Civility is crucial in our imperfect world if only to recognize the limits of our own knowledge.
As Archivist, I will enforce the laws regarding access to public records at all times and instances to the very best of my ability. Where problems occur, it will be my intention to pursue solutions (through dialogue and persuasion if possible) at the earliest possible moment. My personal job description is transparent: the Archivist of the United States works for the American people, indifferent to partisanship regardless of which political party dominates the Congress or the executive branch of government. Therefore, the Archivist must display at all times scrupulous independence and a devotion to the laws and principles governing the responsibilities of his office. At all times, he serves as the designated custodian of America's essential "records that defy the tooth of time."
A passion for working on archives or records management is obviously essential to performing NARA's mission successfully. I know that many NARA employees share that passion, as do the members of the public who visit the National Archives Experience, do research in our facilities, use our web site, or enjoy our publications. The wellsprings of motivation in each of us are personal and complex, ranging from core values (and core documents) to traditions, moral and religious beliefs, and a concrete work ethic. Additionally, we at the National Archives and Records Administration have as our professional and personal template not only the Charters of Freedom but the entire governmental documentary heritage (literally) at our fingertips. What an awesome privilege it is to care for these records and to help ensure access to them.
As one of NARA's newest employees, I have asked myself every day since first coming to work: What better opportunity than at NARA to do something great in proximity to the heritage and values for which so many Americans, whether great figures or ordinary folk, have fought for over the more than two centuries of our national lifespan?