The National Archives Catalog

API for the National Archives Catalog

The National Archives API is a read–write web Application Programming Interface (API) for querying the National Archives Catalog dataset. At its core, the National Archives catalog is a dataset of archival descriptions, authority records, web pages, and other information. While the browser-based catalog is a human-centered way to interface with these records, the API is an alternative method by which researchers, developers, and applications can interact with the same dataset—by following documented methods to retrieve or alter the structured data in the system.

The dataset for the catalog API contains all available archival descriptions, authority records, digitized records (images, videos, and so on) and their file metadata, all NARA web pages, and public contributions (tags, transcriptions, and comments). The API allows researchers and developers to retrieve metadata in specified formats (JSON or XML) for any given record or search results set. This method offers added flexibility in comparison to the user-centered interface in regards to advanced search or refinement options; this is because the API can search and retrieve using keywords for any field in the system, filter based on type of record, search within ranges, apply sorts, specify only particular fields to return, or any combination of these options. Bulk export of search results can then be generated. The API is also writable, which means it can be used to post tags, transcriptions, or comments to records. In order to support these functions, there are also methods for user registration and login—though accounts are the same in the UI and API. 

National Archives API sample
Structured data example 
 

The catalog API is open source. No API key or account is required to do basic searching. All original API source code has been released under the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0), which can be found at our GitHub page. As a work of the federal government, all metadata is in the public domain; additionally, associated digital objects that represent exclusive works of the U.S. federal government (which makes up much of what’s available in the catalog) can be freely reused without permission for any purpose. Note that the Catalog does contain some copyrighted works.

The catalog API affirms NARA’s commitment to “drive openness, cultivate public participation, and strengthen our nation’s democracy through public access to high-value government records.” The fundamental purpose of open data is to make our catalog data sharable and reusable in many contexts outside of NARA itself. The API is located at https://catalog.archives.gov/api/v1/, but we recommend you start out by reading some of our dedicated documentation pages at GitHub, our main technical hub for documentation and other aspects of this feature.

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