Information about Electronic Records for Researchers
The reference services staff is available to assist researchers between 8:45 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. NARA's Electronic Records research room is within Room 2000 in the Steny Hoyer Research Complex at the National Archives at College Park (Archives II). The research room is open upon demand. Directions to Archives II are available. We suggest calling the reference staff before visiting for research, so we can prepare for your visit if possible.
You can contact the reference staff at:
Electronic Records, Reference Branch
National Archives at College Park
8601 Adelphi Road , Room 5320
College Park, MD 20740-6001
phone: (301) 837-0470
The National Archives and Records Administration maintains electronic records with continuing value created by the courts, the Executive Office of the President, numerous Presidential Commissions, and nearly 100 bureaus, departments and other components of executive branch agencies and their contractors. The records may concern virtually any area or subject in which the Federal Government is involved. The records may be from any type of computer applications, such as database management systems, word processing, computer modeling, or geographic information systems.
In general, the electronic records transferred to the National Archives are themselves evidence of evolution in the application of computer technology in support of program administration, planning, recordkeeping, and research within agencies of the federal government. A few of the files were originally created as early as World War II and reflect punchcard technology in use since the 1880's; an even smaller number contain information from the nineteenth century that has been converted to an electronic format. However, most of the electronic records in the NARA's holdings have been created since the 1960's. With over 750 million files, the scope of the holdings, as would be expected, is quite diverse - as diverse as the activities and interests of the federal government itself.
The types of holdings or subject areas represented in the holdings include: agriculture, attitudinal, demographics, economic and financial statistics, education, environment, health and social services, international issues, military, and science and technology. There are reference reports and descriptive handouts about electronic records pertaining to frequently requested topics.
There are several ways to access electronic records accessioned into the National Archives.
- The traditional means is to acquire a copy of the file(s) of interest, on a cost-recovery basis, and use the electronic records with your own hardware and software. For a description of the options related to this access mode see, Ordering Information for Electronic Records.
- The Access to Archival Databases (AAD) resource offers online search and retrieval access to a selection of NARA's accessioned electronic records in databases. There is no charge for using this resource.
- NARA makes some accessioned electronic records files and documentation available for download via the National Archives Catalog . You can download files and then use the electronic records with your own hardware and software. There is no charge for using this resource. For more details, please see: Accessing Electronic Records via the National Archives Catalog.
Access to the electronic records transferred to NARA is subject to the terms of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Information in some data sets may be withheld in accordance with the exemptions authorized under the FOIA designed to protect national security, individual privacy, law enforcement investigations, or proprietary interest. Statutory restrictions on electronic records transferred into the National Archives remain in force until the records are 30 years old, unless extended by the Archivist of the United States. The National Archives and Records Administration protects against an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, in general, for 75 years.
In some cases where specific records or data elements within electronic records are restricted, NARA may make an extract of the records in a disclosure-free version, also known as a public use file.
Technical documentation accompanies most transfers of electronic records into the National Archives. It may include a narrative description of the system that produced the records, information on the physical and technical characteristics of the records, a data dictionary or the equivalent information associated with a database management system, and any other technical information needed to read or process the records.
The documentation for electronic records in NARA's custody is available for use in the Electronic Records research room. Photocopies of documentation for electronic records can be obtained either with the data or separately. In some instances, the documentation may be available in electronic format or microfilm in addition to paper. NARA offers online access to scanned documentation for a selection of electronic records via the Access to Archival Databases () resource and as part of making records available for download via the National Archives Catalog.
NARA does not routinely produce extracts, tabulations, or formatted printouts from files. However, extracts from two files with records of casualties of the Korean and Vietnam Wars are available online. In addition, anyone can create and download extracts of files accessible from the Access to Archival Databases () resource.