The National Archives and Records Administration just opened a door to what the agency expects will become a sort of time capsule containing U.S. historical materials that future generations will be able to access irrespective of innovations in technology.
A prototype of Online Public Access, which launched Monday, lets average citizens, as well as scholars, gain more comprehensive information on holdings that already are online, including card catalogs, digital representations of some records and multimedia from the agency's homepage, Archives.gov. Results for keyword searches play up the article images to appeal to eyes more familiar with social media layouts, like Facebook pages.
Each query retrieves a list of relevant records, archival data about the records identified, the source of the data and the physical or Internet location where the records are viewable. Next year, the site will offer a tool that allows users to zoom in and pan across the online materials, say NARA officials. In the future, people will have the ability to tag records with context based on personal knowledge -- as well as access audio, visuals and personal papers from presidential library collections, agency officials add.
The Archives does not have the resources to post all of America's artifacts. NARA's holdings include papers that would encircle the Earth more than 57 times; about 93,000 movies; more than 5.5 million maps, charts and architectural drawings; roughly 207,000 sound and video recordings; about 18 million aerial photographs; nearly 35 million still pictures and posters; and more than 3.5 billion electronic records.
But the agency is working on a project -- dubbed the Electronic Records Archives -- aimed at digitizing all records in a way that will make them accessible to the public even if the Internet no longer exists.
White House officials earlier this month announced a plan to accelerate the $994.9 million ERA program. The government has spent $425.2 million on the concept since 2002, but hardly any agencies are using the system, federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra said.
As of this month, 16 agencies are depositing electronic records at the Archives via ERA software, according to the latest status report. Under the expedited schedule, ERA will be the default conduit for transferring records by July 2011 and mandatory for agencies in 2012, the Archives says.