NARA Plans to Expand Access to Digital Records Over the Next 5 Years

Joel Carillet/istockphoto

The draft 2022-2026 Strategic Plan looks toward a future of all-digital records and more equitable discovery and access for underserved communities.

The National Archives and Records Administration released its draft 2022-2026 Strategic Plan with a heavy focus on maximizing the use and availability of digital records.

By the end of this year, NARA will only be accepting electronic records from federal agencies. But that digital revolution will mean big changes for NARA, too, and the agency is working on a strategic plan to continue that evolution through 2026.

NARA officials published a draft version of the 2022-2026 Strategic Plan and will post an invitation for comments Friday to the Federal Register to garner feedback from agencies and the public.

“The draft plan updates the agency’s strategic objectives to focus agency resources on improving equity, providing a world-class customer experience for all customers, and using our experiences during the pandemic to accelerate agency modernization,” the Federal Register post states. That includes making the most of the digital records coming NARA’s way.

After Dec. 31, NARA will no longer accept paper records—with some limited exceptions—per an Office of Management and Budget mandate issued during the Trump administration. With an increasingly digital archive, NARA hopes to be able to reach more users, especially communities the agency hasn’t served well in the past.

“Our draft Strategic Plan commits to new outreach to traditionally underserved communities and to work with these communities to identify the records in our holdings that are most important to them. Once identified, we’ll prioritize those records for archival processing and describing, digitizing, and accessing online,” the post states. “We’re at the beginning of a process to build new relationships with underserved communities, and this draft plan reflects our intent to maintain and foster those relationships over time.”

Technology, digitizing records and ensuring equitable access to those records are all at the center of NARA’s plan for the next five years. That focus is borne out in the draft plan’s vision: "We will be known for cutting-edge access to extraordinary volumes of government information and unprecedented engagement to bring greater meaning to the many different American experiences."

As part of this, NARA will hold itself to the same standards as the agencies that submit to it, including plans to “digitize 500 million pages of records and make them available online to the public.” That work will also include a metadata tagging effort designed to “promote equity in discovery and public access to archival records related to underrepresented communities,” the draft states.

But the agency isn’t there yet. Part of the documents outlines “transformational outcomes” the agency hopes to achieve during the life of the plan “in order to meet the challenges of the future, improve organizational performance, and better serve the American people.”

Those outcomes include being “out in front” when it comes to digital records, stating unequivocally, “We will embrace the primacy of electronic information in all facets of our work and position NARA to lead accordingly.”

The overall goal is perhaps best summed up in a section titled, “Maximize NARA’s Value to the Nation.”

“NARA will explore new technology to find low-cost, practical solutions to improve processing, access review and redaction, and digitization, to accelerate the delivery of electronic and digitized records to the public,” the plan states. “By FY 2026, NARA will provide policy, requirements and oversight to support a transparent, inclusive and fully digital government.”