2.2 Public Engagement
At the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), we connect with many different audiences with multiple expectations and needs. Whether we catch the eye of someone scanning social media or draw in conference participants, we encourage the public to learn more about what NARA does and how to use its resources.
We use a variety of methods and platforms to reach these many audiences, including on-site programs, workshops, and exhibits; webinars; social media engagement through several platforms; print publications; and interactions with the press.
Events, Education, and Exhibits
More than 4.5 million visitors a year come to programs and exhibits at NARA locations across the nation, which include the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, the 13 Presidential libraries, and National Archives locations across the country.
Film screenings and symposia raise awareness of our archival film holdings, and author lectures showcase how writers rely on Archives records to tell their stories. We have a robust nationwide program of genealogy workshops to introduce new researchers to the records and point seasoned researchers in new directions. And we have continued our annual Virtual Genealogy Fair, which offers two days of expert-led sessions to thousands of people online.
The majority of these programs are recorded and made available online through NARA’s YouTube channel, extending their reach to a wider audience.
Family activities on themes such as the Constitution, cherry blossoms, and archives give children and adults opportunities to learn about history and what they can find in the National Archives. To connect with an even wider audience, we’ve offered adult hands-on workshops and held story time sessions for preschoolers. And our sleepovers in the Rotunda of the National Archives continue to be popular activities for children and accompanying adults.
Our nationwide education programs introduce teachers to primary sources and help them discover how to use them in the classrooms. Our signature program is our annual “Primarily Teaching” workshop, offered in locations around the country and online. We also offer professional development webinars throughout the year. Other online resources include DocsTeach, where teachers can use thousands of digitized primary sources to build and share lesson plans; lesson plans created by our education staff; and our blog, “Education Updates.”
Through permanent and special exhibits, the National Archives and Presidential libraries tell the stories of the nation and its people. In 2016–2017, our special exhibit in Washington, DC, “Amending America,” headlines a national initiative that includes exhibits, programs, online resources, and more. “Amending America” commemorates the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights and highlights how we have amended, or attempted to amend, the Constitution. The National Archives at New York City opened a companion exhibit, and a traveling exhibit on the Bill of Rights will tour large and small communities around the country. A related series of “National Conversations on Rights and Justice” invites Americans to further explore issues of individual rights and collective responsibilities.
In October 2017, we will open an exhibit on the Vietnam War and launch a related social media campaign to collect stories about people’s own personal artifacts and documents from the war.
We are expanding opportunities for traveling exhibits with the National Archives Traveling Exhibits Service (NATES). Over the next couple of years, we will be offering exhibits that connect with the national outreach initiatives as well as showcase the variety and depth of our records on subjects such as World War I, the Vietnam War, the Charters of Freedom, the Bill of Rights, Iraqi Jewish heritage, and the Government’s effect on our food supply. NATES will have 8–10 exhibitions on the road or available for booking by the end of 2018.
To learn more about our public events and exhibits, please visit Archives.gov/calendar/.
Social Media and Citizen Engagement
The National Archives promotes citizen engagement across several social media platforms. Through daily engagement on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, we reach millions of people and encourage them to share their questions, stories, and concerns. More than 200 National Archives staff contribute to 130 social media account on 14 different platforms, generating over 250 million views in 2015.
The “U.S. National Archives” or “USNatArchives” accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are the agency-wide outlets, but our Presidential libraries and National Archives locations across the country also have active social media presences. Offices and programs that address special areas of interest (for example, preservation, education, research, and records management) use Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr to reach their audiences.
The Today’s Document Tumblr blog features items from our holdings relating to a particular day in history and has a large and faithful following. The public can learn about the daily work of our staff through @ThisIsArchives on Twitter. For a week at a time, guest tweeters describe the work they do, share the routine and the extraordinary, and respond to questions and comments from the public.
We participated in international Twitter campaigns—#ColorOurCollections, #AskAnArchivist, #AskACurator, #MuseumWeek, #archivesshelfie, and #MuseumSelfie—and hosted our own particular outreach activities. Notable Twitter activities included:
- A genealogy chat on American Indian records in the National Archives at Fort Worth
- Creating #ArchivesValentine posts to share
- Hosting a #Spirited Republic chat with the exhibit curator
- With Presidential libraries, coordinating #ThanksMenu posts as part of a live discussion with other museums
We hosted an Instameet (#ArchivesInstameet) on the architecture of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, and participated in a White House Instameet (#WHInstameet). Themed Instagram posts included #archivesAtoZ, which shares our holdings through weekly themes organized by the alphabet; #ArchivesSuperlative, which featured the #biggest, #sparkliest, and #spookiest of our holdings; and #POTUSvacation, which shared short film snippets from 13 Presidential libraries in a “choose your own adventure format.”
We also use Facebook and Twitter to publicize National Archives news, events, and programs, such as the Sunshine Week transcription challenge, the “Box of the Month” on the Innovation Hub, edit-a-thons in the Hub, AnswerTime on Tumblr, naturalization ceremonies in the Rotunda, and the annual Genealogy Fair.
In the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2016, the NARA social media staff formed a committee to write a new Social Media Strategy that will guide the way for future, more effective, use of social media in the agency. To learn more about this strategy, please see section 3, Flagship Initiative 3, “Social Media Strategy.”
Citizen archivists enhance access to our records through transcribing, tagging, and scanning. Through such crowdsourcing, we are increasing the usability of our online catalog and making more items available to more people.
Citizen archivists make their contributions at their own homes on their own schedules, or they can join scan-a-thons, transcribe-a-thons, or edit-a-thons hosted by NARA’s Innovation Hub, which opened in 2015 in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. The Hub invites researchers to use its many scanners and is also a space for the public and staff to collaborate on projects that move the agency forward.
In November 2015, we began a six-month pilot project called the “History Hub.” The History Hub offers tools like discussion boards, blogs, and community pages to bring together experts and researchers interested in American history. NARA staff and other experts, history enthusiasts, and citizen archivists share their expertise to help researchers find what they need.
To learn more about these efforts, please see section 3, Flagship Initiative 4, “Citizen Archivist ”and visit the Citizen Archivist Dashboard at Archives.gov/citizen-archivist/.
External Affairs Liaison
NARA also increasingly seeks public engagement around its own core processes, including its Open Government Plan. It has hosted two open-invitation webinars to which any interested stakeholder could connect, the first in March 2014 on NARA’s Strategic Plan and the second in March 2016 on NARA’s Open Government Plan. At both events, members of the public had the opportunity to ask questions and make suggestions via phone and chat, interacting directly with NARA’s executive team. NARA’s External Affairs Liaison works with NARA leadership to seek opportunities to engage the public, the professional communities of which we are a part, and the customer communities we serve to improve channels of communication and seeks collaborative ways of solving problems and improving services.
Prologue, our quarterly magazine, features articles based on records found in the National Archives. The stories in Prologue demonstrate the richness and breadth of our archival records. To mark its 50th year of publication in 2018, Prologue plans to redesign its website (Archives.gov/publications/prologue/) to better highlight its resources and National Archives holdings.
Researcher News is a quarterly newsletter that keeps researchers informed about records and research procedures at the National Archives across the country. You can find the latest edition and back issues at Archives.gov/research/newsletter/.
We also publish eBooks that highlight particular bodies of records, such as political cartoons, or complement exhibits, so that long after the exhibit has closed, its content remains available to the public.