2.3 Research Services
NARA’s Office of Research Services is the custodian for over 4 million cubic feet of archival records from executive branch agencies and federal courts dating to the 18th century. These records are stored, managed, and made available by Research Services at 14 locations across the country. At these various locations we provide services that enable anyone the opportunity to discover, locate, and use the records they seek. Research Services is committed to making access to our archival holdings as open, transparent, and accessible as possible.
As part of our open government commitments, the Office of Research Services plans specific actions that enable access to holdings through public services and other functions that support access. We also plan actions that enable researchers to better understand our processes and priorities and to have useful information about how we manage holdings.
Research Services provides access to NARA holdings through a variety of services that help researchers discover, locate, and use the records in our care. Through public services, we provide researcher education, respond to inquiries, assist researchers in identifying appropriate records and using the NARA catalog, and make copies of records. We also operate research rooms where original records are made available and maintain public access computers and other resources for using electronic versions and supporting aids.
In order to best assist researchers, we plan to seek out and participate in new ways of engaging with the researcher community. NARA’s newly launched History Hub provides a valuable online platform for interacting with researchers and providing access to our holdings. We will explore innovative ways that we can participate in History Hub and incorporate it, and other avenues such as social media, into our reference processes.
To ensure we meet the needs of all researchers, we continually review our public services for opportunities to increase access. As part of our commitments for 2017–2018, we plan to carry out a comprehensive review of our services at all 15 locations to identify any ways that holdings can be made more accessible to researchers with disabilities.
We recognize that staff knowledge and expertise about our holdings is still critical for providing high-quality reference services. Even with the digital resources that are available, we hear how our staff’s knowledge of the holdings and expert assistance can make a big difference to researchers as they discover, locate, and use records. As a result, we are planning actions to ensure that our reference staff’s expertise and knowledge of our holdings strengthens and grows. We plan to initiate staff reference colloquia that will provide a platform for promoting the sharing of records content knowledge among all NARA staff. We will also create a “Records Expert” program to preserve and develop advanced knowledge of key holdings among reference staff.
Providing useful information about our holdings is a critical part of our overall customer service plan. We continue to produce our popular “Know Your Records” series, which is now online to increase availability. Online content available through YouTube will continue to expand as we add many new videos on topics of interest to our researchers. Interesting and useful sessions on a wide variety of subjects will also be made available online through our annual Virtual Genealogy Fair. Researchers will be able to read timely and interesting new articles about our holdings and activities through the quarterly Researcher News newsletter. In addition to providing information about holdings, we often share our expertise, and the Preservation Division plans to provide a series of presentations on preservation topics to the public.
We will continue to update and modernize other online content by reviewing, revising, reorganizing, and updating reference information on Archives.gov to improve usability and better inform researchers. We plan to begin posting a list of new holdings on Archives.gov each quarter and an annual list of all new holdings that were covered by the Privacy Act. We will also add accession-level series descriptions for a majority of our new holdings to the online catalog within one year of accessioning.
Research Services is also responsible for many “behind the scenes” activities that are necessary to accession, store, and manage records. We will update online content that explains the policies and procedures used for accessioning permanent records into the National Archives. We will launch online content describing how we process records and provide other “behind the scenes” information of interest to the public.
We will collect and analyze data to forecast executive branch and federal court records that may come to NARA through 2030 and share our analysis with the public on Archives.gov. We will use this analysis to better understand the overall impact on our storage facilities and to inform planning for the future location of holdings in ways that will be most responsive to access needs.
NARA is committed to providing electronic versions of holdings online and Research Services will continue to develop projects to convert our accessioned records, both textual and nontextual. Projects will include historical audio/video and motion picture film, such as the Word War I and II films, which researchers will then be able to find online in the National Archives Catalog. Research Services will also work with NARA’s Office of Innovation to post records reviewed under the FOIA to the National Archives Catalog. Other digitization-related projects we plan include completing an assessment of NARA microfilm publications for digitization, scanning Air Force Awards cards, and publishing updated specifications for archival storage materials online. We will also process and post on Archives.gov documents from the JFK Assassination Records Collection materials in compliance with the JFK Assassination records Collection Act of 1992.
Access to and management of our archival holdings is made possible through the combined skill and knowledge of the 561 employees of Research Services. We recognize the critical importance of a well-trained staff to promote openness and transparency. Research Services continues to work through a major process of updating performance and development plans for the three archives career fields that make up most of our staff. We will continue to review, update and manage our new Archives Technician Development Program. We plan to update and improve performance plans for the archivist career field and we will determine needs for archives specialists’ development plans. We will also provide training and development for all our staff to foster customer service skills.