What is the National Archives and Records Administration?
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the nation's record keeper. Of all documents and materials created in the course of business conducted by the United States Federal government, only 1%-3% are so important for legal or historical reasons that they are kept by us forever.Those valuable records are preserved and are available to you, whether you want to see if they contain clues about your family’s history, need to prove a veteran’s military service, or are researching an historical topic that interests you.
New to the Archives?
- 1. New to the Archives?
- 2. What’s an Archivist?
- 3. What’s a Record?
- 3.1. Records have "Lifecycles"
- 4. National Archives Frequently Asked Questions
- 4.1. About the National Archives
- 4.2. Doing Research
- 4.3. Copyright
- 4.4. Digitizing Projects at the National Archives
- 4.5. Document Appraisal
- 4.6. Document Preservation
- 4.7. Electronic Records
- 5. Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Recordings
- 6. Vital Records
- 7. Preservation
- 8. Welcome to Conservation OnLine (CoOL)
- 9. FADGI - Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative
- 10. NESTOR
## What’s an Archives?
An archives is a place where people can go to gather firsthand facts, data, and evidence from letters, reports, notes, memos, photographs, and other primary sources.
The National Archives is the U.S. Government’s collection of documents that records important events in American history. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the Government agency that preserves and maintains these materials and makes them available for research.
Whether or not you realize it, you probably have an archives in your home. It might be in a filing cabinet in your study, a box in the basement, a chest in the attic. It is your personal archives: a collection of material that records important events from your family’s history.
Both a family’s archives and the nation’s archives
save items to serve as proof that an event occurred;
explain how something happened, whether for personal, financial, or sentimental reasons;
may be located in more than one place.
There are ways that your family archives and the National Archives, together, tell your family’s story. For example, your family’s archives might contain the final certificate for your great-great-grandfather’s homestead; the National Archives may hold the original applications for the homestead. Your family’s archives may include a photograph from the day your grandmother became a U.S. citizen; the National Archives contains the Government applications for naturalization of persons wishing to become U.S. citizens.
Personal Archives Versus Federal Archives
Every day Government agencies create new records that might be transferred to the National Archives. NARA’s holdings are created either by or for the Federal Government. The material comes from the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Whereas your family’s archives is personal, those held by the National Archives are official. Your family’s archives might include your birth certificate. The National Archives holds the original, signed “birth certificate” for our nation—the Declaration of Independence. For more information, visit What's a Record?
Your family’s archives are available only to you and family members. The holdings in the National Archives are available to almost everyone.
Preservation of Records
To help preserve material, NARA stores archives records in acid-free folders within acid-free boxes that are placed in dark spaces with consistent temperature and humidity.
For many years Federal records were created on paper and stored in files and boxes. These days electronic records are created by government agencies at an astounding rate. To meet this challenge, the National Archives is finding news ways to manage and preserve electronic materials. Learn more about our Electronic Records Archives initiative.
What’s an Archivist?
The records in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) outnumber the employees millions to one. Only about 3,000 full- and part-time employees work in the 36 NARA facilities across the United States. Each brings his or her own education and experience to the job.
National Archives employees preserve the records of the U.S. Government and make them available to the public. They do this in different ways, but mostly as archivists, archives technicians, conservators, and records managers.
Archivists are specially trained in preserving the original material and helping people obtain it. Archivists work with paper documents, photographs, maps, films, and computer records. Many begin their careers as historians and then attend classes to learn from experienced archivists. Archivists possess broad, deep knowledge about records and are involved in many, if not all, phases of the records life cycle. Their extensive research and analysis skills help in serving records to the public.
Archives specialists assist archivists by applying specialized knowledge about certain subjects to records they serve. They often work on projects describing or preserving a body of records. They also work directly with the public when records within their expertise are requested.
Archives technicians assist archivists. The technicians go into the “stacks”—large rooms where boxes of documents are kept—and locate records. They also work with conservators to clean, repair, and preserve older and more fragile pieces of history.
More than Archivists Work at an Archives
Conservators are specialists who preserve documents, photographs, and other historical records. They spend many hours slowly and carefully cleaning and repairing damaged and delicate materials. Conservators are especially knowledgeable about chemicals, tools, and methods used during conservation treatment. Find out more about the work of conservators.
Records managers work with Federal Government entities such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the U.S. Army to make sure they are creating records that reflect the work they do. The volume of paper and electronic files created by the Federal Government, which employs more than two million people, is tremendous. Records managers also make sure that agencies are storing their records properly and are bringing the most important ones safely to the National Archives to be attended to by archivists and conservators.
Accountants, photographers, librarians, educators, curators, store clerks, editors, chemists,graphics designers, and others also work for the National Archives. Recently, as electronic files have become part of the National Archives’ holdings, new job titles have appeared. These include **dynamic media preservation specialists, digital imaging specialists, computer specialists, and optical instrument repairers.
Some NARA employees spend many years in school preparing for their work in the National Archives, while others learn on the job. Almost all of the workers at the National Archives graduated from high school, and close to half graduated from college. More than twenty percent of NARA’s employees have advanced degrees. Many have personal or professional interests in history and government.
Another important group of people at the National Archives is our volunteers. A love of American history and the United States encourages hundreds of people to give of their time at the National Archives. Some assist archivists, conservators, and archives technicians; others give tours. Learn more about volunteering for the National Archives.
What’s a Record?
Do you save letters and cards that you receive from friends and relatives? Does your family have photo albums or videos of birthday parties and vacations? Where is your birth certificate stored?
All these mementos and documents tell a story about you. They help you remember the past and become evidence for future generations seeking a look at your world today.
Now, think about the United States. Billions of letters, photographs, video and audio recordings, drawings, maps, treaties, posters, and other informative materials exist that tell the stories of America’s history as a nation. From the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights to census records that account for every citizen—the preservation of important American documents helps illustrate what happened in the United States before and after we were born.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is America’s record keeper. NARA is the Government agency that not only preserves documents and materials related to the United States but also makes sure people can access the information. It has facilities all over the country, including Presidential libraries and materials projects that maintain records and artifacts from the administrations of Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and William J. Clinton.
Records have "Lifecycles"
Every day in Federal Government agencies, important documents are created. For example, the President may be signing an Executive order; the navy may be gathering data about a new fighter jet; and the Department of Education may be publishing a new resource for teachers. What happens to those documents?
Usually, they follow the “lifecycle of records,” a process for organizing, storing, and using records. Officials at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) help documents through this process.
Creation: A person or organization in the Federal Government produces or receives a record.
Maintenance and use: While being used, the record is organized and stored with similar material.
Disposition: A record is evaluated. The creator of a record proposes to the National Archives how long it should be kept. Some records are destroyed (for example, a receipt for the purchase of pencils), while others are kept permanently in the National Archives (such as executive orders). Records schedules are set up to determine how long all Federal records are to be kept by the Government. Only 1–3% of all records are kept permanently, but the total number of documents in the National Archives number in the billions, and the number keeps growing.
Arrangement and description: Records are put in new boxes and folders at the National Archives. Archivists and archives specialists then write brief summaries of what is contained in the records, which agency created them, and why.
Preservation: Records are protected from damage. They may be old or fragile, or like videotapes, they wear out, or like floppy disks, they become obsolete.
Reference: Archivists assist researchers in making use of records. An archivist, archives specialist or archives technician can help in person at one of the National Archives’ facilities, on the telephone, through information on the archives.gov website, or by mail.
Continuing use: Records are sometimes displayed or shared for reasons other than their original purpose. For example, when the United States wrote a check to Russia to purchase Alaska in 1867, the cancelled check became proof of America’s purchase (original use). That check is used now in exhibits and educational materials to teach people about U.S. history (continuing use).
National Archives Frequently Asked Questions
These are introductory answers to frequently asked questions about the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and our holdings and services.
- Select a subject from the menu on the left to view questions and answers relating to your selection.
- Links will guide you to further information on our website or to other sources.
About the National Archives
What is the National Archives ?
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the nation's record keeper. Of all documents and materials created in the course of business conducted by the United States Federal government, only 1%-3% are so important for legal or historical reasons that they are kept by us forever.
Those valuable records are preserved and are available to you, whether you want to see if they contain clues about your family's history, need to prove a veteran's military service, or are researching a historical topic that interests you.
How do I do research at the Archives?
May I reproduce images from your website?
The vast majority of the digital images in the National Archives Catalog are in the public domain. Therefore, no written permission is required to use them. We would appreciate your crediting the National Archives and Records Administration as the original source. For the few images that remain copyrighted, please read the instructions noted in the "Use Restriction(s)" field of each catalog record.
Please note that a few images on other areas of our website have been obtained from other organizations and that these are always credited. Permission to use these photographs should be obtained directly from those organizations.
Digitizing Projects at the National Archives
Can you tell me about digitizing projects going on at the National Archives?
NARA recognizes that the expectation of easy online access to our holdings continues to grow. Research is no longer relegated to libraries and research rooms but is being done around-the-clock on computers around the world. To meet this need, we will create, to the greatest extent possible, an “archives without walls.”
We plan to create digital versions of selected records, including those most requested by researchers. Digitizing materials from our holdings will improve access to those holdings and will help preserve and protect the original materials from excessive handling.
To help achieve those goals, we are in discussions with several private companies and non-profit organizations to explore mutually-beneficial opportunities to digitize -- and make available -- our holdings. The resulting non-exclusive partnerships will become an important component of our effort to further expand online public access to our nation’s archival records.
As we expand and enter into more of these partnerships, we will provide news about these pilot and longer-term projects; see more information about Digitization at the National Archives.
Can you tell me about or appraise my historic document?
The National Archives does not appraise or look at privately owned documents or artifacts. To find an appraiser in your area, you may wish to contact the ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America).
How do I preserve a photo or other family documents?
Personal documents are no less valuable than government records and care should be taken for their proper storage. You can find more information in the Preservationsection of this website.
What is the Electronic Records Archives?
In the Federal Government, electronic records are as indispensable as their paper predecessors for documenting citizens' rights, the actions for which officials are accountable, and the nation's history. Effective democracy depends on access to such records.
But we will lose the millions of records being created in electronic forms unless we find ways to preserve and keep them accessible indefinitely. The Electronic Records Archives (ERA) is NARA's vision for a comprehensive, systematic, and dynamic means of preserving and providing continuing access to authentic electronic records over time. You can read more about the Electronic Records Archives on this website.
Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Recordings
Does NARA have motion picture, sound, and video recordings?
NARA holds materials in a wide variety of formats including:
What are vital records?
"Vital records" most commonly refers to records such as birth and death certificates, marriage licenses and divorce decrees, wills and the like. These records are created by local authorities, and with possible exceptions for events overseas, in the military, or in the District of Columbia. They are not considered Federal records; therefore they are not held by NARA. For more information:
What Do You Want To Preserve?
- Family Archives (paper and photographs)
- Government Records
- Photographic Materials
- Paper & Parchment
- Books & Scrapbooks
- Digital Media
- Audio, Video & Motion Picture Film
Welcome to Conservation OnLine (CoOL)
Link: Conservation OnLine
Resources for Conservation Professionals**
Conservation OnLine (CoOL) is a freely accessible platform to generate and disseminate vital resources for those working to preserve cultural heritage worldwide. Through the support of the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation, CoOL is committed to growing and sustaining these resources into the future. As an authoritative and trusted source of information, CoOL serves to foster, convene, and promote collaboration.
A sample of areas covered on this site...
Conservation of Cultural Property: Art conservation, Paintings conservation, Paper conservation, Photographic materials conservation, Book conservation, Sculpture conservation, Objects conservation, Artifact conservation,..
Materials: Archaeological materials, Architectural materials, Archives materials, Artifacts, Artists’ materials, Electronic media, Electronic records, Historic materials, Library materials, Manuscripts, Modern materials, Museum materials,..
Subjects: Collections care, Conservation education & training, Conservation science, Conservation suppliers, Conservation treatment, Copyright, Degradation of materials, Digital imaging, Disaster planning, Documentation, Ethics, Intellectual Property,..
FADGI - Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative
About This Initiative
FADGI is a collaborative effort started in 2007 by federal agencies to articulate common sustainable practices and guidelines for digitized and born digital historical, archival and cultural content. Two working groups study issues specific to two major areas, Still Image and Audio-Visual.
Summary chart of FADGI's impact within the Library of Congress and the wider community. Updated January 31, 2018.
Still Image Working Group
This group is involved in a cooperative effort to develop common digitization guidelines for historical and cultural materials that can be reproduced as still images, such as textual content, maps, photographic prints and negatives. The overall goal is to enhance the exchange of research results and development, encourage collaborative digitization practices and projects among federal agencies, and provide the public with a product of uniform quality. It also provides a common set of benchmarks for digitization service providers and manufacturers. In addition to digital imaging and encoding, guidelines for the metadata that is embedded in digital image files have been established.
The FADGI Still Image and Audio-Visual Working Groups are exploring file formats for still images and video. Two explorations are focused on reformatting, e.g., digitizing documents, books, maps, and photographs as still images, and digitizing videotapes (mostly analog, sometimes digital) as file-based video.
- Guidelines: File Format Comparison Projects
- Guidelines: Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials
- The Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/
- The National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program http://www.digitalpreservation.gov/
- The Institute of Museum and Library Services http://www.imls.gov/
nestor ist ein Kooperationsverbund mit Partnern aus verschiedenen Bereichen, die mit dem Thema "Digitale Langzeitarchivierung" zu tun haben. Zurzeit sind folgende Kooperationspartner in nestor aktiv:
- Bibliotheksservice-Zentrum Baden-Württemberg
- Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen
- Deutsche Nationalbibliothek
- GESIS - Leibniz-Institut für Sozialwissenschaften
- Institut für Museumsforschung (Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz)
- Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg
- Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden
Assoziierte Partnerschaften bestehen mit dem Computerspiele Museum Berlin und dem Bundesamt für kerntechnische Entsorgungssicherheit (BfE) und dem FTK – Forschungsinstitut für Telekommunikation e.V. .
Mit der Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC), einer britischen Koalition zur digitalen Langzeitarchivierung, existiert ein Kooperationsabkommen.
nestor und die britische Open Preservation Foundation haben ein Memorandum of Understanding unterzeichnet.
nestor wurde im Rahmen eines BMBF-geförderten Projektes (2003-2009) begonnen und wird seit Juli 2009 von den ehemaligen Projektpartnern gemeinsam mit weiteren Einrichtungen selbstständig weitergeführt.
Mit nestor besteht ein Netzwerk, das spartenübergreifend betroffene Institutionen, kompetente Experten und aktive Projektnehmer zusammenbringt und u.a. den Austausch von Informationen, die Teilung von Aufgaben, die Entwicklung von Standards und die Nutzung von Synergieeffekten fördert.
Mit der Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC), einer britischen Koalition zur digitalen Langzeitarchivierung existiert ein Kooperationsabkommen.