News Briefs, December 2007
Lee White, December 2007
National Archives Inks Deal with FamilySearch to Digitize Civil War Records
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) have announced a five-year partnership agreement to digitize case files of approved pension applications of widows of Civil War Union soldiers from NARA's holdings.
The partnership will begin with a pilot project to digitize, index, and make available the first 3,150 of the pension files. Upon successful completion of the pilot, GSU, doing business as FamilySearch, intends to digitize and index—in conjunction with Footnote.com—all 1,280,000 Civil War and later widows' files in the series. These records are currently available only at the National Archives building in Washington, D.C.
FamilySearch will make the digitized materials available for free through and in 4,500 family history centers worldwide, or on a subscription-based web site operated by a third party, subject to National Archives approval. They will also be available at no charge in the Washington, D.C., research rooms of the National Archives, as well as in NARA's regional facilities across the country. In addition, FamilySearch will donate to the National Archives a copy of all the digital images and the associated indexes and other metadata that they create.
This agreement is one of a series of agreements that the National Archives has reached or will reach with partners to digitize portions of its holdings.
Report Shows 13 Percent of Library of Congress Materials "Unaccounted For"
The Library of Congress came under fire from Congress recently when an internal inspector general's report surfaced showing that nearly 17 percent of materials requested by users from the library's inventory could not be found. Of that figure, 4 percent were found to be in processing, but nearly 13 percent were considered unaccounted for.
At an oversight hearing on the library, members of the Committee on House Administration questioned officials on the library's operations, including significant gaps in its inventory management plan. Library officials who testified before the committee claim that subsequent inventory reviews had found the percentage of unaccounted for items to be closer to 10 percent.
Despite the fact that a "Baseline Inventory Project" has been in operation since 2002, only 20 percent of the 135 million items in the library's holdings have been inventoried.
Committee member Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) suggested that the library consider modeling their tracking system after successful tracking programs within the private sector. "If UPS can track tens of thousands if not millions of pieces per day, and doesn't have a loss rate of 10 percent, why can't you?" Lungren asked. "I would bet you that if UPS or any of the others had a loss rate of 10 percent, they would be out of business."
New Director Named for Clinton Presidential Library
Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein recently announced the appointment of Terri Garner as the new director of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. From 2005 to the present, Garner has served as executive director of the Bangor Museum and Center for History. Garner will assume her duties on November 5, 2007.
Garner is currently finishing her PhD in history at the University of Maine at Orono. She holds a MA in history from the University of Colorado at Denver and a BA in political science from Chatham College in Pittsburgh.
House Passes Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library Bill
On September 24, the House of Representatives passed—by voice vote—H.R. 1664, a bill that would authorize the National Archives and Records Administration to make pass-through grants toward the establishment of a Woodrow Wilson presidential library in Staunton, Virginia, Wilson's birthplace.
H.R. 1664 only authorizes that federal funds can be used to make grants to the Wilson Library. Separate language in an appropriations bill would be needed to provide the National Archives the funds needed to make the grants.
In addition, the legislation sets stringent requirements that must be met before any federal dollars may be appropriated. First, the private entity running the Wilson Library must certify that it has raised double the amount of the proposed federal grant from nonfederal sources. Second, the grant is conditioned on the Wilson Library coordinating its programs with other federal and nonfederal historic sites, parks, and museums that are associated with the life of Woodrow Wilson. Finally, the bill prohibits the use of federal grant funds for the maintenance or operation of the library.
The legislation also makes it clear that the library will not be considered part of the existing presidential library system and that the National Archives will have no involvement in the actual operation of the library.
While the Bush administration took no formal position on H.R. 1664, sources at the National Archives do not feel that NARA should be used as a pass-through for federal funds to a private entity. Private institutions usually receive funds through specific earmarks in appropriations bills.
The bill had the unanimous support of the Virginia delegation in the House. Companion legislation (S. 1878) has been introduced by Senator James Webb (D-Va.), with the co-sponsorship of Virginia's senior Senator John Warner (R-Va.).
Library of Congress and UNESCO Sign World Digital Library Agreement
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and UNESCO Assistant Director for Communication and Information Abdul Waheed Khan recently signed an agreement at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, pledging cooperative efforts to build a World Digital Library web site.
The World Digital Library will digitize unique and rare materials from libraries and other cultural institutions around the world and make them available for free on the Internet. These materials will include manuscripts, maps, books, musical scores, sound recordings, films, prints, and photographs.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Library of Congress and UNESCO will cooperate in convening working groups of experts and other stakeholders to develop guidelines and technical specifications for the project, enlist new partners, and secure the necessary support for the project from private and public sources. A key aspect of the project is to build digital library capabilities in the developing world, so that all countries and regions of the world can participate and be represented in the World Digital Library.
To test the feasibility of the project, the Library of Congress, UNESCO, and five other partner institutions—the Bibliotheca Alexandrina of Alexandria, Egypt; the National Library of Brazil; the National Library of Egypt; the National Library of Russia; and the Russian State Library—have developed a prototype of the World Digital Library. The World Digital Library will become available to the public as a full-fledged web site in late 2008 or early 2009.
The prototype functions in the six U.N. languages—Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish, plus Portuguese—and features search and browse functionality by place, time, topic, and contributing institution. Input into the design of the prototype was solicited through a consultative process that involved UNESCO, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, and individuals and institutions in more than 40 countries.
National Archives Announces Initial Release of Military Personnel Records
The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) has announced that it will open for the first time all of the individual Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) of Army, Army Air Corps, Army Air Forces, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard military personnel who served and were discharged, retired, or died while in the service, prior to 1946. Collectively, these files comprise more than six million records. This is the second step in the progressive opening of the entire paper and microfiche OMPF collection of over 57 million individual files. Additional military personnel records will be made available to the public each year through 2067 until the entire collection is opened.
To view an original record, individuals may visit the NPRC Archival Research Room in St. Louis, Missouri. Research room hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Central Time, Tuesday through Friday. Visitors are strongly encouraged to call ahead (314-801-0850) to make reservations.
The National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records (NPRC-MPR) is the repository of millions of military personnel, health, and medical records of discharged and deceased veterans of all services during the 20th century (records prior to World War I are in Washington, D.C.). NPRC-MPR also stores medical treatment records of retirees from all services, as well as records for dependent and other persons treated at naval medical facilities.
Former ISOO Chief Leonard Named Senior Aide to Archivist Weinstein
Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein announced that J. William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), who will be retiring from the post at year's end, has agreed to become senior counselor to the archivist beginning in January 2008.
Leonard was appointed as the director of the ISOO in June 2002. The ISOO oversees the security classification programs in both government and industry and reports annually to the president on their status. The ISOO monitors approximately 65 executive branch departments, independent agencies, and offices.
—Lee White is the executive director of the National Coalition for History.