Wednesday, December 12, 2012

NARA’s Bill Mayer Speaks About Genealogists

NARA's WIlliam A. “Bill” MayerWilliam A. “Bill” Mayer became Executive for Research Services on 18 June 2012. In a recent interview Mayer made comments of interest to genealogists.

With so much changing in terms of digital access through our partners like and FamilySearch, I’d be very interested to hear from the genealogy community how their practices are changing. … I’d also welcome discussions that highlighted ways the genealogy community could support NARA as well: deeper more effective citizen archivist programs; citizen scanning projects; sharing of expertise from our most expert public researchers – any other ideas?

Did he say “citizen scanning projects”? That sounds intriguing. I wonder what that means.

On online access Mayer said,

"Access" in general, regardless of format, is a primary mission for NARA, and Research Services especially. I see methods that focus on both the in-person and the online as critical to our work today and into the future. But to be realistic, there’s simply not enough funding to do everything we see necessary to provide comprehensive, high-functioning systems for access. So choices need to be made. Arguably, digitization enables a broader reach for records than ever before. But what about the guidance and pathfinding through the maze of information found online? How do we support that?

Mayer expanded on that topic.

Access to information is never done well by a "one size fits all" approach. Digital access is an excellent method for expanding the reach of the record and exposing the record to wider audiences – but that access has to be coupled with excellent customer services that make the most of the connection between the record and the researcher. My top-level plans are to focus our work on the key areas of Discovery (finding what we have), Access (getting to what we have), and Preservation (ensuring content is available for generations to come).

On the seemingly opposing goals of access and preservation, Mayer said,

Protection and Preservation of our holdings does not mean we can’t facilitate easier access. That’s why you see such a rise in digitization efforts.

Asked about when the content digitized by and Fold3 would be available free to the public, Mayer said,

Those are rolling dates depending on the collections being digitized and the agreements that govern each collection. New records are released regularly, and free access to the public is available at every NARA facility nationwide the moment the collections are available on the partner sites. There are quite a number of these collections, so I’ll look forward to sharing a more explicit listing for future communications.

In other news, NARA has announced the addition of census reference reports to the existing set of genealogical research reports consisting of African American, Military, Native Americans, and Immigration. Reference reports are one to four page papers describing research strategies for frequently used records.

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