Webinars for State Government Electronic Records

Update: Thanks to all who attended these webinars. For those who requested copies of the slides, and for those who could not attend but would like to see the slides used during the webinar, they are available here: SGER2015


NHPRC will be hosting two webinars to answer questions of those interested in the State Government Electronic Records grant program. The webinar schedule and instructions appear at the end of the message.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission seeks projects that will accession, describe, preserve, and provide access to state government electronic records of enduring value. Government information maintained by state archives is a national asset, serving as important resources for documenting rights and capturing the national experience. The NHPRC will support projects that actively engage in activities that preserve electronic record assets and make them available for public discovery.

The Commission encourages collaborative projects that bring together multiple parties to plan for and carry out project goals and outcomes. The NHPRC strongly encourages applicants to leverage the resources resulting from the Council of State Archivists’ State Electronic Records Initiative (SERI) to inform their work.

Projects in this program cannot digitize historical records. If you intend to digitize as part of archival processing of materials, refer to the Access to Historical Records grant announcement. If you already have description information in place and want to create digital surrogates, refer to the Digital Dissemination of Archival Collections grant announcement. In addition, projects cannot establish electronic document management systems that only manage born-digital records with limited retention periods.

Applications requesting support for these activities will be considered ineligible in this program.

A grant normally is for one to three years and up to $200,000. The Commission expects to make 3 or more grants in this category, for a total of up to $600,000. Grants begin no earlier than July 1, 2016.


DRAFT 3 August 2015

FINAL 8 October 2015.


Webinars will be held:

Friday, 26 June @ 3:00 p.m. Eastern

Wednesday, 1 July @ 4:00 p.m. Eastern

Webinar attendees will need to click on the following link

(https://connect16.uc.att.com/gsa1/meet/?ExEventID=86764535) and enter their name and email address. You do not need to pre-register for these webinars.

Please email me at nancy.melley@nara.gov if you have any questions.

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Webinars for Digital Dissemination of Archival Collections

Update: Thanks to all who attended these webinars. For those who requested copies of the slides, and for those who could not attend but would like to see the slides used during the webinar, they are available here: DDACJune2015


NHPRC will be hosting two webinars to answer questions of those interested in the Digital Dissemination of Archival Collections grant program. The webinar schedule and instructions appear at the end of the message.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission desires to make historical records of national significance to the United States broadly available by disseminating digital surrogates on the Internet.

Projects may focus on the papers of major figures from American life or cover broad historical movements in politics, military, business, social reform, the arts, and other aspects of the national experience. The historical value of the records and their expected usefulness to broad audiences must justify the costs of the project. The Commission will not consider proposals that charge for access.

Grants are awarded for digitizing documentary source materials. Applications that do not include digitization of analog archival records will be considered ineligible. If you are working with born-digital records, please review the Access to Historical Records or the State Government Electronic Records announcements.

Applicants may digitize a single collection or set of collections for online dissemination. Such online publications should provide basic access to collections. Collaborations among repositories are encouraged.

In addition, applicants may undertake more complex descriptive work, such as document transcription, tagging, or geo-referencing, if these additional access points are justified by the value of the material and its expected users.

For frequently asked questions, please visit this link: http://www.archives.gov/nhprc/announcement/digital-faqs.html

Applicants may apply for funding for one to two years. Award amounts can range from $20,000 to $150,000. The Commission expects to make as many as 7 grants in this category, for a total of up to $500,000. Grants begin no earlier than July 1, 2016.


DRAFT 3 August 2015

FINAL 8 October 2015.


Webinars will be held:

Wednesday, 24 June @ 3:00 p.m. Eastern

Tuesday, 30 June @ 4:00 p.m. Eastern

Webinar attendees will need to click on the following link

(https://connect16.uc.att.com/gsa1/meet/?ExEventID=86764535) and enter their name and email address. You do not need to pre-register for these webinars.

Please email me at nancy.melley@nara.gov if you have any questions.

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Helping Smaller Archival Repositories Preserve Their Collections and Make Them Accessible


As I mentioned in a previous blog, the NHPRC is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the State Historical Records Advisory Boards (SHRABs) in 2015. The SHRABs in many of the states have received funding for regrant programs that permit them to make small grants of their own. These regrant funds are often awarded to smaller historical societies, museums, libraries, and colleges for projects that would not necessarily be competitive at the Federal level. Through state regrant programs, many hundreds of institutions have benefited from approximately $7,000,000 in funding.

For many records repositories, adequate funding is not available for something as basic as purchasing all of the archival supplies that are needed in order to adequately preserve their collections. Regrant funds have helped to address this need. For example, recent regrant awards made by the Oklahoma Board are allowing the Will Rogers Memorial Museum and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum to purchase archival supplies for rehousing collections of family papers and rodeo photographs. In Ohio, the state board provided funding so that the Warren County Historical Society could place the photographic collection of The Western Star, Ohio’s longest running newspaper (1807-2012), in archival folders and boxes, and for Otterbein University to properly rehouse the papers of Walter G. Clippinger, the university’s president from 1909 to 1939.

Although purchasing archival supplies is one of the most common uses of regrant funds, many other types of projects are also funded. The Arizona Archives Alliance, for example, was awarded funding for a symposium focusing on the role of archivists in addressing issues of social justice in their collecting. Many other institutions have engaged the services of a consultant, hired staff to process collections, or participated in archival training.

In recent years, an increasing number of regrant projects have focused on the digitization of a wide variety of records, including government documents, oral history interviews, maps, and photographs. Unfortunately, many of the institutions that undertake digitization projects only make these digital images available onsite.  In addition, many repositories that use regrant funds to process collections do not make their finding aids available online.

In 2015, the first grants under the NHPRC’s new State Board Programming Grants program are being awarded. With these grants, the NHPRC is placing a greater emphasis on using regrant funds to ensure that smaller repositories have the capacity to place finding aids and digital images online so that a broader range of historical documentation is widely available. For many citizens, it is the records that document their local communities that are the most important to them.  The NHPRC is working to see that these records are easily accessible.

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Webinar Announced for Publishing Historical Records in Documentary Editions

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) of the National Archives supports projects that promote access to America’s historical records to encourage understanding of our democracy, history, and culture. Potential applicants to the NHPRC’s Publishing Historical Records in Documentary Editions program are invited to attend either of two upcoming webinars on the program and application process. Webinar times and instructions appear at the end of the message.

The upcoming webinars are intended for currently-funded projects preparing for the June 17, 2015 deadline, and others who may be considering preparation of an application for the fall cycle (deadline October 8, 2015; this second deadline is open to both currently-funded projects and projects seeking first-time support).

The NHPRC seeks proposals to publish documentary editions of historical records. Projects may focus on the papers of major figures from American history or cover broad historical movements in politics, military, business, social reform, the arts, and other aspects of the national experience. The historical value of the records and their expected usefulness to broad audiences must justify the costs of the project.

The goal of this program is to provide access to, and editorial context for, the historical documents and records that tell the American story. The NHPRC encourages projects, whenever possible and appropriate, to provide access to these materials in a free and open online environment, without precluding other forms of publication.

Grants are awarded for collecting, describing, preserving, compiling, editing, and publishing documentary source materials in print and online. Because of the focus on documentary sources, grants do not support preparation of critical editions of published works unless such works are just a small portion of the larger project.

Applicants may apply for funding for one year. Award amounts may range from $30,000 to $200,000. Depending on the availability of funding, the Commission expects to make as many as 25 grants in this category, for a total of up to $2,500,000. Grants begin no earlier than January 1, 2016.

First Deadline: Any currently funded NHPRC documentary edition project: Funding Opportunity Number: EDITIONS-201506. Draft (optional): April 3, 2015. Final Deadline:  June 17, 2015. NHPRC support begins no earlier than January 1, 2016.

Second Deadline: Any currently funded NHPRC documentary edition project and any project seeking first time support: Funding Opportunity Number:   EDITIONS-201510. Draft (optional): August 3, 2015. Final Deadline:  October 8, 2015. NHPRC support begins no earlier than July 1, 2016.

A webinar will be held on Tuesday, 3 March @ 2:00 p.m. Eastern

Webinar attendees will need to click on the following link (https://connect16.uc.att.com/gsa1/meet/?ExEventID=89909710) and enter their name and email address. You do not need to pre-register. Please email me at darrell.meadows@nara.gov if you have any questions.

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Documentary Editing: The View from There to Here

Two months ago I joined the staff of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, where I oversee the agency’s Publishing Historical Records in Documentary Editions program. As I learned right away, there would be no “easing into” the position. With the latest grant deadline for the program just days before my physical arrival, I needed to hit the ground running. There were reports to process, reports to write, closeouts to perform, and sundry other ins and outs of the job to learn. Oh, and a site visit to boot! With thanks to a great team of colleagues who patiently answered every question, and helped to anticipate others, I began to manage the day-to-day work of a federal grants administrator.

But my role as Director for Publishing also involves gaining a better understanding of the world of documentary editing and publishing as it exists today—its challenges, its opportunities, its practices, and not least, its impact—in order to help the NHPRC to consider future directions for the publishing program and to convey the broader significance and impact of its work.

I have been intimately involved with the field of documentary editing for some six years now: as project director for the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition, a large, multi-year, “born-digital” documentary edition; as the former Secretary of the Association for Documentary Editing; and as a co-instructor at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute. I am once again gaining a fuller and deeper understanding of the documentary editing community from an altogether different perspective.

So, how are the concerns of a program director different from that of a project director?

As a project director, I decided that our edition would be “born digital,” and so worked diligently to understand the methods and standards of other nationally-recognized documentary editing projects, as well as engaging actively in the growing field of digital humanities. I did so with an eye to developing a project that not only met the highest standards of the NHPRC and the Association for Documentary Editing, but would make significant contributions to how documentary editions are conceptualized and implemented in the digital age. But try as I might, I can see now that my view of the broader landscape was limited by the local context of my project and institution. As a program officer, my self-education continues apace, but I am now better placed to view the full range of methods currently employed by the nation’s leading documentary editors, and to explore new and emerging platforms (such as Islandora, Drupal, and Omeka) and best practices across several domains. As we continue to encourage projects, “whenever possible and appropriate, to provide access to these materials in a free and open online environment,” the need for the program to be informed by a fuller understanding of the emerging digital ecosystem will be essential and ongoing.

How can I and my colleagues work to encourage a new generation of documentary editing projects that meet the ongoing needs of current and future scholars, classroom teachers, and citizens?

Because my former project was “born digital,” the challenges we faced were different than those faced by print editions, who are now struggling to navigate the transition to digital platforms. Fortunately I come to this position having served on the editorial board of the University Press of Kentucky, where I gained a deep appreciation for the challenges university presses are also working to overcome. Already in the past couple months, however, it has been encouraging to see that a number of projects (such as the Frederick Douglass Papers and The George Washington Financial Papers) are developing robust plans for experimenting with new platforms and models for digital publication and access. Understanding the current and near-term environment in which documentary editions must plan and implement their work will require close attention to at least four intersecting domains:

  • the evolving publication practices of university presses (print and digital);
  • the emerging phenomenon of open-source and university library publishing;
  • developments in open-source and other platforms for editing, publishing, and hosting digital editions;
  • the growing influence of the digital humanities;
  • and trends within the broader scholarly editing community.

The unique perspective I’ve gained these first eight weeks with NHPRC has reinforced for me the enduring value of our collective work to contextualize and make accessible the nation’s documentary heritage, and the great potential that lays in store as we continue to find mutually beneficial partnerships and new ways of working that bridge communities, while ensuring broad intellectual access to the sources of our nation’s history.

My sleeves are rolled up and I’m jumping in with both feet!

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Access to Historical Records Webinars Announced

I would like to bring to your attention three upcoming webinars regarding NHPRC’s Access to Historical Records grant program. The webinar schedule and instructions appear at the end of the message. To view slides from the webinar, please click this link: AccessToHistoricalRecordsWebinar1.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission invites applications for this grant program to promote the preservation and use of the nation’s most valuable archival resources. This program is designed to support repositories in preserving and processing primary source materials of national significance. The program emphasizes the creation of online tools that facilitate the public discovery of historical records.

The Commission looks to fund projects that undertake the following activities:

  • Preservation, arrangement, and online description of historical records in all formats
  • Digital preservation of electronic records and unstable audio and moving image formats

After completing arrangement and description activities, applicants may also digitize selected archival series from the processed materials to provide online access to collections. Applicants that intend solely to digitize materials will be asked to submit proposals to the Digital Dissemination of Archival Collections program. 

Applicants must have an existing archival program in place. This grant program does not support archival start-up activities of any kind, including electronic records start-ups. For answers to some frequently asked questions, please visit this link.

A grant normally is for one to two years and for up to $200,000. The Commission expects to make up to 14 grants in this category for a total of up to $1,000,000. Grants begin no earlier than 1 January 2016.

Deadlines: DRAFT 3 April 2015; FINAL 17 June 2015. 


Webinars will be held on the following dates and times:

Wednesday, 18 February @ 3:30 p.m. Eastern

Listen to a digital recording of this webinar, please follow this link.

Monday, 23 February @ 3:30 p.m. Eastern

Thursday, 26 February @ 2:00 p.m. Eastern

Webinar attendees will need to click on the following link (https://connect16.uc.att.com/gsa1/meet/?ExEventID=87508535) and enter their name and email address. You do not need to pre-register for these webinars. Please email me at alexander.lorch@nara.gov if you have any questions.

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Former NHPRC Grantee Discusses the Human Element of Digital Preservation


Each year NHPRC receives dozens of project proposals to digitize and provide public access to nationally significant records. Often times an applicant expends a great amount of time discussing the technological ins-and-outs of how their digitization work will proceed. In each proposal, reviewers will usually read about specific scanners, various analog conversion equipment, TB hard drives, server capability, data management, collection management software, and TIFF, JPG, MP3/MP4 files. All of these are appropriate discussion points for a successful proposal to digitize materials. What some applications lack, though, is more specific detail regarding the more human side of the project involving appraisal and selection of the digitized items. Does the content have value? Does the content fit your project scope? Can you digitally preserve the content in an efficient manner? Do you have all the proper rights to the material scheduled for digitization?

A new (very new) blog and podcast site called Preservation Imperative launched in late November 2014 has as one of its first entries an interview that addresses the human element of digital preservation. Preservation Imperative is the product of Kevin Driedger, the Librarian for Conservation and Digitization at the Library of Michigan, who announces the site as “conversations with people about preservation; exploring what they preserve; how they preserve; and why they preserve.” The interview features Jody DeRidder, Head of Digital Services at the University of Alabama who recently presented a keynote address on this subject at the annual Best Practices Exchange conference. In the interview, DeRidder, who completed an NHPRC digitization grant in 2011, discusses how selection, collection development, and local control of digital content are extremely important considerations for librarians, archivists, and digital preservationists. Take a listen to the interview and keep these thoughts in mind the next time you plan a digital preservation project or application to NHPRC.

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Celebrating the State Historical Records Advisory Boards


Did you miss us? The NHPRC’s Annotation blog took a few weeks off in observance of several holidays, but has now returned.

One of the big events of 2015 will be our celebration of the 40th anniversary of the NHPRC’s State Historical Records Advisory Boards (SHRABs). The SHRABs serve as the central advisory bodies for historical records planning and as coordinating bodies to facilitate cooperation among historical records repositories and other information agencies within a state. Board members also provide state-level review for applications submitted to some of the Commission’s grant programs.

At full strength, there are 56 SHRABs; one for each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. SHRABs, whose members are usually appointed by the governor, are required to be as broadly representative as possible of the public and private archives, records offices, and research institutions and organizations in the state.

Soon after the first SHRABs were formed in 1975, they became eligible for grant funding in order to expand their work beyond the broad activities listed above. Over the past 40 years, the Commission has awarded the SHRABs well over 500 grants totaling approximately $19,000,000. Some of these grants were small and just provided the funds necessary for the board to meet and plan its activities (what we appropriately referred to as Travel and Meeting Expense grants).

Other grants were considerably larger and provided the funding necessary for SHRABs to undertake major program development projects and regrant programs. These regrant programs, which are still in place in many states, permit the SHRABs to make grants of their own. The Commission awards a block of funding to a SHRAB, and the SHRAB regrants this funding to several institutions in their state. The funds are often used by smaller historical societies, museums, libraries, and colleges to develop archival programs, process their collections, or train their staff members. These regrants are one of the few sources of funding available to many of these smaller institutions.

Over the coming year, I will share stories from the SHRABs that demonstrate the important work that they perform to preserve historical records and make them more accessible to everyone who seeks to use them.



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More Than A Click Away


One of the more remarkable aspects of the Way We Live Now is our expectations in finding answers right away. We reach for our smartphones to check the weather or decide on a restaurant or a show or find out the latest news. When the questions are deeper, many of us turn first to the Internet, hoping for answers that are but a click away.

In the OCLC’s report The Digital Information Seeker, researchers took a look at the numerous user studies that address the behavior of the general public and scholars from several disciplines about this phenomenon.  Although the report focuses largely on libraries, the implications for the archives community and its users are equally valid. By analyzing twelve separate studies, “The Digital Information Seeker” developed a profile of changing user behaviors:

  • Regardless of age or experience, academic discipline, or the context of the information need, speed and convenience are important to users.
    • Researchers particularly appreciate desktop access to scholarly content
    • Users also appreciate the convenience of electronic access over the physical library
  • Users are beginning to desire enhanced functionality in library systems
  • They also desire enhanced content to assist them in evaluating resources
  • They seem generally confident in their own ability to use information discovery tools
  • However, it seems that information literacy has not necessarily improved
    • High-quality metadata is thus becoming even more important for the discovery process.

Underscoring all of these findings is a greater public demand for more digital content. As any archivist will tell you, what is available online is still only a fraction of what’s possible.

In addition to the cry for more digital content, the report points out the continued desire for speed and convenience as well as enhanced resources—from the digital content itself to actual human assistance—in helping users find what they seek. While millions of people are contributing data through social media, including comments, annotations, tags, ratings, and reviews, they continue to need a cadre of professionals standing behind the data. Archivists, librarians, and curators now play a greater role in sorting through, authenticating, and analyzing massive amounts of information, while also providing context for historical documents.

It has been a persistent goal from the very beginning of the professionalization of archival practices in the United States. A few years after the founding of the National Archives and the Society of American Archivists, The American Archivist summed up the challenge in 1939:

“Just as librarians promote the use of books, and as teachers defend before the public the value of education, so archivists have as part of their duty to give stimulus and guidance to the use of archives, and to their use not by the few but by the many.”

Access for the many, that persistent goal of the libraries, archives, and museums community, may have been achieved, in part, by putting digital content on the Web, but it does not mitigate the need for continued stewardship of the historical records and professional assistance for the digital information seekers.

One key task ahead is to help students gain critical thinking skills and basic research techniques when seeking and using historical records in both analog and digital formats. In addition to developing digital literacy, users need to recognize the complexities of archival materials and to locate and effectively use them in a wide range of repositories. A central irony of the age is that the unprecedented access to information requires greater levels of skill and understanding to find the right answers and to ask the next questions.

To that end, the NHPRC has created a new funding category for “Literacy and Engagement with Historical Records.” The first round of applications has just arrived, and we are reading them with interest, looking for ways to provide not only access for the many and quick access via the Internet, but a deeper understanding of the historical records themselves through the work of archivists.



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From Brooding to Marveling: possibilities of Online Resources

In a recent essay in the Wall Street Journal, “What Could Be Lost as Einstein’s Papers Go Online,” Walter Isaacson wondered whether people will still visit the physical archives once everything is digitized and goes online.

Recalling his own research visits to the archives at CalTech and his journey to Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, Isaacson wrote somewhat wistfully of how looking at the original letters and documents and spending time with the editors of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein gave him insights that led to his biography of Einstein. A similar experience inspired him on his biography of Benjamin Franklin, when he worked with the editors of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin and visited Sterling Library at Yale to look at the Franklin’s letters and manuscripts.

Now the Digital Einstein Papers and the Franklin Papers—through Founders Online—are freely available to people all over the world. They can find these sources, do the kind of research they want to do, and explore on their terms. But Isaacson wonder how that online access will change the nature of research in archives. “What sublime experiences will researchers miss if they simply view the documents online?” he asks. “What will be lost if the archives, with their passionate staffs, morph into unvisited repositories?”

And then, he answers his own questions: “But my brooding soon gave way to marveling about the benefits that will come when millions of curious people, with new technologies in hand, get to dive into the papers of historical figures.”

Online access to historical documents is changing not only scholarly research, but changing our everyday connection with

Marie Curie

Marie Curie

archives. Just after the release the Digital Einstein Papers, several of my Facebook friends posted links to a 1911 letter from Einstein to Marie Curie expressing his dismay with the “base manner in which the public is presently daring to concern itself with you.”

He was offering some support after Nobel Laureate Curie’s application to the French Academy of Sciences  had been turned down.  Perhaps because she was Jewish, perhaps because she was having an affair with another scientist, the physicist Paul Langevin.  Einstein didn’t care.  He said, “Anyone who does not number among these reptiles is certainly happy, now as before, that we have such personages among us as you, and Langevin too, real people with whom one feels privileged to be in contact.” (Einstein Papers, vol. 8, English Supplement p. 6) This defense resonates today for my friends who have faced their own difficulties as women scientists or who were horrified as women who are game developers went into hiding this fall after being the subjects of the death threats this fall.

Another use for these online collections is to focus on the lesser-known historical figures whose stories are begging to be told.  Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, (2013) creates a biography of Benjamin Franklin’s youngest sister out of their correspondence in the collection.  Jane’s letters appear in Founders Online, but these are not the only sources that Lepore relied on to put together her book. She brought together multiple resources and speculation on the nature of biography, particularly the biography of 18th century women. Book of Ages provides a very different look at the founding of the United States from the eyes of a mother, struggling in poverty, and concerned about her family’s separation by the conflict.

The possibilities of online resources are many and not always as obvious as we at the National Historical Publications and Records Commission might have imagined. A law professor found sources in Founders Online about attitudes towards the death penalty before the Revolutionary War. A college professor used it to introduce students to primary sources about women. A botanist explored the history of pawpaws in the United States with references to both Washington’s and Jefferson’s interest in the tree and fruit. Participants in a Massive Open Online Course sponsored by Monticello found most of their readings in Founders Online.

This variety of approaches to using these collections is one of the reasons that Isaacson gives up his wistfulness. It is also a reminder that archivists, documentary editors, and historians never know exactly what will resonant with people in the present day or the future. There are new ways of teaching, new topics to explore, historical figures that deserve more attention. Online resources provide the spark for investigations that bring people to archives, historic houses, arboretums, or new parts of their imaginations.

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