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The United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent agency of the United States government charged with preserving and documenting government and historical records and with increasing public access to those documents. NARA is officially responsible for maintaining and publishing the legally authentic and authoritative copies of acts of Congress, presidential proclamations and executive order, and federal regulations. The chief administrator of NARA, the Archivist of the United States, not only maintains the official documentation of the passage of amendments to the U.S. Constitution by state legislatures, but has the authority to declare when the constitutional threshold for passage has been reached, and therefore when an act has become an amendment.

The agency often works closely with scholars to facilitate their studies.


Interior of the National Archives
Originally, each branch and agency of the U.S. government was responsible for maintaining its own documents, which often resulted in the loss and destruction of records. Congress established the National Archives Establishment in 1934 to centralize federal record keeping, with the Archivist of the United States as its chief administrator. The National Archives was incorporated into the General Services Administration in 1949, but in 1985 it was made an independent agency as NARA (National Archives and Records Administration).

Most of the documents in the care of NARA are in the public domain, as works of the federal government are excluded from copyright protection. However, some documents that have come into the care of NARA from other sources may still be protected by copyright or donor agreements. NARA also stores classified documents and its Information Security Oversight Office monitors and sets policy for the U.S. government's security classification system.

NARA's holdings are classified into "record groups" reflecting the governmental department or agency from which they originated. The records include paper records, microfilmed records, still pictures, motion pictures, and electronic media.

Many of NARA's most requested records are frequently used for research in genealogy. This includes census records from 1790 to 1930, as well as ships passenger lists and naturalization records.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the agency's grant-making arm, awards funds to state and local governments, public and private archives, colleges and universities, and other nonprofit organizations to preserve and publish historical records. Since 1964, the NHPRC has awarded some 4,500 grants.

2006 controversy over reclassification

In March 2006, it was revealed by the Archivist of the United States in a public hearing that a memorandum of understanding between NARA and various government agencies existed to "reclassify", i.e., withdraw from public access, certain documents in the name of national security, and to do so in a manner such that researchers would not be likely to discover the process.

Facilities and exhibition

National Archives Building

The National Archives Building, known informally as Archives I, located north of the National Mallmarker on Constitution Avenuemarker in Washington, D.C.marker, opened as its original headquarters in 1935. It holds the original copies of the three main formative documents of the United States and its government: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. It also hosts a copy of the 1297 Magna Carta confirmed by Edward I. These are displayed to the public in the main chamber of the National Archives, which is called the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. Flash photography of the documents is prohibited, because over time flashes can fade the documents. There are no lines to see individual documents (although there is a line to reach the rotunda itself) at the National Archives, and visitors are allowed to walk from document to document as they wish.

The National Archives Building also exhibits other important American historical documents such as the Louisiana Purchase and the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as collections of photography and other historically and culturally significant American artifacts.

National Archives at College Park

Because of space constraints, NARA opened a second facility, known informally as Archives II, in 1994 near the University of Maryland, College Parkmarker campus. Largely because of this proximity, NARA and the University of Maryland engage in cooperative initiatives. The College Park campus includes an archaeological site listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

Affiliated facilities

The National Archives Building in downtown Washington contains record collections such as all existing federal census records, ships passenger lists, military unit records from the American Revolution up to the Philippine-American War, records of the Confederate government, the Freedmen's Bureau records, and pension and land records.

There are also ten Affiliated Archives locations across the U.S. which hold, by formal, written agreement with NARA, accessioned records.

Regional facilities

There are fourteen facilities across the country with research rooms and archival holdings and microfilms of documents of federal agencies and courts pertinent to each region, and two major facilities in St. Louis, Missourimarker which comprise the National Personnel Records Center.

Presidential libraries

NARA also maintains the Presidential Library system, a nationwide network of libraries for preserving and making available the documents of U.S. presidents since Herbert Hoover. The Presidential Libraries include:

Libraries and museums have been established for other presidents, but they are not part of the NARA presidential library system, and are operated by private foundations, historical societies, or state governments, including the William McKinley, Rutherford Hayes, Calvin Coolidge, Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson libraries. For example, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museummarker is owned and operated by the State of Illinoismarker.

Public-private partnerships

The National Archives aims to make its holdings more widely available and more easily accessible by entering into public-private partnerships. In 2006, NARA announced a joint venture with Google to digitize and offer NARA video online. This pilot program represents an evolutionary step for the National Archives to achieve its goal of becoming an archive without walls, as explained in the NARA press release. This innovative partnership is just one step in a strategic plan that emphasizes the importance of providing access to records anytime, anywhere and is one of the initiatives that NARA is launching to expand opportunities for the public to be able to view NARA's collections.

In early 2007, the National Archives and Footnote launched a pilot project to digitize historic documents. The NARA press release explained that this partnership would allow much greater access to approximately 4.5 million pages of important documents that are currently available only in their original format or on microfilm. No less important, the digitization of documents would also enhance NARA's efforts to preserve its original records.

In late 2007, the National Archives announced it would make thousands of historical films available for purchase through CreateSpace (an subsidiary) which specializes in on-demand distribution of DVDs, CDs and books. The NARA press release emphasized the potential benefits for the public-at-large and for the National Archives. At NARA facilities, the public can continue to view films and even copy them at no charge; and this new program will make NARA's holdings much more accessible to those who cannot travel to the Washington, DC area. At the same time, the NARA-CreateSpace partnership will provide the National Archives with digital reference and preservation copies of the films as part of NARA's preservation program.

Social Media and Web 2.0

The National Archives currently utilizes social media and Web 2.0 technologies in attempt to better communicate with the public.

On June 18, 2009, the National Archives announced the launching of a YouTube channel "to showcase popular archived films, inform the public about upcoming events around the country, and bring National Archives exhibits to the people." Also in 2009, the National Archives launched a Flickr photostream to share portions of its photographic holdings with the general public.

Archivist of the United States

The Archivist of the United States is the chief official overseeing the operation of the National Archives and Records Administration. The first Archivist, R.D.W. Connor, began serving in 1934, when the National Archives was established by Congress. The Archivists served as subordinate officials in other government agencies until the National Archives and Records Administration became an independent agency on April 1, 1985.

On July 28, 2009, President Obama nominated David Ferriero of New York to be 10th Archivist of the United States. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on November 6, 2009. He was sworn in as Archivist on November 13, 2009.

See also



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