Diary of a Preservationist

 

The National Archives and Records Administration, the independent agency that preserves centuries’ worth of relics from American history, is on track to surpass every other federal organization in the newfangled world of social media. Hard to believe? Not to Pamela Wright, the Archive’s social media director and architect of the Citizen Archivist Dashboard. 

The Wikipedia-inspired pilot program, which launched in December 2011, gathers 400,000 of the Archives’ documents available online, ranging from petitions to explorers’ diaries to marriage notices. Users with all types of backgrounds, not just experienced researchers, can create a profile and start transcribing the documents for preservation in the Archives’ digital collection. For Wright, seeing the project come to fruition is a long-awaited dream. 

“Anything you can make publicly available—there are audiences that are vitally interested in it,” Wright says, explaining why she believes people will flock to become Citizen Archivists. 

The venture is a watershed moment in the federal government’s involvement with social media. Wright, who describes the platform as “kind of a disruptive technology that frightens the status quo,” thinks other federal agencies should develop more of an innovation-friendly culture in order to make the leap online. But once they do, they’ll still be eating the dust of centuries-old documents. 

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