Thursday, October 22, 2009

NARA: Statement on improving services

NOTE from DearMYRTLE: Looks like all the confusion about changes at NARA in Washington DC will be cleared up by this notice from our friends at the National Archives (US). Please address all inquiries to

Press Release
October 22, 2009
National Archives Statement on Improving Services to Researchers at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC

Washington, DC…The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) continually looks at ways to improve and increase our services to visitors and researchers. We conduct this review to ensure that we continue to provide the highest level of services to our regular clientele and to extend our services to potential users with different backgrounds and expectations.

It’s come to our attention that our researcher community may have received erroneous information about our plans for some adjustments to the Archives I research rooms. The following information is an outline of what we are considering.

Are you reducing the size of the Finding Aids/Consultation Room?
No. Current plans would more than double that space.

The current room on the ground floor of the National Archives Building (Room G-28) serves as the finding aids room, the consultation area, and as office space for three staff members. The area available in this space for consultation with the public is approximately 450 square feet and has three consultation tables. We are proposing to move the consultation area from G-28 to the adjacent area which is currently the National Archives Library, G-30. We will use approximately 1100 square feet of what is now Library space for this consultation area. The space will have eight tables for consultation. So, we will more than double the area and number of tables for researchers to consult with staff and use the finding aids. The three staff members who currently have their workspace in G-28 will have new workstations adjacent to the research room that they can use to do other work when they are not providing direct consultation service.

This plan is based on the successful model that has been in place for several years for consultants at Archives II in College Park.

Are you eliminating the Microfilm Reading Room?
No. Over the last few years use of our microfilm holdings has decreased by 70%. In fiscal year 2000 we had 53,000 microfilm researcher visits; in fiscal year 2009 we had 16,000 microfilm research visits. When our microfilm reading room was first designed and built we estimated the need for 100 microfilm readers. Because of digitization and other factors, there no longer is the need for so many microfilm readers. So we are considering reducing the number of microfilm machines to 30 and increasing the number of public access computers to meet the demand for the old and the new technology. We will maintain the number of microfilm machines at a level that is needed by those researchers who continue to have the need for microfilm.

Are you eliminating self-service microfilm?
No. For the convenience of both researchers and staff, the National Archives maintains a policy of allowing researchers to browse our microfilm cabinets and select their own microfilm. We will continue with this policy as long as research demand warrants it. We may, however, relocate the microfilm to another public area adjacent to the microfilm reading room.

Are you eliminating the Lecture Room?
No. Our current lecture room on the ground floor (G-24) is used daily for programs such as our very popular “Know Your Records” seminars. Any renovation of the ground floor research area will include a lecture room so our researchers, visitors, and NARA staff can continue to use it for critical outreach and other activities.

What are you doing with the Orientation and Registration Area?
While we may eventually re-locate those areas physically, we have no immediate plans to do so. We of course would not eliminate this critical function, and will ensure it is located appropriately.

These changes to the National Archives Building should improve the services we provide to researchers. No functions or services are being eliminated or reduced.

To ensure that the changes meet the needs of researchers, we intend to continue to have our quarterly meetings with our Archives I user group to keep users informed and solicit their comments.


1 comment:

  1. I found the press release to be very misleading. There is nothing being proposed by NARA that will “improve services” to researchers. The only individuals who will benefit from these changes are members of the public who come to view the exhibits and purchase items in the store. However, I am very pleased that NARA will continue to permit researchers to have direct access to the microfilm even if it means that we will lose the room in which it is presently located. There is one point in the press release that is true. The number of researchers using the Archives is dropping. I am doing everything I can to encourage people to visit and use the Archives, but the numbers continue to decline. I am concerned that the actions being proposed by NARA will further discourage people to visit the Archives which will mean even more reductions to the space and services offered to visitors. I was told by NARA that we would lose the physical space that currently serves as the Microfilm Research Room, the Microfilm Drawer Room, the Military Service Research Room, and the Lecture Room (G-24). In other words, one-half of the area on the first floor currently being used by the Researchers is being turned over to exhibits and a gift shop. The Orientation and Registration Room was not discussed specifically but its loss was implied. There is nothing in the statement that disputes these reductions in space. NARA is eliminating space and the functions will have to be made to fit in the remaining space. How can this be described as “improved service?” The functions previously performed in these rooms are being moved to other places on the first floor. The microfilm readers (25-30) will be moved to the Finding Aids room. The consultants will be moved into the Library. A new lecture room will be built at an unknown location. The microfilm “may” be moved to a location near the Microfilm readers. The only space available for the new lecture room and the microfilm is the Research Center Lobby. As for putting the consultants in the Library, this is not the same as Archives 2. I am assuming that the measurements you mentioned are only referring to the tables. It may come as a surprise to management but researchers frequently meet with consultants in the cubicles and at the desks all over the room. Also, I have conducted research on military records on the 2nd floor at Archives 2. The consultants have a room that is separate from the researchers. The do not sit in an open space with individuals who are performing other tasks. The room does have large tables where you meet with the consultant. Personally, when I am meeting with an individual, I like to have some privacy. I prefer to keep my questions and objectives private. Also, I have no desire to hear about anyone else’s research. Again, I am very pleased that we will be permitted to have direct access to the microfilm but I regret that the consultants are being moved into the open space of the library. I wonder if the visitors using the library will view having people talking as “improved service.” I thought you were supposed to be quiet in a library.

    Harold McClendon