NARA readies software to make archives more accessible

The National Archives and Records Administration early next year plans on unveiling software that would allow researchers to find specific records in archival databases.

NARA technology employees and contract workers from Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego, are testing the software, called Access to Archived Databases, said Kenneth Thibodeau, director of NARA’s electronic records archives program.

The program is a part of a larger electronic records program that NARA is just getting started on. Thibodeau is charged with developing requirements and hiring a vendor to implement a system that would preserve and provide access to almost all types of federal electronic records, while accounting for huge volumes of data and ever-changing technology. The agency wants a system that is scalable and interoperable with other types of current and future technology, while protecting privacy, Thibodeau said.

The AAD pilot is one of the first steps toward that larger system, he added.

“We want to see how this type of system will meet our operational needs and see how well it will give access to unlimited databases,” he said today at NARA’s electronic records archives user conference in College Park, Md. “It also will give us experience from the user’s point of view.”

Thibodeau said that by the end of 2003 researchers will have about 50 databases to search along with State Department diplomatic records.

NARA also is testing software, called Presidential Electronic Records Pilot System, that would pull specific records from hard drives taken by the FBI at the end of the 1989-1992 George H.W. Bush White House. The FBI pulled out all the hard drives from 286-MHz computers after an inquiry by a special independent counsel. After the report came out, the FBI turned the hard drives over to NARA.

“The software will identify official presidential records and pass over other things like Republican party records that we don’t worry about,” Thibodeau said. “We are working with staff from the Office of Presidential Libraries to make sure the tools work.”

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