MGC's Feedback on NARA's 2022-2026 Draft Strategic Plan
Genealogists love the National Archives and Records Administration. NARA asked for input and feedback on its upcoming 2022-2026 four-year draft strategic plan. MGC responded on behalf of genealogists and historians in Massachusetts.
When final, the 2022-2026 strategic plan will help NARA prioritize where it invests its funds and staff. Although the language of visionary strategic plans is fairly high-fallutin, it does have an impact on the services that NARA will provide to genealogists in the near future. That is why it was important to us to be a voice for you.
August 20, 2021
Re: Feedback on National Archives Draft 2022-2026 Strategic Plan
The Massachusetts Genealogical Council is an umbrella organization for genealogical and historical societies in Massachusetts. In this role, the Council wishes to express concern about two areas of the draft strategic plan that impact historians and genealogists. We compare the current draft plan to the 2018-2022 final strategic plan when the current draft lacks specificity.
Make Access Happen
The goal of adding a half billion digitized images has slipped by two years between the last plan and the current draft, from 2024 to 2026. No proposed strategies are in the draft plan. More funding as well as more innovation is clearly needed, especially for the provisioning of digitization equipment mentioned in the 2018-2022 plan. There is no way to sugar-coat this. Failure to implement a viable digitization strategy is detrimental to genealogists, historians, educators, sociologists, journalists, and the many other constituencies of NARA.
For the goal of having 95% of customer requests ready in the promised time, it is important for us to point out that the time allotment is set by NARA itself to meet its organizational needs. It is disingenuous to imply that such a goal meets the needs of NARA’s constituencies. If Civil War pensions were digitized and indexed, then researchers themselves could find and download those pensions without using NARA staff time, gaining immediate access. As it is now, we wait for two or more months for records such as these to be delivered to us electronically, sometimes at the cost of several hundred dollars. Achieving 95% of the time a goal of two months is not serving the customers when the organization is missing the bigger picture. Online records are a better service.
Connect with Customers
Missing from the 2022-2026 draft is goal 2.3 from the 2018-2022 plan, “By FY 2025, NARA will have 1 million records enhanced by citizen contributions to the National Archives Catalog.” This is a glaring omission. In April 2022, the 1950 federal census will be released to the public. One would expect another outpouring of public effort to fully index this census, equivalent to the stunning effort that took less than a year to fully index the hundreds of millions of names in the 1940 census. NARA is failing its public duty and customer commitment if it fails to connect to this volunteer effort upcoming in 2022.
In a world in which genealogists can unite to donate indexing for hundreds of millions of records, NARA fails to fully clothe them as “customers” in the strategic plan.
NARA has a broad remit, to serve all federal agencies (including those with classified information) as an archive, but also to serve the public, including genealogists, historians, journalists, academic researchers, and educators. Calling us all customers as if their interactions were at point-of-sale registers does little to meet our needs. The strategic plan needs to include specific methodologies to solicit patron, client, and customer needs, be it town halls, surveys, immediate satisfaction feedback, etc., to meet the goal of: “By FY 2026, NARA will demonstrate enhanced organizational understanding of internal and external customer wants, needs, and expectations to support the design and delivery of world-class services.” Nothing beats face-to-face opportunities to provide feedback. Just as federal agencies have the ability to provide feedback, individuals researching in the archives should have the frequent opportunity to identify their needs and to state how well their needs are being met.
From a doctoral student researching Nineteenth Century federal bankruptcies for a thesis, to a member of the Lexington Minutemen marching in the presidential inauguration parade after obtaining an ancestor’s Revolutionary War service, to a daughter obtaining a copy of her mother’s naturalization after fleeing Hungary at age 16, we the members of the public at large turn to our National Archives for the information that connects us to history.
We want access. We want clear and usable catalogs and finding aids. We have advocated for increased funding for NARA and NHPRC with our legislators. We need NARA and NARA needs us.
Sincerely, Susan M. O’Connor President, Massachusetts Genealogical Council PO Box 399 Cochituate, MA 01778 email@example.com
The photograph of the Fitzgerald children in Dorchester circa 1910 is part of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy collection at NARA.