When John Carlin began his job as the head of the US National Archives in June 1995, he was shocked to learn that government emails were not being protected.
“They, at the time, didn’t treat email as a record, and I said, ‘Guys, I may not be an archivist, but they are records,'” says Carlin, who served as an archivist for a decade. Of. “By September I was able to go through the process of replacing it. More and more records are now coming to the archives in electronic form.”
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the official record keeper of the United States government. Among its records are presidential papers and materials that former President Donald Trump is trying to keep out of the hands of a congressional committee probing the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
The Presidential Libraries are part of the National Archives and keep White House records forever.
“Authentic history is not possible without records that have been kept and preserved so their authenticity is supported 100 percent,” Carlin says. “Accountability lasts a long time and people who work for the White House, including the president, can or should be held accountable. And, without those records, this cannot be done.
Overall, only 1%-3% of all materials created by the U.S. government in the course of its business operations are considered significant enough to be preserved for all time, for legal or historical reasons.
To say nothing of the billions of electronic records, the National Archives holds over 15 billion textual records, over 18 million maps, charts and architectural drawings, over 43 million images, over 365,000 reels of film and over 110,000 There are video tapes. “We are focused on openness, cultivating public participation, and strengthening our nation’s democracy through public access to high-value government records,” says the agency’s acting deputy chief operating officer, Meghan Ryan Guthorne are doing. I like to think of an agency like the filing cabinet of the country. ,
NARA maintains its holdings in 44 locations across the country, including the iconic National Archives building in Washington. For former archivist Carlin, some of the most memorable material includes material relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
“I mean, literally, they ransacked the room in which JFK died from the murder in Dallas that day. Everything was kept,” Carlin says. “Everything was kept in the room.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the National Archives in 1934, but the agency holds items that predate the country’s founding. Well-known documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution are in the National Archives, but there are also naturalization records that can verify the US citizenship of immigrants and the military records of everyday citizens.
“We don’t throw away military personnel records. And we don’t set a date for very practical reasons,” Carlin says. “Anyone who leaves the military, to be eligible for veteran benefits, must prove that they left honorably and this requires a record. And that record is kept in our archives in St. Louis. And it should be preserved and made accessible.”
The public has access to many of these records. However, some archival materials have been withheld from the public for a variety of reasons, including national security concerns, the will of the donor, court orders, and other statutory or regulatory provisions. The National Archives encourages public participation.
Ryan Guthorne says, “Maintaining records and, equally important, if not more important, providing public access to them, can help brighten a nation’s history.” “Preservation of records documents the activities of the government and citizens of a country over time. It is an important way to track how a country has developed and how the rights of citizens have been protected and managed by the government. “
While access to the original documents is important because while people’s memories may differ, actual records tell the true story, says presidential historian Shannon Bow O’Brien.
“These tell us what they were doing, when they were doing it, how they were doing it, what they said,” says O’Brien, a professor in the government department at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Liberal Arts. “If you look at the documents, or you look at the paper trails in the archives, you can see the decision-making processes, you can see why things develop the way they have.”
The public can locate National Archives Holdings through an online catalog and expert archivists are ready to answer questions online.
Today, Carlin worries that the agency lacks enough funds to do its job properly.
“If you don’t have enough staff to work with the agency, especially electronic records, there are going to be mistakes and lost records that should have gone to the National Archives,” Carlin says.
During his decade-long tenure as archivist, Carlin pursued federal and private funding to renovate the National Archives building in Washington, and added public exhibits as part of an effort to enrich the overall visitor experience.
“The fundamentals of our whole system are there,” says Carlin, referring to the Charters of Independence—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. “It is incredibly important and valuable that citizens take advantage of the opportunity to go out there and spend a few hours and really learn a lot about what has made this country great and what it takes to stay great.” What support needs to be given to grow.”