Friday, August 20, 2004

National Security Archive

Human Rights Archives: The first in a series of blog entries.

The National Security Archive is one example of a human rights archive, a place that collects materials documenting the ongoing struggle for human equality.

Internet access to archival material is changing the way archivists and researchers work. Remote access to materials makes it possible to reach a far greater number of people, and archives like the NSA that track the patterns of use of its visitors are one step ahead of those who do not.

E-mail counts and web statistics are a great place to begin. NSA, for example, hosted more than 11 million successful visits and fielded 2,137 e-mail research requests in 2003, almost double the number of requests by telephone in the same year. Researchers downloaded more than 7.5 million pages, or almost 1.5 gigabytes of material.

Some archives offer documents such as finding aids in searchable format by use of Extensible Mark-Up Language (XML) offering another level of physical and intellectual control over the material. While labor-intensive, some experts predict XML is the future of complex sharable electronic documents.

The NSA, founded by scholars and journalists in 1985, reports that it operates on a $2.3 million annual budget and cares for more than two million pages of material. Their published statistics boast 2,500 annual public service requests. No government funds support the NSA, according to the organization website, but its support comes from private donors and royalites from its publications. The website lists a staff numbering more than 30 people.

Over the next couple of months, I will continue to feature archives and archivists who work to tell the amazing story of political,legal, spiritual struggle.

Here is an example of the important work of the National Security Archive. It is taken from material written by the NSA.

"On March 14, Archive executive director Thomas Blanton, general counsel Meredith Fuchs, FOIA coordinator William Ferroggiaro and research associate Barbara Elias released results from the first-ever government-wide audit of federal responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in a presentation at the 2003 International Freedom of Information Day, hosted by the Freedom Forum. The audit showed dramatic variations in agency reactions to the restrictive FOIA guidance issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft in October 2001—a handful thought the guidance in effect overturned the FOIA, another handful didn't even notice the guidance, and most made few tangible changes to their FOI programs. Requests to the 35 agencies handling 97% of the FOIA load for records relating to any guidance, regulations and training resulting from the Ashcroft memo revealed a system in disarray. A lack of central oversight within the agencies resulted in lost requests, response times failing to meet the statutory standard and inability to track the progress of requests."

Edited to correct formatting-- Keith


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