March 17, 2018

National Archives Opens Public Vaults

By LJ Staff

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) building in Washington, DC, has opened a new permanent display of its contents, the Public Vaults. This interactive exhibit, in the words of Archivist John Carlin, will be "more rewarding, more memorable, and even more entertaining" and offers a radically different experience for NARA visitors. Instead of being faced with closed stacks of documents, visitors are offered a 9000-square-foot permanent showcase of items central to the nation’s history, complete with electronic tools that display more than 1000 items as photos, maps, drawings, film and audio clips, along with originals or facsimiles of documents.

Twenty five computer stations with 47 interactive screens allow visitors to navigate among multimedia records, more than half of which have never been on display. The interface, consistent among all stations, uses Macromedia Flash and multiple redundant screens, so several people can view what one person is generating. Additionally, a Record of America corridor demonstrates the evolution of records keeping — from the earliest treaties with Native Americans to the creation of the first presidential web site. The five themes of the Public Vaults come from words in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, each offering records of distinct subjects: "We the People"–family and citizenship; "To Form a More Perfect Union"–liberty and law; "Provide for the Common Defense"–war and diplomacy; "Promote the General Welfare,"–frontiers and firsts; and "To Ourselves and Our Posterity,"–the future generation.