National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), United States
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent government agency that stores and provides public access to historical and significant documents related to the American government and its citizens.
Before NARA was created in the 1930s, government documents were stored randomly, with little thought to preservation. As a result, many important works were destroyed in fires or floods, or lost in the transfer from one storage facility to another. In fact, the Declaration of Independence, a crucial piece of American history, nearly disappeared on one of its journeys. In the mid-1920s, Congress recognized the need for a central facility to house important government documents, and authorized funds for a national archives building. On June 19, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Archives Act. R.D.W. Connor became the first official national archivist.
Based in Washington, D.C., NARA's now monumental collection recounts the history of America—and Americans. Housed within its collection are some of the most famous documents in American history, including the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the historic Nixon audiotapes. NARA's thirty-three facilities hold more than four billion pages of government documents, nearly 300,000 films, fourteen million photographs and posters, and five million maps. In addition, NARA hosts many permanent and temporary exhibits showcasing historical documents, artwork, letters, and photographs, and holds the personal collections of every president from Herbert Hoover to George Bush. Everything within the collection is open to the American public.
Not only does NARA store historically important materials, it cares for them as well. Archivists sift through piles of government documents each year to determine which items deserve a place in its stacks. Conservators work diligently to preserve each document, cleaning, repairing rips, and restoring damaged bindings. Retrieval staff respond to nearly 800,000 public requests for information each year.
Protection of archived national icons, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, has been identified as a high priority in the national strategy to prevent terrorism, and falls under the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security.
█ FURTHER READING:
Rudy Smith, Christina. The National Archives and Records Administration (Know your Government). Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989.
United States National Archives and Records Administration. The National Archives in the Nation's Capital: Information for Researchers. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2001.
U.S. National Archives & Records Administration. < http://www.archives.gov/ >.