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Campus Notebook: National Archives May Digitize Searches

The National Archives could be just months away from starting a long-planned project to create for the first time a searchable digital log of the archives of Congress.

The project, which had been discussed for about six years, would essentially catalog Congressional records dating back to 1789 and create a database where researchers could search for specific topics.

Though it wouldn’t digitize the records themselves, the database would point researchers to places within the expansive records where that topic is discussed.

“The idea is to take those various sources … and to make it a state-of-the-art finding aid,” Senate Archivist Karen Paul said.

The final plan for the project was unanimously approved Monday morning by the Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress, co-chaired by Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson and Clerk of the House Karen Haas and consisting of Archivist of the United States David Ferriero, the House and Senate archivists and historians and other experts.

Ferriero expressed concern about the project’s cost, and Erickson said that by the next meeting in December, the committee should be presented with a cost estimate.

“The next stage is to have an in-depth analysis of what resources it will take,” Erickson said after the committee hearing. “In this fiscal environment, you can’t take anything for granted.”

Erickson said it’s unclear how much the project would cost. The records could include some 500 million pages, or more than 200,000 cubic feet of records, and the project is expected to take five years to complete.

Matt Fulgham, assistant director of the National Archives and Records Administration, briefed the committee on two pilot projects to collate parts of the 75th and 95th Congresses.

He said in some cases, topical issues, such as Medicare and tax reform, were among those included in the records.

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