Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

What Happened to Those Twinkies?

Written on: November 20, 2012 | 2 Comments

In 1997 President and Mrs. Clinton created the White House Millennium Council with the theme “Honor the Past—Imagine the Future.”  The Council asked former presidential and congressional medal winners and students from across the country to identify artifacts, ideas, and accomplishments which represent America at that time in history for inclusion in a National Millennium Time Capsule.  The sounds of Louis Armstrong, a photograph of U.S. troops liberating a concentration camp, children’s art, and a model of the Liberty Bell are some of the more than 1300 contributions made.  And a package of Twinkies!

The Time Capsule now resides at the National Archives and I had a chance to talk with some of the staff involved in processing the contents of the capsule for long term preservation.  “In perpetuity” is imbedded in the DNA of the National Archives, after all.  So…how did the Twinkies stand up to our rigorous standards?  While they do have a reportedly long shelflife—14 years in one source—they failed the perpetuity test.  The fact that Twinkies had been originally included was, of course, documented, but in the end they were eaten!

Photo courtesy of Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


I have a long history with Twinkies, culminating in winning the New Year’s Eve Dessert Contest while at the MIT Libraries with my Sarah’s Surprise recipe. … [ Read all ]

Celebrating Our Volunteers

Written on: October 12, 2012 | 1 Comment

This week we had an opportunity to honor volunteers who contributed more than 100 hours of their time to the National Archives this year in our Washington and College Park locations—295 volunteers who contributed 42,284 hours! These amazing numbers demonstrate their love of history and the work that we do.

A parade of staff supervisors took the stage to brag about the work of their volunteers who wrote hundreds of item-level descriptions, created thousands of photo captions, scanned tens of thousands of files, indexed tens of thousands of records, inventoried rows of stacks, answered researchers’ questions, improved access to our online holding, and even used social media to broadcast information about our records. Some wrote articles for our Prologue magazine as well as blog posts about the records and some presented lectures to the public.

The work of our volunteers leads to a better understanding of our records and better service to our users. In particular, this year volunteers shed light on the records of Fort Monroe, the Army Signal Corps color photographs from Vietnam, the military service of Marine dogs in World War II, the role of Clara Barton and the Missing Soldiers Office during the Civil War, the Brooklyn Navy Yard glass plate negatives, the preservation status of our diplomatic cables from the 1930s to the 60s, and the relationship between the… [ Read all ]

Look Down

Written on: May 29, 2012 | 7 Comments

As a kid I had a “talent” for finding four leaf clovers. Stretching before a run recently I looked down and noticed one staring me in the face. And reconnected with my childhood. In fact, over the past weekend I found 23!

23 four leaf clovers

According to my favorite encyclopedia, Wikipedia, 1 in 10,000 clovers has four leaves. Legend has it that three leaves represent faith, hope, and love. The fourth: luck!

We are surrounded every day with messages to “look up,” “look ahead,” “look back,” but not so many to “look down.” Except “mind the gap!” A quick Google search for “look up” results in 560m hits while “look down” only 231m hits. So, while you are looking up for inspiration or ahead for direction or back for perspective, remember to look down. It is amazing what’s at your feet!


A New Presidential Library

Written on: March 29, 2012 | 2 Comments

On Tuesday of this week I had a chance to visit the construction site of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas, Texas.  Some 700 workers were onsite at the time, inside and outside, to bring this latest addition to the National Archives in on schedule in April 2013.  This facility will house more than 70 million pages of paper documents, 43,000 artifacts (primarily foreign and domestic gifts to the President and First Lady) and an immense audiovisual archive including more than 4 million photographs.

Of special significance is that digital component of the library which includes some 210 million email messages!  We began collecting email during the Ronald Reagan administration and have about 8 million from that administration and 20 million from the William Clinton White House.

The new Library and Museum was designed by architect Robert Stern and the landscaping designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh and the intended interplay between inside and outside spaces is truly magnificent.  The acreage will include a variety of Texas specific landscapes and a cistern currently under construction will collect rainwater for natural irrigation of the space.

More detail is available at

View the live webcam to monitor construction activity at

Thank You, Irma Johnson

Written on: March 13, 2012 | 3 Comments

Many, many years ago when I was shelving books in the MIT Humanities Library I was fortunate to have the benefit of advice from several members of the staff who took an interest in my “career.”  One of them was the Science Librarian, Irma Johnson.  I got to know Irma well because every summer she would want some portion of her collection shifted to better serve her clientele—and I did the shifting.  It was an interesting way to learn the literature of the sciences!

That was the beginning of a 31-year stay in the MIT Libraries during which time I became Irma’s boss and my real learning from her began.  She had her finger on the pulse of the needs of her users—mathematicians are heavily dependent upon the literature of the past, similar to historians; materials science was a discipline invented at MIT and heavily dependent on the literatures of many sciences; demanding chemists need access to their literature 24×7; the food and nutrition folks were doing interesting work with freeze-drying that might have library preservation applications, etc.  Irma clearly shaped my curiosity about user behavior and my lifelong perspective of looking at everything we do from the user’s viewpoint.

I kept in touch with Irma throughout my career each time thanking her for those early lessons.  She passed away in 2010 at the age… [ Read all ]


Written on: February 15, 2012 | 1 Comment

The National Archives keeps looking for ways to work with other agencies to spark citizen engagement with our records.  Our most recent project is the Document Your Environment contest for students, which we co-sponsored with the Environmental Protection Agency.  We invited students aged 13 and older to explore some of the nearly 16,000 photos in the Documerica collection and create their own graphic art, poem, or multimedia video in response.  I was delighted to see the entries we received from students around the globe.  The selection process was difficult because many of the entries were so creative.

I am pleased to announce the grand prize winner of the Document Your Environment student contest: iRevolution by 24-year-old Anna Lee of San Francisco, CA.  Her work stood out because it got the message across graphically and did it in a crisp manner that I found visually appealing.


Original Documerica photographer Michael Philip Manheim judged the graphic arts category and selected Anna’s work as a finalist.  He wrote, “There is a message that is telegraphed in this art, so it achieves the goal of dramatically bringing an environmental problem into the viewer’s consciousness.”  Anna was inspired by the 1972 photo titled “Children in Fort Worth Are Learning that Protecting the Environment Will Take More Than Awareness” by Documerica photographer Jim Olive, and she wrote in her… [ Read all ]

Becoming a Citizen

Written on: December 23, 2011 | 3 Comments

Last week we celebrated Bill of Rights Day here at the National Archives in my favorite activity—a Naturalization Ceremony in the Rotunda.  On December 15, 1791, the first ten amendments the Constitution were adopted and for many years we have been marking the anniversary by hosting the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s swearing-in ceremony for new citizens of the United States.

This year, 19 individuals became citizens.  They came from Armenia, Canada, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Nigeria, Venezuela, Pakistan, Peru, United Kingdom, Trinidad and Tobago, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sri Lanka.  If you have never seen the course of instruction and examination which prospective citizens complete, it is worth a look.   Take the test yourself and see how you do!  I always find it a good reminder of how lucky we are and how much we take for granted about our rights and freedoms.

The Honorable Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court for the District of Columbia, administered the Oath of Allegiance and then shared the story of discovering his own family’s French Huguenot background.  I had an opportunity to remind them of their new responsibilities as citizens (see my remarks) and to share the story of my grandparents’ arrival from Italy.

Our special guest speaker stole the show with his… [ Read all ]

Post Wikileaks

Written on: October 31, 2011 | 0 Comments

In early October President Obama signed an Executive Order (EO) covering “Structural Reforms to Improve the Security of Classified Networks and the Responsible Sharing and Safeguarding of Classified Information.”  The National Archives Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) is the Government entity charged with overseeing Executive Branch performance in executing the President’s program for classified information.  Three “generations” of ISOO directors, Jay Bosanko, Bill Cira (Acting), and John Fitzpatrick have been at the table for the seven months of policy discussions leading to this EO.

The EO spells out a set of responsibilities for those who operate or access classified computer networks, establishes a Senior Information Sharing and Safeguarding Committee and a Classified Information Sharing and Safeguarding Office (CISSO).  ISOO, whose role in helping blend the goals of safeguarding and sharing is recognized by the EO,  will be represented on the Committee and will work closely with CISSO on policy and standards issues.

In addition, the EO names the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Agency Director as the Executive Agent for Safeguarding Classified Information on Computer Networks.

Finally, an Interagency Insider Threat Task Force is established to develop a program for “…deterring, detecting, and mitigating insider threats…”  ISOO will also be represented on this Task Force.

Throughout this process the motto of our National Declassification Center has been… [ Read all ]

Guastavino Vaulting

Written on: June 22, 2011 | 7 Comments

I have been fortunate to work in four institutions where the Guastavino family played a role in the construction of my buildings—first at MIT, then my library at Duke, one of my branches of the New York Public Library, and now the National Archives.  Rafael Guastavino immigrated to the United States from Spain in the late nineteenth century and founded a company which would provide building contractors, structural designers, acoustical consultants, interior designers, and master masons for hundreds of buildings throughout the country.  The Registry Hall at Ellis Island; the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina; Grand Central Terminal in New York City; Washington National Cathedral;  and Grace Cathedral in San Francisco are all examples of Guastavino genius.

Guastavino tile vaulting at the National Archives building in Washington, DC.

Last week I had an opportunity to welcome John Ochsendorf, a Civil Engineering faculty member from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his first visit to the National Archives.  Unlike my tours with other visitors, John and I went up into the spaces around and above the rotunda, up onto the roof, and down into the garage.  Also, unlike other tours, we were not looking at documents, we were looking at walls and ceilings and tiles and vaults!  John is the author of Guastavino Vaulting:  The Art of Structural Tile (Princeton… [ Read all ]

Mens et Manus: Reaching for the Future

Written on: April 15, 2011 | 1 Comment

On Sunday, I was honored to provide the keynote address for the Next Century Convocation at MIT, the institution which launched my career and shaped my worldview. I shared my thoughts on MIT’s striking founding vision and how pervasive its influence has been over the last 150 years, even in unexpected places.


MIT’s motto is “mens et manus”, Latin for “mind and hand.”  It embodies the educational philosophy of William Barton Rogers and the founders of MIT. Their original proposal to create MIT, Objects and Plan of an Institute of Technology, addresses itself to “…manufacturers, merchants, mechanics, agriculturists, and other friends of enlightened industry in the Commonwealth.”

So where did William Barton Rogers get his inspiration?

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “A man is known by the books he reads…”  Rogers was a geologist by training but a look at his personal library gives one a sense of the range of his knowledge, interests, and attitudes toward the approach to education outlined in the Objects and Plan.

In 1975, when the MIT Alumni Association was celebrating its Centennial, a colleague and I had the opportunity to prepare an exhibit based on our yearlong effort to identify and reassemble the founder’s original library.  Working from a crude inventory in his own handwriting and with a lot of time at the shelves of all of the MIT… [ Read all ]