Online Public Access – Search the US National Archives

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As part of the Open Government plan, the U.S. National Archives has launched the Open Public Access Prototype search system. This federated search system searches several databases held by the National Archive and contains many features common to today’s popular prior art search systems. Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post about the debut of image search on Science.gov and last week’s post about NEEDLE, it’s been a busy end of the year for searchable databases of U.S. governmental information–these systems can help you locate technical documents or other prior art! Read on to find more about this interesting system.


Before getting into the interface details of the Online Public Access Prototype, let’s take a look at what’s on tap to be searched. The federated search queries the Archival Research Catalog (ARC), Access to Archival Databases (AAD), Archives.gov, and the Electronic Records Archive (ERA). Of note, Open Access Online is the only current online portal for the nearly one million electronic records currently in the ERA. Eventually, Open Public Access will replace the ARC and could possibly replace the AAD in the future, so it appears that this project is all about consolidation and making the system more user friendly–certainly a welcome development from the searching perspective.

Once inside the Online Public Access search system, users have the option to keyword search, filter searches by date, type of archival material, location of archival materials, and a number of bibliographic fields. Of particular interest, the type of archival material field includes the following options:

  • Architectural and Engineering Drawings
  • Artifacts
  • Data Files
  • Maps and Charts
  • Moving Images
  • Photographs and Other Graphic Materials
  • Sound Recordings
  • Textual Records
  • Web Pages

I hope a few of these raise your eyebrows, especially the Architectural and Engineering drawing field!

Design of the search system interface reflects contemporary trends such as results filtering (by topic cluster, data source, level of description, date, type of archival materials, file format, and location). This faceted search approach helps users drill down into results quickly to narrow down large hit lists. Another nice feature is transparent automatic query expansion (stemming) that lets users enable or disable specific additional terms.

Automatic stemming can be manipulated by the user.

Even if you’re not in proximity to any of the on-site archive locations, there is a considerable database of Online Holdings accessible for free, so I highly recommend checking this new search system out. Search for a short while and you’re likely to find neat stuff like this electrical door locking and operating device from Alcatraz.

Have you checked the Online Public Access Prototype out? What did you think? I’d love to hear your opinion on this solution for searching the US National Archive!

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This post was contributed by Intellogist Team member Chris Jagalla. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company, Landon IP, a major provider of patent search, technical translation, and information services.

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