WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) officials announced, May 20, that substantial progress in the multistage processing and remediation of the NHHC archival holdings and facilities now allows for an initial return to public access of the Naval Archives.
While its staff and a team of contractors complete processing the 6.6 thousand cubic feet that remain of the more than 26 thousand cubic feet of paper-based documents and records, public access to ship and aviation histories -the most frequently requested records--will again be available beginning June 2. Overall access to all collections is expected late in 2014, following other processing and storage remediation projects still underway.
"The Navy is following through on the commitment to preserve its history and serve the American public by providing access to the official records that tell the story of our past," said Vice Adm. Scott Swift, director, Navy Staff. "We still have challenges ahead, but we're at a point where we can balance access with continuing restoration efforts."
This critical stage of the archives processing centered on assessing, preserving, organizing, digitally cataloging, and storing the backlog of approximately 12 million pages of paper records. The process also allowed archivists to identify, and, where possible, conserve records at-risk from mold and avoidable deterioration. Mold remediation continues for those collections evaluated as contaminated. Similar projects during the past three years focused on preserving and processing more than 15,000 reels of at-risk microfilm that contained operational records from the Cold War, principally from the Asia-Pacific theater of operations.
"It's been a long time coming, and our History and Archives division has worked through sequestration, hiring freezes and staff member departures, furloughs, government and contractor shutdowns, and numerous facility challenges to wrap up this first phase," said Capt. Henry Hendrix, Ph.D., director, Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC). "We now have the opportunity we've waited on for 35 years to do what it takes to keep these records in the right condition to ensure they're available permanently."
Now that the paper and microfilm holdings have been stabilized and organized, the archives team will turn their attention to digitally cataloging the holdings, down to the folders in each archival box, into a searchable database. Once complete in 2017, this will allow researchers, authors and students a much more efficient means of locating material of possible interest.
Accessing Naval Archival Holdings
As a result of completing this recent phase, the archives staff has revised access to support the following:
2 June 2014
* Ship and aviation history collections located in Bldg. 200 reopens. Physical access will be granted two days a week, with appointments made two weeks in advance.
* The new NHHC web page, targeted for release in June, will significantly improve the search and availability of information being posted publicly.
* The Naval Subject Collection in the photo archives will remain open to researchers; although a two-month storage improvement and shelving project will temporarily reduce responsiveness. In some cases, as historic photos are being scanned for posting to the new web site, access to some photo collections will be temporarily restricted.
* Requests for information via correspondence to the archives staff will be accommodated. Patience is requested in response times as the staff clears more than 400 requests for information that are pending response from the period of closure.
* The Department of Navy Library and the reference desk remain open.
* Collections on the third floor of Building 57 to open to researchers. The actual opening date will be determined by the pace of the overall building and mold remediation efforts. Once opened, access to select collections will be pending completed remediation. Digital Cataloging will also continue and collections being cataloged in the digital collection management system will remain inaccessible as they are cycled through the process. Any given collection shouldn't be out of access for more than a few weeks.
For more information on access procedures and contact information, see www.history.navy.mil
Eating the Elephant
The pressing requirement for a full-scale remediation effort for the naval archives was confirmed in a December 2011 Navy Inspector General (IG) report. While the substandard conditions had been documented and known previously, this conclusive report emphasized that naval history was at-risk due to sub-standard facilities and inadequate funding and staffing levels. The IG findings also identified an extensive archival processing backlog.
Risks to collections were driven by decades of storage within four late 19th and early 20th century buildings with deteriorating 1970s building renovations and failing HVAC systems. By one assessment, 70.3 percent of collections (by page count) were at-risk.
The command had previously recognized the significant work required to improve management of the naval archive holdings, and in 2008, the three physically separated archival holdings were organizationally combined into one to facilitate systemically attacking the archives problems. The combined collections consisted of an estimated 27K cubic feet of paper; 20k reels of microfilm and 234k sheets of microfiche; and more than 10k digital storage devices (CD/DVD/Floppies). One of the first steps was to renovate archival storage facilities in building 200, resulting in the movement of ships and aviation histories in 2009. Those collections were returned into the renovated building in 2010.
The next challenge to eliminate risk to the collections was the inadequate archival storage conditions in buildings 57, 44 and 108. Initial steps to reduce collections at risk included moving all digital media and 1,000 cubic feet of paper records from those buildings to the newly renovated archives spaces in building 200. Then in early 2012, the archives staff worked with local Naval Facilities Command (NAVFAC) staff to address complex facilities and mold contamination issues. Contracts to replace HVAC, repair building envelope (including window replacement and attic repair), and remediate mold contamination have been on going. Replacement of the HVAC servicing the holdings in Building 108 will significantly improve the environmental controls for the collections there once complete in the fall of 2014. Barring interruptions, work to repair the Buildings 44 and 108 housing the operational archive holdings should be completed by year's end. Long overdue office and processing space renovations will be pursued in 2015 and 2016.
In managing the at-risk microfilm, special refrigerators were purchased and installed in 2012 to preserve 3.2K reels awaiting duplication to highly stable silver-halide. The staff also oversaw the preservation of more than 15K reels of microfilm containing Cold War message traffic preserved, more than 11K of which were transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration this past September. Preceding that effort was a pilot project during which nearly 1.3K reels were preserved and 320K reels were digitized and appraised for declassification and Kyl-Lott review.
The Long View
The Navy remains committed to the end-state goal of creating archival standard physical storage conditions with all collections cataloged in a single digital archival content management system that allows for a search down to the folder/reel/disk level. Although still years away from completion, the plan provides an executable process to reach the goal and maintain public access to the archives. The process to establishing physical storage conditions at or near archival storage standards is moving forward steadily. Achieving a fully cataloged collection in a single digital archival content management system with search tools to improve access and global collection management is a stretch goal, but is becoming within reach as systems implementation and staffing levels improve. The archive collections are already being digitally cataloged to the folder/reel/media storage device level using the enterprise content management solution TRIM - or Total Records and Information Management.
While not related to the physical management of records, another project the Histories and Archives Division has undertaken is correcting the too-comprehensive application of the Kyl-Lot standard to all historical records held at NHHC, which dramatically restricts access. A working group convened by the Deputy Undersecretary for Plans, Policy, Oversight, and Integration and led by the Department of the Navy's Declassification Program, is developing revised Kyl-Lott review procedures that will identify collections that will not need Kyl-Lott reviews and how to focus on those collections that do.
For more information, please see www.history.navy.mil.