TITLE: NARA Archival Information Locator (NAIL)

ACCESS: http://www.nara.gov/nara/nail.html

The National Archives and Records Administration is a vast storehouse of information holding about 21.5 million cubic feet of textual material, and a huge amount of information in multiple formats. Until recently this was housed in 33 separate facilities such as Presidential Libraries and regional archives, but a prototype web-based service has appeared. A new web-site unifies all of these collections in one location, allowing the user to search all or selected repositories. The concept of accessing all of this information from one's desktop is rather exciting, and the first steps have been taken to make this a reality.

NAIL (NARA Archival Information Locator) is a searchable database of more than 20,000 items vital to those studying U.S. history or genealogy. Although this is a tiny portion of the available records, this pilot project holds great promise for the future of access to this material. The heart of this service is a search engine that allows one to search the entire available holdings. For those of you who are familiar with Silverplatter's ERL front-end, this search engine looks very similar, although customized for NARA. The user is offered the familiar forms for entering keywords, and the use of a full boolean search. It is also possible to specify the types of materials desired (from sound clips, to text, to still photographs), as well as the location of the material and the description level (from record group to item). Doing a quick search on "Custer" turned up a list of sound recordings, textual records and films held at various locations. The most exciting feature of this service is that a few of the items have been made available online, and it was possible to see some of the still photos on my screen. The NARA plan is to make much more of this database instantly available as development continues.

For librarians, this type of web service could be a big step forward in terms of access to remote collections, and the ability to help patrons with an interest in unique historical documents. The search engine is quick, flexible, and intuitive, and record display includes titles and brief descriptions. It is also possible to view full detailed records at the click of a button. With the addition of more records and online documents, as well as the eventual inclusion of genealogical records, the job of both the librarian and the researcher should be made significantly easier. This project is off to a great start, and is a fine example of the Internet at its most useful.

Doug Horne
University of Guelph
February 3, 1998

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