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GUIDE TO THE
NEW PREFACE BY FRANK B. EVANS
NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
United States. National Archives and Records
Reprint. Issued in 1974 by the body under its
1. United States. National Archives - Catalogs.
Reprinted 1987 by the National Archives Trust Fund Board
FOREWORD TO THE SECOND PRINTING
Since this guide was first published in 1974, many changes have taken place in the National Archives and in the government structure within which it works. Most important is the newly independent status of the agency since April 1, 1985; the National Archives and Records Service (NARS) of the General Services Administration has become the independent National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). In addition, legislation and executive orders have changed some aspects of access to federal records.
Nevertheless, except for this preface, the new foreword, and an appendix describing the record groups newly assigned to the National Archives between 1970 and 1977, the text of the 1974 guide has been reprinted without modification. If users have questions about records accessioned since 1970, changes in restrictions on the records that interest them, or location of records in the NARA system, they should ask for information before visiting the National Archives.
Initial inquiries can be addressed to
Reference Services Branch
Washington, DC 20408 Researchers can also telephone (202-523-3220) for information on weekdays between 8:45 a.m. and 5:15 p.m.
A new edition of the Guide to the National Archives of the United States is in preparation for publication in the next few years. The text will be based upon an automated data base that can be kept current. It is expected that those purchasing the new edition of the Guide will be furnished with periodic updates of the information therein.
The decision to reprint the 1974 edition of the Guide was made because the book has been out-of-print for some time, and the number of users of the records has increased considerably in recent years. This reprint represents one aspect of NARA'S program designed to fulfill its mandate to preserve and make available federal records of enduring value.
FRANK G. BURKE
PREFACE TO THE SECOND PRINTING
The reprinting of this Guide, originally published in 1974, provides an opportunity to review the finding aid program of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of which it is a major component, to indicate recent developments that are influencing archival description, and to discuss some of the implications of these developments for NARA in coping with a fundamental responsibility of archival repositories – facilitating access to and use of their holdings.
Historians had early perceived the research value of government archives and quickly emerged as the major group promoting access to and use of such archives. Records created and received by an institution in performing its functions and activities are more than simply administrative tools – they literally document and thus provide evidence of those functions and activities. While serving as the corporate memory, such records also constitute the most comprehensive and authentic sources of information regarding the institution. They are therefore primary historical sources, and as governments have expanded their functions and activities into all phases of modern life, particularly in
data gathering, government records provide unique information and opportunities for research on an ever-widening range of subjects. During the 19th century, historians increasingly staffed public archival agencies in most European countries, and as a university education in history, with particular emphasis upon specialized research skills such as paleography, diplomatics, etc., became the required qualification for appointment to archival positions, archival practices and programs came to reflect a basic orientation toward meeting the special needs of historical scholarship.
This historical orientation of archives is part of our European heritage and has continued to the present day. As authority to approve the destruction of any records gradually passed from operating agencies to archival institutions, and as the evergrowing volume of modern records forced greater selectivity in what was preserved, it was perceptions of historical value and use that influenced the theory and practice of archival appraisal and disposition. Furthermore, as finding aids were developed to facilitate access to and use of the archives, perceptions of historical value and use again largely determined the arrangement of holdings and the form and content of finding aids. The French term for finding aids-instruments de recherche-is particularly relevant in this respect.
A brief review of the finding aid program of the National Archives indicates the significance of these developments. When the United States in 1934 finally established a National Archives, responsibility for preparing a wide range of finding aids was to be shared initially by a number of separate operating units. These units, organized to