JFK Library opens largest online digitized presidential archive

The online archive includes 7.5 million feet of film footage

Marking the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, the JFK Library Foundation on Thursday unveiled the nation's largest online digitized presidential archive, providing access to papers, records, photographs and recordings of the 35th president's thousand days in office.

Working 200 feet underground in an abandoned limestone mine, Hans Jensen of Iron Mountain carefully digitizes a film of President Kennedy for uploading to a new online archiveClick to view larger image

The four-year online archive digitization project, which in compressed form used about 117TB of storage , includes about 200,000 document pages; 300 reels of audio tape containing more than 1,245 individual recordings of telephone calls, speeches and meetings; 300 museum artifacts; 72 reels of film; and 1,500 photos. The sheer volume of digitized materials is unprecedented for presidential libraries whose collections were not born digitally, according to a foundation statement.

Caroline Kennedy, the foundation president, and U.S. Archivist David Ferriero were on hand at the ceremonial opening in the Archivist's Reception Room in the National Archives building in Washington.

"My parents believed that history is one of our greatest teachers," Caroline Kennedy said in a statement. "As young people increasingly rely on the Internet as their primary source for information, it is our hope that the library's online archive will allow a new generation to learn about this important chapter in American history. And as they discover the heroes of the civil rights movement, the pioneers of outer space, and the first Peace Corps volunteers, we hope they too are inspired to ask what they can do for their country."

In a foreshadowing of today's event, in 1961, President Kennedy responded to a press conference question as to whether he would consider sharing his presidential papers outside of his hometown library, to which he said, "through scientific means of reproduction ... and this will certainly be increased as time goes on, we will find it possible to reproduce the key documents so that they will be commonly available ..."

Prior to today, the historical material housed in the Kennedy Presidential Library collection in Boston has been available only on site. With the launch of the new digital archive the material is open globally to the public giving them a first-hand look into the life of President Kennedy and the issues that defined his administration.

Included in the materials are thousands of historical papers, documents and images from the era of the nation's Civil Rights struggle, the U.S. conflict with the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, NASA's challenge to land a man on the moon and the creation of the Peace Corps.

The online archives includes the president's office files, personal papers, the JFK White House photograph collection, the audio speech collection and the film and video collection.

The Kennedy Presidential Library includes more than 8.4 million pages of Kennedy's personal, congressional and presidential papers and over 40 million pages from more than 300 other individuals who were associated with the Kennedy Administration or mid-20th Century American history. In addition, the archives hold more than 400,000 still photographs; 9,000 hours of audio recordings; 7.5 million feet of motion picture film; and 1,200 hours of video recordings. Digitization efforts are ongoing and additional material will be added to the archive as it is scanned and described.

The documents, photographs, and audio and video recordings are digitized at high resolution to preserve fidelity, thus resulting in large file sizes for each item. One standard document page consumes about 100MB of data and the size of the archive, inclusive of all media, is expected to increase to approximately 152TB by 2016.

Digitizing the records was a labor-intensive activity, with each page or photograph carefully placed by hand on a special scanner. Special handling and digitization equipment are also required for the often fragile audio/visual materials, many recorded on analog media long since rendered obsolete.

Among the companies contributing their hardware, software and technical expertise to make the archives possible are AT&T, EMC , Iron Mountain and Raytheon. In a video , the companies explained their contributions to the project.

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Lucas Mearian

Computerworld (US)
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