Friday, June 24, 2011

The JFK papers go online at the Kennedy Library

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is now providing access to 250,000 documents from the Kennedy Library online. This is the first move toward making a large portion of the library's material digitally available free of charge. The 35th president himself pledged to make all of his papers publicly available more than fifty years ago. All together, this will account for approximately eight million pages of library materials, out of a total of 48 million pages of documents in the archives.

In a recent press release Caroline Kennedy states that "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.”

Curators have chosen to make 200 hours of audio and video available as well, often-requested material that historians and the general public use for research. This includes an initial collection marking the fiftieth anniversary of
Kennedy's 1961 inauguration. From The New York Times article by Katie Zezima:

“Until now, if people wanted to see the documents they had to come to Boston, go to our research room and we’d pull out boxes,” said Thomas J. Putnam, director of the library. “Now anyone with access to a computer with an Internet connection could replicate that experience.”
This release is to be the first of many, Mr. Putnam said, and the library started with the files most used by researchers, including Kennedy’s office files, personal papers and correspondence. Also included are recorded telephone calls between Kennedy and heads of state.
“Literally these were the pieces of paper that went across his desk, that have his handwriting on it, his speech drafts, his doodles,” Mr. Putnam said.
Mr. Putnam said it was impossible to digitally archive all 48 million pages of documents the library holds, but the goal is to get about eight million pages online. He hopes the next release will include national security files, more television video and documents relating to civil rights.
The digital archives are searchable. Entering “inaugural address,” for example, brings up a draft by Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy’s speechwriter, and video of the event.
Telephone calls include one between Kennedy and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower discussing the Cuban missile crisis.
Caroline Kennedy said the goal of the project was to make her father’s presidency and legacy accessible to a generation raised on computers.

More information about the digital project called Access to a Legacy is available at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum website. The library's searchable interface includes photographic and audio components (the President's Office Files, the White House Central Chronological Files, and the John F. Kennedy Personal Papers); one collection of audio files (the White House Audio collection); one moving image collection (the White House Film collection); one collection of museum artifacts (the State Gifts); and a portion of the White House Photograph collection, which consists of over 35,000 photographs.

(Photo of John F. and Robert F. Kennedy in the Oval Office by Art Rickerby.)

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