The National Archives on the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web

Today’s post comes from Jessie Kratz, Historian of the National Archives.

March 12, 2014, marks the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. For most of that time, the National Archives has had some online presence. In 1994, the National Archives started a pilot project to make information about the agency available electronically. The project used the “Gopher protocol” (a predecessor to the World Wide Web).

Through the agency’s gopher “CLIO”—in Greek mythology, Clio was the muse of history—users could access descriptions of National Archives facilities nationwide, information on agency holdings, publications and general information leaflets, and some Federal records regulations. Text-based information was accessed at; the original web address was The NARA in the web address comes from the full name of the agency: the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The National Archives in 1997

The National Archives in 1997

The  “NAIL Database” was the NARA Archival Information Locator—the  first online catalog prototype of the National Archives. In NAIL, online researchers could find collection descriptions and a limited number of digital images.

The NAIL database

The NAIL database

In 1999, underwent its first redesign. Among its notable features were direct links to the Presidential Libraries, the Federal Register, and the “Research Room”—the main entry point for researchers. A new search engine was also installed in 1999 to help users find what they needed in the online offerings.


Our website in 1999

On May 31, 2002, the website got a new look and a new domain name: Because the Rotunda of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, was closed from July 2001 through September 2003 as part of a major renovation, the National Archives added a number of online exhibits and high-quality images to during that time.

The website in 2005

The website in 2005

In 2002, the 1930 census was released (each census is released 72 years after being taken). To make searching the census easier, the National Archives added online finding aids for the 1930 census—although the actual census was released only on microfilm. In 2012, the entire 1940 census was made available online at

Also in 2002, the Archives replaced NAIL with the Archival Research Catalog (ARC). The standard search form was similar to NAIL with a few cosmetic changes. The advanced search form, however, had more sophisticated search capabilities than NAIL.

The ARC database

The ARC database

The next redesign of launched on July 20, 2005. These changes were based on online survey results, customer feedback, page visit statistics, and usability testing with genealogists, veterans, teachers, students, records managers, and the general public.

The most recent redesign came in the winter of 2010, making more user-friendly by streamlining navigation, improving  access to our holdings, simplifying the content, and updating the site with a new look.

Our current website

Our current website

One of the  most recent online developments came in August 2013. The National Archives retired ARC after 10 years of providing online access to NARA’s holdings. Researchers and staff are now able to search descriptions and digital content using the Online Public Access (OPA) at

In 2009, the National Archives ventured into the realm of social media by opening its first Facebook page. Now the National Archives routinely uses Facebook as well other social media tools like Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest, and blogs—like this one—to connect with the public.

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