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Burned Record Imaging at NARA

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On July 12, 1973 a devastating fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis destroyed approximately 16-18 million Army and Air Force Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) from the early and mid-twentieth century – 80% of the total military personnel records of this time period. During the salvage efforts following the fire approximately 6.5 million records were recovered. OMPFs are commonly requested by government agencies and individual citizens for the purpose of obtaining veterans' benefits and researching personal or family histories.

In 2015 a multiple spectrum imaging workflow was put in place to digitize the most heavily damaged records as they are requested – records at a condition level that formerly prevented their being accessed by requestors. Digital versions are provided in lieu of originals for these requests. To counter information loss in charred record pages, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) utilizes infrared imaging as part of the process.

This paper describes the production imaging project now underway, with particular attention paid to the unique requirements of photographing brittle and charred originals. The author shares information about the overall strategy, methods to prepare records for imaging and a photographic technique to maximize content recovery.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2016

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  • The IS&T (digital) Archiving Conference offers a unique opportunity for imaging scientists and those working in the cultural heritage community (curators, archivists, librarians, photographers etc) from around the world to come together to discuss the most pressing issues related to the digital preservation and stewardship of hardcopy, and other cultural heritage documents and objects. Authors come from museums, archives, libraries, government institutions, industry and academia. Cutting edge topics related to multispectral and 3D imaging, as well as best practices for workflow, sharing, standards, and asset/collection management and dissemination are explored in papers presented at this annual, international event.

    Please note: For purposes of its Digital Library content, IS&T defines Open Access as papers that will be downloadable in their entirety for free in pertuity. Copyright restrictions on papers vary; see individual paper for details.

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