Backgrounder: Funding for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) program provides an ideal model for awarding grant funding through a one-to-one cost-share mechanism. This is a fiscally responsible use of taxpayer money.

The NHPRC program demonstrates an effective and efficient approach to ensuring that documentation of the nation’s social, cultural, economic, scientific, and political experience is available to future generations.

Small organizations have been able to leverage NHPRC grants to attract additional private, local support.

NHPRC grant funding decisions are made based on priorities expressed by individuals who are on the ground and in our communities—archivists, records administrators, historians, and documentary editors who represent a broad range of our citizenry across the nation.

Why the NHPRC?

NHPRC is the grant-making arm of the National Archives and Records Administration. The agency’s grant funding acts as a stimulus to spur investments from the private sector as well as state and local governments. NHPRC grants encourage innovation and creativity in advancing best practices in archives, developing new technologies that enhance electronic processing of and access to public records, publishing historical documents, and connecting citizens to their cultural heritage. Without NHPRC’s leadership, Americans’ understanding of our collective history and our ability to engage effectively in our democratic processes would be greatly diminished.

NHPRC grants require grantee institutions to contribute cost-sharing of at least 50%. This funding model not only ensures the grantee’s commitment, but also encourages effective collaboration and operational efficiencies, resulting in more positive outcomes.

Since 1965, NHPRC has awarded more than $200 million in competitive grants to more than 45,000 historical and genealogical societies, colleges and universities, state and local government archives, and other institutions and non-profit groups.

Notable Outcomes from the NHPRC

Cost-effective Grant Funding Model:  Investments in the NHPRC program provide an ideal model for grant funding through expectations of sharing responsibility for funding (a one-to-one cost-share). The NHPRC program is also an ideal grant funding model in so far as it encourages federal-state-private sector project partnerships.

Support of Democratic Governance:  The administrative structure of the NHPRC program (shared responsibility and collaboration) and the priority focus on public records and historical documents provides an example for how to effectively use federal dollars to support our political model of democratic governance.

Reliable Preservation of Historical Documents:  The NHPRC supports an agenda driven by the expectations and values of citizens and archivists across the nation to identify, preserve, and make available our historical documents and public records. In doing so, everyone may have a higher confidence level in the reliability and trustworthiness of these materials.

Types of Projects Supported by NHPRC

Establish or modernize public records programs. NHPRC funding to support projects that establish or modernize public records programs has benefitted Seattle, Washington; Boston, Massachusetts;  San Diego, California; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Fairfax, Virginia; Troup County, Georgia; Manchester, New Hampshire; Lauderdale County, Mississippi; Rochester, New York; and Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania and other communities.

Spur technological developments in managing born-digital records. Technological developments have focused on addressing efforts such as accessioning electronic records, establishing email preservation projects, and developing hardware and software infrastructure to preserve geospatial records. Projects have been funded in many states including: California, Hawaii, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, and Texas.

Preserve and make accessible oral history and tribal records of Native American communities. Preserved tribal records include those of the Seneca, Blackfoot, Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux, Ramah Navajo, Oglala Sioux, Zuni Pueblo, Fort Sill Apache, Suquamish, and dozens more. Educational opportunities for tribal archivists has been provided through the Western Archives Institute.

Support nonprofit institutions as they enhance public access to historical documents in their care. The NHPRC has awarded in excess of $50 million since 1976 through several hundred grants to colleges, universities, and other organizations with collections of personal papers, photographic collections of all types, architectural plans and drawings, ship designs, film and video footage, and sound recordings.

Enable the creation of dozens of "cyber archives." NHPRC grants are helping to make primary source materials available via the Web. Photoswest.org, for example, is an online database that contains selections from the Denver Public Library Western History/Genealogy Department and the Colorado Historical Society - bringing some 100,000 images from Colorado's history to viewers. The Founders OnLine project provides free public access to the papers of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and others of our country’s Founders.

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The Society of American Archivists is the oldest and largest national professional association of archivists in North America, representing more than 6,200 archivists employed by businesses, universities, governments, libraries, and historical organizations. Archivists are the professionals who collect, preserve, and make available for research historically significant documents, vital records, and other materials. Read more at www.archivists.org.

Posted June 15, 2017.