This week, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) published a post on the NARA blog, NARAtions, about their newly-released online catalog API . The post begins with a simple introduction to APIs for those unfamiliar, and then breaks down specifics of why the NARA API has so much potential:
The dataset for our catalog API contains all archival descriptions, authority records, digitized records (the images, videos, and so on) and their file metadata, all NARA web pages, and public contributions (tags, transcriptions, and comments)… The API is also writable, which means you can use it to post tags, transcriptions, or comments to records. We believe it is one of the first public write APIs in operation at a cultural institution. In order to support these functions, there are also methods for user registration and login—though accounts are the same in the UI and API. We just rolled out in-catalog transcription last year and comments this year, and we think building it into the API from the beginning has the potential to take it to a whole new level.
The API is open source, follows the principles of REST, and is inspired by “the Digital Public Library of America’s API philosophy, especially their principle of a ‘presumption of openness.'” The push for openness is a major reason why NARA’s API could have an major impact:
NARA’s recently revised mission statement affirms our commitment to ‘drive openness, cultivate public participation, and strengthen our nation’s democracy through public access to high-value government records.’ Our mission is bigger than just our research rooms and web sites. In a recent essay, museum theorist Ed Rodley writes that the “spread of digital assets is a key factor in delivering on museums’ missions to educate, inform, stimulate, and enrich the lives of the people of the planet we live on.” We believe that our API will become a major way in which users are able to access our records, because the fundamental purpose of open data is to make our data sharable and reusable in many contexts outside of NARA itself.