JFK Presidential Library Launches New Cloud-Based Archive

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2011-01-13

JFK Presidential Library Launches New Cloud-Based Archive

A half-century has gone by since President John F. Kennedy declared his famous call to action on that frigid Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 1961: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

Next week, the Boston-based John F. Kennedy Library & Museum will mark the anniversary with a special event to commemorate the young president's short but historically significant time in office.

On Jan. 13, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero and Caroline Kennedy, president of her father's library foundation, introduced what is now the nation's largest online presidential archive at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

Not only has the library's Website been upgraded with thousands of new documents, but it also sports an easier-to-use interface and search engine. The new archive itself is loaded with new document scans, audio tapes and videos comprising nearly 40TB worth of data.

As of the Jan. 13 launch, the archive contains about 200,000 document pages; 300 reels of audio tape, containing more than 1,245 individual recordings of telephone calls, speeches and meetings; 300 museum artifacts; 72 reels of film; and 1,500 photos.

The library's Website archive, built with a new cloud-based system, now provides global access to the most important papers, records, photographs and recordings of Kennedy's three years in office. Until Jan. 13, only a select few photos and documents were published on the Website; all the rest of the historical material had been available only by a personal visit to the library.

Students, teachers, researchers and members of the public now have a capable, Web-based connection to search, browse and retrieve original documents from the Kennedy Library's collection, gaining a first-hand look into the life of President Kennedy and the issues that defined his administration, Ferriero said at the Jan. 13 event.

"My parents believed that history is one of our greatest teachers," Caroline Kennedy said. "As young people increasingly rely on the Internet as their primary source for information, it is our hope that the library's online archive will allow a new generation to learn about this important chapter in American history.

"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."

Still much to publish

Even though there is nearly 40TB of data now stored, there is still a lot more to digitize and publish, JFK Library IT specialist Tim Fitzpatrick told eWEEK.

There are still about 48 million pages left to digitize before everything is online, and the library is always taking in new material. We won't see the completed collection online in our lifetimes.

"At our current rate," Fitzpatrick said, "it will take more than 100 years to get everything digitized."

The new archive is a project four years and $10 million in the making. Grad-level college librarian and archive interns have been scanning document after document, photo after photo since the project started in 2006. More than 100 boxes of JFK's personal and professional memos, letters, speeches, audio recordings, film and other artifacts have been scanned and stored into the institution's data center in Washington, D.C.

Hans Jensen of Iron Mountain carefully digitizes a film of President Kennedy for uploading to the new online archive. The mirror replication site is 200 feet underground in a secret, highly secure location. (Photo courtesy of Iron Mountain)

JFK Presidential Library Launches New Cloud-Based Archive

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EMC, Iron Mountain, Raytheon and AT&T are the key corporate sponsors. All have donated financially and materials-wise to the project.

EMC donated the original Celerra storage array four years ago to get the project started and has upgraded the equipment since then; Iron Mountain's digital archiving and backup software and services, Raytheon's connectivity hardware and services, and AT&T's Web hosting and data security also are in the mix.

JFK Library Digital Archivist Erica Boudreau, who oversaw the beginning of the digital archive project in 2006, told eWEEK that the project began with a single EMC Celerra array that provided about 10TB of capacity.

"We used [EMC's] Application Extender for metadata capture and management," Boudreau told eWEEK. "We later migrated to Documentum [an EMC division]. The handling of metadata [descriptions of the photos, videos, etc.], which is very important to us, was improved a lot."

The Website and cloud storage system uses the Endeca search engine (which currently is deployed by NewEgg.com and Time.com) and has a redundant mirror backup system at Iron Mountain for disaster recovery purposes, Fitzpatrick said. Digital tape backup is used only for SQL server backup, he added. Video is streamed from a third-party cloud service.

The Kennedy Library's research facilities in Boston are among the most referenced of presidential libraries. Its archives currently total more than 8.4 million pages of Kennedy's personal, congressional and presidential papers. Additionally, there are some 40 million pages from more than 300 other individuals who were associated with the Kennedy administration.

The physical archives also hold more than 400,000 photographs, 9,000 hours of audio recordings, 7.5 million feet of motion picture film and 1,200 hours of video recordings. The digitization efforts are ongoing, and additional material will be added to the archive as it is scanned and described.

JFK clearly saw the future of IT

JFK himself was prescient about the impact of IT--even though computers were still in their infancy in the early 1960s.

In 1961, he was asked at a press conference whether he would consider putting his official papers in Washington D.C., rather than in his home town as previous presidents have done, so as to make them more accessible to scholars and historians who come to Washington to work at the Library of Congress and other agencies.

In his response, the president spoke of a future where, "through scientific means of reproduction ... and this will certainly be increased as time goes on, we will find it possible to reproduce the key documents so that they will be commonly available."

The president certainly had it right.

Go here to view a YouTube video about the new archive.

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