The National Archives hires its first Wikipedian to push its digital reach

Ansel Adams photographs? Check. A letter from Frederick Douglass accepting an ambassadorship to Haiti? Check. Transcripts of the Apollo 8 moon mission? Check.

The U.S. National Archives is filled with astounding historical documents. You could spend hours getting lost in them--but, until now, not if you're the average web user looking to feed some curiosity (or kill some time) on a Thursday afternoon.

The National Archives on Wednesday announced that it has hired its first "Wikipedian in Residence" to help extend the reach of its collection. Dominic McDevitt-Parks, who edits under the wiki handle "Dominic," joined the institution for a paid summer internship.

"By having the permanent records of the federal government available through Wikipedia, the National Archives will reach children, genealogists, educators, researchers, and members of the public who may never have come to the National Archives or seen our website to view our holdings," David Ferriero, archivist of the United States said in a statement.

The Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, has a longstanding program to collaborate with what it terms GLAMs--galleries, libraries, archives, and museums--in order to enrich its content and accuracy, and to support these institutions in getting their collections in front of an online audience. The British Museum employed the first wiki-in-residence, Australian Liam Wyatt, who served a five-week fellowship last summer. The Smithsonian has also previously hired a wiki hand to work at the archives of American art, and there are around a half dozen other wikis-in-residence around the world.

A week into the job, McDevitt-Parks has already uploaded 200 Ansel Adams images held by the Archives and put out a challenge for an enterprising editor to write an article about the desegregation of the U.S. Marine Corps to accompany a photo he's featuring of the first black recruit, Howard P. Perry (pictured above).

McDevitt-Parks is currently doing a masters in history and archives management at Simons College in Boston, and has been an editor at Wikipedia for seven years. "If [the Archives'] documents can't be accessed, there's not really a point in preserving them. If you put something on the National Archives Web site, you might get 1,000 page views. Yesterday the main Wiki page got 12 million hits," he told the Washington Post. "The way I look at it, I'm trying to act as a catalyst to help improve the content on Wiki and help improve discoverability for the content."

It's not the federal government's first dip into social media-fueled collaboration. The Library of Congress announced last year that it would be acquiring all of Twitter's archives.

(Howard P. Perry, the first African-American US Marine Corps recruit, 1941: National Archives/Wikipedia)