The National Archives has always been a great source of PDF and other non-fiction documents for my eBook reader.  Escape and Evasion reports, WPA guides, After-Action Reports, all of these have made for some interesting reading.  However, navigating the archives and the ARC (Archival Research Catalog) to find new items has always been somewhat challenging.

No more!  Stopping by the site in the last few weeks, I’ve noticed big changes in how you can search for electronic items for download.  If you go to the Online Public Access Prototype, link at, a massively streamlined search portal is now available for use.

Besides the easy search box, you will find a single way to search many parts of the archives at once.  Ranging from the Electronic Records Archive to and many more, this will help you to zero in on the documents you might be looking for.

I thought I would test it out by searching for broad topics, such as World War II.  In the past, I’ve had pretty good luck searching this way, refining my results and doing some subject searching to quickly narrow down to a specific topic.

The beta search came back with some impressive results and key findings that gave me some more leads.  What I really found most helpful though was the reworked interface and how the results are shown on screen.  The main viewing window gives some initial results and are grouped by classes such as online holdings, subject headings and others.

The biggest, and best change I see, is the fact that on the left, the results grouped by document format or “clusters” as they are called.  These range from file format (pdf, mp3, etc.) to types of materials, dates, and descriptions, just to name a few.

Selecting PDF format, I was able to narrow my results down to just over 3,000 hits.  From here, it’s possible to “re-refine” results down even further.  By doing this, and limiting to just the years of the war, I was able to get a manageable number of results that looked promising.

Individual results of my search also showed a newly reworked document viewer, enabling a direct PDF download of the digitized document to your device, be that a PC, phone or Internet equipped reader.  Testing with my Android and iPad, I found the documents loaded successfully and were easy to view.  Your experiences may vary, depending upon your device and what you are looking for.

If you’re looking for some great historic documents or information from the National Archives, take a look at the site today.  It may be beta, and so subject to change, but this doesn’t take away a great new method of searching!


National Archives Main Site:

Online Public Access Prototype:


  1. Hi – My name is Sara Schlanger and I work for the National Archives on the Online Public Access (OPA) Working Group. We are so pleased to hear about your positive experience so far with the new search interface! Although it has robust functionality, it is still a work in progress. We want to continually improve OPA based on user feedback.

    In fact, we will be releasing several new versions of OPA this year, making improvements to the interface and adding new functionality. In a couple of months we will be rolling out a new release that will include an image zoom capability, allowing you to zoom and pan our online holdings. We are particularly excited about this new functionality coming soon.

    If you have any other comments or ideas for improvement, please let us know at And I do encourage you to check out our new zoom feature in a couple months and let us know what you think!

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