Washington DC is a morning town. It is just 8 am when the first shuttle from the National Archives I pulls out from Pennsylvania Ave and 7th Street NW and heads towards Archives II in College Park Md. Although there are many different ways to get to College Park, this free staff shuttle almost always has room for researchers, like me, and perhaps you. I like to be on that first bus because finding and reading Peace Corps public records can take all day. Besides, I like the drive through early morning traffic. We pass TV studios, Fox News nestled right next to C-Span (who knew?); pass Union Station; the fabled Gonzana High School; out NE Washington; pass historic Glenwood Cemetery into the Maryland suburbs; and then the University of Maryland. About forty minutes later, we turn off the apt named Adelphi Road into the circle drive of Archives II.
The mission of the Archives is to preserve original public documents, protecting their physical and textual integrity and at the same time making them available to the public. The protocols established to do this are elaborate and rigorously enforced. I think it helps if you have had experience in the military, as a surgical technician, or an altar boy. I might add “Scout” to that list, because being prepared is the key to a successful visit.
Be familiar with the description of existing Peace Corps records. Scan through the list beforehand (http://www.archives.gov )and then the path – Research our Records> Search Online> Archival Research Catalog (ARC)> Record Groups and Collections (left hand side of page)> Index to Record Group in ARC in numeric order by RG number> 400-490> RG 490 Records of the Peace Corps 1961-1991>141 Series described in ARC>.
Remember that only one to two percent of all federal records, including those of the Peace Corps, are permanently archived. These records are listed in roughly chronological order that may reflect when they were received and processed. The entry for Charlie Peter’s Program Evaluations, #70, on the list is a good illustration. There is one entry, but 26 boxes of documents. There are not evaluations for all programs in all countries for all the years “61-“67. An archivist may be able to help find a specific file. There are not necessary program or country evaluations beyond this collection. That may reflect decisions not to keep such evaluations or that such evaluations were never done. They may also be in storage or in the pipeline waiting to be processed and added to the Archives. (The list of documents in storage at the Federal Record Center covers 2771 pages. Most are scheduled to be destroyed.) There are almost no documents created by Volunteers. Some documents are located in Presidential Libraries. When you have an idea of what you are might wish to read, review the logistics of retrieving records at: http://www.ourarchives.wikispaces.net/National+Archives+at+College+Park
This obstacle course begins at the door of Archives II. The research card is obtained in the office to right of the entrance. The quarter-operated lockers are on the lower level. The cafeteria on the first floor. After showing proper ID and having all that is carried approved, admittance to the actual archives is granted.
The textual records of the Peace Corps are on the Second Floor, a clean, well-lighted place. Two-story floor to ceiling windows face an Appalachian scene. I try not to think “Blair Woods.” There are rows of tables for Researchers to use; but there are no shelves, no books, and no records to be seen. These are kept in vaults accessible only to Archives staff. Archivists in the Research room help you make the proper request for records, and submit it for the closest “pull time” at
* 10:00 a.m.
* 11:00 a.m.
* 1:30 p.m.
* 2:30 p.m.
The pull times are the times when the staff will submit the record request to retrieve the documents. It may be 30 to 60 minutes before the records you requested are available. Next to the Research Room is the desk area where the carts with the document boxes arrive. After checking them out, find a table, and begin the discovery. Be careful to observe all the protocols regarding lifting files out of the boxes and copying documents.
I promise that all of this work will be rewarded. Maybe it is a list of “Super Volunteers” and there is your name! Or a COS survey confirms that your opinion of the Country Director was shared. You may read how your program was developed, decades before. As always, sudden outbursts of “Yes!” or “That’s crazy” are frowned upon. Good luck.