One of the greatest treasure troves of works in the Public Domain is the National Archives (NARA). NARA’s “job” is to archive Federal records that are judged to have continuing value—about 2 to 5 percent of those generated in any given year. As you would imagine, this has resulted in a growing massive collection of materials, diverse in form as well as in content. There are approximately 9 billion pages of textual records; 7.2 million maps, charts, and architectural drawings; more than 20 million still photographs; billions of machine-readable data sets; and more than 365,000 reels of film and 110,000 videotapes. All of these materials are preserved because they are important to the workings of Government, have long-term research worth, or provide information of value to citizens (like making money from new products created with them).
While the materials currently available online are but a fraction of NARA’s total holdings, there is still tens of thousands of works available to you online right now. And…if you want to have even MORE fun, I would highly recommend making a trip to the National Archives in College Park, MD. With 6 floors of Public Domain goodness, you will be like a kid in a candy store. It is truly an amazing experience. What is great is that they even allow you to bring in your digital cameras, video cameras, laptops and scanners…all for the purpose of duplicating the “hard copy” editions of the content. One of my personal highlights so far was being able to scan original prints by Ansel Adams taken of our most popular National Parks.
The National Archives has a comprehensive Archival Research Catalog (ARC) available online. Search the ARC HERE. Click on “Search Options” and then click on the “Digital Copies” tab at the top. Now you’re ready to search through ARC’s online records. You can also explore the National Archives online exhibits HERE and HERE.