May 24, 2022

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Launches Digital Archives

Crowdsourcing Science History: NIST Digital Archives Seeks Help in Identifying Mystery Artifacts (via NIST)

A new website, the NIST Digital Archives, is exhibiting images of historically significant scientific instruments used to obtain these measures, in addition to providing access to full-text publications from the agency’s history. NIST is inviting enthusiasts to participate in describing some of the hundreds of historical objects collected through the decades. Some of the artifacts are unidentified or need more descriptive information. Visitors to the site can view the items and offer clues about the history and origins of some of these important artifacts.

The artifacts are in the collection of scientific instruments in the NIST Museum, located on the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, Md., and can be viewed on the NIST Museum Artifacts portion of the new Website. Most of the artifacts are well-documented, such as a 1950s creation known as the Project Tinkertoy Wafer Tube Amplifier. It is a 45 rpm record player built as a part of Project Tinkertoy, an endeavor to develop mechanical production methods for electronic equipment using standardized components. However, some artifacts remain a mystery, such as the enigmatic brass-colored, crank-like Metal Instrument in Wood Case.


The digital archive also contains some NIST publications, including the Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which covers the broad range of research undertaken by NIST research staff, focusing on measurement methodology. Visitors can access full-text papers from the journal dating from 1981 to the present. Pre-1981 papers are being added to the collection on an ongoing basis with the goal of making available all papers back to 1904.

This digital archive is the realization of an effort to provide better access to our historical assets. “We were looking for a mechanism for making the information about NIST’s scientific contributions more widely available to the public,” says Barbara Silcox, the NIST Program Manager for Digital Information Services. Future collections in the NIST Digital Archives will include images of historical photographs from NIST, items from the NIST Oral History collection and video recordings of selected NIST Colloquia.

From a GCN Article by William Jackson:

The site, which went live March 31, is part of the NIST Information Services Office museum and history program. It is intended not only to make information more available for research but to raise awareness of NIST’s work. And it even included some “mystery items” NIST would like to know more about.

“It helps bring to light that we have been around for a very long time and we have produced a great many scientific studies,” said digital services librarian Regina Avila.

The site is not hosted in the government’s .gov domain, as is the official agency site, That is because it is using the ContentDM content management platform hosted by OCLC (formerly known as the Online Computer Library Center).

“It’s the content management software that the library community uses,” said Barbara Silcox, program manager for digital information services. “We get a lot of services from OCLC and they are hosting the software.”

Direct to NIST Digital Archives

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.