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National Archives Pioneer Pamela Wright Honored at American University

Pamela Wright’s work in fostering digital accessibility was honored with American University’s 2022 Outstanding Inclusive Technology Policy Changemaker Award. 

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AU librarian Jee Davis, left, speaks with the National Archives' Pamela Wright.

Pamela Wright dedicates her work to providing digital access to the National Archives’ vast collection as the first chief innovation officer of the federal agency.

A pioneer in democratization of digital information, Wright has led the launch of the National Archives’ first social media program, launched a Citizen Archivist program, and developed the digitization efforts of the agency’s records.

“It is the backbone of democracy to be able to understand what happens in our government,” Wright said. “That idea drives everything I do.” 

Wright’s work in fostering digital accessibility was honored on November 18 with American University’s 2022 Outstanding Inclusive Technology Policy Changemaker Award. 

AU students, faculty, staff, and experts in internet governance, tech policy, and cybersecurity gathered in the Katzen Auditorium to honor Wright and hear comments on the importance of making America’s historical documents and artifacts accessible to communities whose voices and memories have long gone unnoticed and unheard.

Wright told AU Librarian Jee Davis during a conversation at the event that digitizing the nation’s paper and other physical records and putting them online “breaks all the barriers.” 

“We have to be where the people are,” Wright said. “Federal agencies can be very intimidating – there are people from various communities who are not comfortable coming into a room and looking at documents. History can be traumatizing at times, and it can be very personal. For us to be able to come to them is very important. Today, we can provide access in ways we never even considered even a decade before.” 

The Citizen Archivist program engages users in archival pursuits, and the agency’s digitization program has resulted in making more than 210 million records available through the organization’s online catalog and shareable on Wikipedia and Wikidata, Giphy, and on other platforms. The National Archives has more than 15 billion records.

Established in 2021, the Inclusive Technology Policy Outstanding Changemaker Award honors individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to advancing inclusive technology policy at the national and global level. Attending this year’s ceremony was AU alumna Doreen Bogdan-Martin, inaugural recipient of the award. On January 1, she will assume the role of Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, the first woman to hold that position in the agency’s 157-year history. 

“One-third of humanity has never ever, ever, ever accessed the internet,” Bogdan-Martin said. “It’s time to make sure that we’re taking everybody onboard with us and we’re not leaving anyone behind. We need to bring humanity back to the center, and we need to ensure that technology serves people and not the other way around. Today, we are recognizing another inspiring changemaker and her amazing journey to digitize the National Archives.” 

In her keynote address, Bogdan-Martin spoke of the valuable experiences and knowledge she gained during her time as a student at SIS. 

“It is in spaces like this at AU where work on social policy design really brings us together," she said. "It’s that inclusivity that delivers real social impact, improves people’s lives, and makes our work worthwhile -- while making our goals honorable and tangible.” 

Wright met with AU students after the ceremony to share expertise and hear stories of students’ work in the tech policy space. 

Student Keighly Butler, SPA/BA ’22, noted that the Inclusive Tech Policy program and the Changemaker award uplift underrepresented voices, particularly women and persons in the Latinx community. 

“It’s inspiring to see women like Doreen Bogdan-Martin and Pamela Wright who are trailblazers, who are breaking the glass ceiling every single day. This experience is equipping me with important skills and knowledge that I can use after I graduate.” 

Along with the Outstanding Inclusive Technology Policy Award, ITP announced a winner of its student competition -- students submitted essays about what inclusive technology means to them. 

To Jailen Brown, a senior legal studies major at SPA and winner of this year’s competition, “Inclusivity in tech policy looks like different people coming together in a welcoming environment to better the technological infrastructure of the world. To me, inclusivity in tech policy means that I will be able to have a future in the tech space regardless of what I look like and where I come from. I’m really looking forward to the future of cyber tech.”