The National Archives and Records Administration launches an Online Public Access prototype today, making available to the public millions of digitized government records. The effort is part of the National Archives' plan to provide better online services and better access to historical government documents.

The Online Public Access prototype provides access to and information about the National Archives' records. It is a centralized mean to search and display information from multiple National Archives resources. "People have asked us for a Google-like search," says the National Archives' Pam Wright, "which I think this really provides."

Currently, the prototype contains all the data from the Archival Research Catalog and several series from the Access to Archival Databases - around 10.9 million electronic records. In addition, the new search engine provides access to 1 million records from the Electronic Records Archives, which aren't available elsewhere online.

It isn't simply the breadth of the collection that makes this a great tool; it's the presentation of the information. The digital copy of the item is large and central, and all the pertinent catalog information is also easy to read.

The National Archives says it plans to add additional functionality in the coming year, including the ability to zoom into images and pan through the archives' holdings.