March 22-25, 2006
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Demonstrations: Description

Drafting a Virtual Collection: The Veterans History Project Online

Rachel Mears, Library of Congress, USA
Eileen Simon, Library of Congress, USA

Signed into law in 2000, the Veterans History Project (VHP) is a Congressional initiative that collects personal accounts of 20th Century American war veterans and civilian supporters for permanent retention at the Library of Congress. Collections are not gathered through trained oral historians, but by soliciting volunteer-created interviews and primary documentation from the general public. This unique approach has drawn nearly 40,000 participants, and continues to bring in over 200 collections a week. The variety of formats and quality of interviews presents challenges when making the information accessible to researchers and families.

In addition to collecting, VHP is tasked with honoring veterans by sharing their service information and making collection materials available to the public. Since it — s creation, VHP has done this by serving collections to researchers, creating exhibits, and meeting the public at events; however, one of the most visible and constant tools for exhibition, education and outreach has been the World Wide Web. The Veterans History Project homepage recieves an approximate average of 1,700 hits a day, and the Experiencing War online exhibit nearly 2,000.

We propose a Demonstration session to discuss the design, production and challenges involved in the evolution of VHP's online database and Experiencing War site. By demonstrating this national project's efforts to create a digital collection March 7, 2006 8:35 PMothers interested in digital collections, working with existing online collections, or pondering such an undertaking.

During this demonstration we will provide visitors with an overview of VHP, its collections and methodology, and discuss special challenges posed by an all-volunteer collecting effort and by high public and Congressional visibility. We will demonstrate how we've raised public awareness of VHP and it's collecting criteria directly through an informational web site as well as indirectly by providing access to digitized materials in an online exhibit forum. We will also be able to address dealing with pressure to collect, honor, and display a large volume of materials with limited resources and high public expectations.

VHP's web site has evolved over time: first only describing the project, then adding a list of participants via the National Registry of Service, then the 2004 release of a searchable online catalog and multimedia online exhibit. We can also speak to how changing needs and desires of VHP staff and the public were incorporated into its online presence.

Issues such as search functionality, design and usability, technical requirements, as well as working across department boundaries play a large role and will be discussed with attendees.

Eileen Simon and Rachel Mears lead the processing department of the Veterans History Project. Their work includes data normalization, setting data entry standards, and collaborating with VHP's digital team. Currently they are working with LOC staff to enhance the VHP collections database and improve end-user searchability of VHP's online catalog.

Demonstration: Demonstrations [Close-Up]

Keywords: veterans, war, oral history, reference, education