Annie Benefiel, Scott St. Louis, and Matt Schultz 2016-03-14 15:59:30
At Grand Valley State University, undergraduate students get hands-on experience preserving the memory and voices of the many men and women of West Michigan who have served in the United States military. In 2006, Grand Valley joined the ranks of participants in the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project. Faculty in the History and Communications departments connect with West Michigan veterans and conduct video-recorded oral history interviews, following guidelines established by the Library of Congress. The GVSU project then employs a team of undergraduate students each semester to edit videos, create interview outlines, and write descriptive metadata records for the interviews. As videos are deposited in the Library of Congress for safekeeping, they are also submitted to Grand Valley’s Special Collections and University Archives to be included in our Digital Collections. The Veterans History Project is one of Grand Valley’s most heavily used digital collections, and contains more than 1,100 interviews available online. These first-hand accounts of veterans from all U.S. military branches who served during conflicts dating back to World War II are told in both video oral histories and text. Some participants submit their personal memorabilia to be scanned and included in the Digital Collection of GVSU’s Special Collections and University Archives. Others have donated personal papers, photographs, and artifacts as permanent collections. Unexpected Discovery The GVSU Veterans History Project has even had one unexpected outcome: an off-shoot captured the stories of 45 members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a women’s professional sports league that operated from 1943 to 1954. The league provided opportunities for more than 600 women to play professional baseball, and established an important precedent for later efforts to promote women’s athletics. Recently, these oral histories have been used in a GVSU-produced documentary, A Team of Their Own (http://gvsu.edu/wibdoc/). Engaging Aspiring Archival Professionals The Veterans History Project at GVSU has also been a way for the university to provide valuable work experience to the students who process videos and prepare them for inclusion in the Digital Collections. The work of student archival technicians ensures that the interviews submitted to Digital Collections reflect high levels of accessibility and quality. Theirs is a fulfilling role to play because it represents the final stage in the project workflow before interview content is transferred to the archivists and digital curation professionals at GVSU Libraries. Working as they do with a diverse assemblage of materials prepared by the project’s coordinators, it is the task of the student technician to tie all separate threads together and prepare the interviews for online access. For students who are aspiring information professionals or public historians, becoming involved in the Veterans History Project can become one of the best choices of one’s early professional life. The position serves as an ideal introduction to archives and the field of information more broadly, even for those students who possess virtually no knowledge of basic archival theory or relevant technical details when they begin. From basic knowledge about rights transfer and metadata to the more complicated issues of content migration and digital preservation, student archival technicians stand to learn a great deal from the professionals with whom they collaborate. Additionally, they are provided with first-hand observations of the benefits that Grand Valley and the West Michigan community receive from one another via the project’s success. Working for the Veterans History Project can change a student archival technician’s perception of the West Michigan community for the better. For those who did not grow up in this area, the project can provide a window through which to see how diverse the community truly is. The interviewees collectively represent a wide array of relationships to the military and experiences within it. Their stories belong to every generation from World War II to the present, and the interviewees themselves encompass a myriad of cultural backgrounds. As such, the project collection has been of great use to students, faculty, and other researchers interested in learning more about not just military history, but also the social, economic, political, and psychological implications of war. The challenge behind mastering the basics of archival work is not just learning new vocabulary or technological skills but also cultivating a genuine enthusiasm for collaboration and a comfort with the rapid change that defines life for information professionals today—indispensable skills in any workplace. The oral histories collected by this project have had a lasting influence on the curriculum of the History Department, giving students opportunities to actively engage in preserving memories as well as experience using primary source materials in their own research. The project has also strengthened the relationship between Grand Valley State and the West Michigan community, opening new avenues for collection development and bolstering donor relations in Special Collections and University Archives. Because we make the videos available online, interviewees can freely share them with friends and loved ones, and be assured that their service will not be forgotten. Preserving West Michigan History Interested users can access the collection through the GVSU Special Collections website (https://gvsu.edu/library/specialcollections/) and immediately begin browsing the oral histories through a slideshow feature. They can also view recently added interviews and browse veterans’ experiences according to specific military conflicts and time periods. Each individual veteran’s oral history includes a full length interview, an interview outline, and rich descriptive and technical metadata. As the Veterans History Project and many other prominent borndigital history collections at GVSU have grown, the university has recognized the need to move beyond merely providing online access. In 2014, the decision was made to migrate all digital collections at GVSU from the current repository CONTENTdm to Preservica, a new system that facilitates both online access and digital preservation. The Veterans History Project was one of the first collections to be scheduled for migration and will be available to the public in spring of 2016. GVSU Library curators are currently hard at work exporting metadata, re-processing that metadata, and packaging it together with the oral history videos and outlines to form new submission information packages. Like all born-digital special collections, the Veterans History Project interviews are irreplaceable and in need of good stewardship—for both ongoing access and long-term preservation. On behalf of the scholarly community GVSU is thrilled to play that stewardship role.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.