Library News

Veterans History Project is not just for libraries

Two weeks ago, I attended the Illinois Library Association Annual Conference in Springfield. Attending conferences is a great way to be reenergized and to pick up new information from fellow library employees from around the state or country. I attended conference sessions on Teen Theater Groups that are thriving in libraries, how to make a library marketing plan, responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, balancing security and customer service, and a few others. I even spoke during a session titled, “Educating your Community While Navigating a Controversy.” But the session that I liked the most was not just for library employees. It was for anyone who was ever a veteran or knew a veteran or loved a veteran! “Save our Stories: The Veterans History Project Helps Communities Make History” was about how people from all over the country are collecting, preserving and making personal video accounts of American war veterans that will be accessible through the Library of Congress so future generations can hear directly from veterans. Stories can be told through correspondence, like letters, diaries and postcards, and through visual materials like photographs, drawing and scrapbooks. But one of the best ways to preserve a veteran’s memories is by videotaping him or her talking about wartime realities and recollections. Conference Speaker Robert Patrick, director of the Veterans History Project, obviously was passionate about the project. A retired U.S. Army colonel, Patrick had a role in the National World War II Memorial project. So he has been passionate about veterans’ causes for many years. When Col. Patrick told us that World War II veterans are dying at the rate of more than 500 per day, I was taken aback. When I lost my own dad, a WWII veteran, almost five years ago, I thought at that time it was more like 500 per week were dying. So precious time is ticking away to collect these veterans’ memories. It is no longer possible to videotape veterans of World War I (1914 to 1920) since the last World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, died in February 2011 at age 110. But there is still time to videotape veterans reciting memories of World War II (1939 to 1946). Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War and Afghanistan and Iraq conflict veterans also may be videotaped to create a lasting lesson for future generations. U.S. civilians who were actively involved in supporting war efforts (such as war industry workers, USO workers, flight instructors, medical volunteers, etc.), also are invited to share their stories. So, how would one go about participating in the project? Veterans, interviewers or family members can take part, as well as students in the tenth grade or beyond. The best way to find out more is to go to http://www.loc.gov/vets/ and click around to learn about the steps to creating a history . A field history kit with all the how-tos can be downloaded as well. One thing about the project that could possibly be disconcerting to veterans or family members is that photographs, diaries or other memorabilia must be shared in the form of the original documents. Copies are not accepted by the Library of Congress. But, by sending the information, researchers and the general public can use it for academic papers, documentaries, genealogical research and personal interest. Some of the items in collections also are used by the Library of Congress in presentations, exhibitions, publications and events to promote the Veterans History Project. The U.S. Congress created the Veterans History Project in 2000, with AARP as its founding corporate sponsor. After serving on the committee to bring The Moving Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial to Aurora last year, I am more aware than I was before that every veteran has a story, and that they all are heroes.

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