This post was written by Karen Lloyd of the Library of Congress
Describe what you do at the Library of Congress and the materials you work with.
I am the Director of the Veterans History Project, part of the American Folklife Center, at the Library of Congress. VHP’s mission is to gather the oral histories of veterans and ensure they are accessible so current researchers and future generations understand what they saw, did and felt during their selfless service to our nation. We have a small staff that is focused on outreach and collection management. Our outreach staff works to connect with volunteers across the nation to gather oral histories from the veterans in their lives and communities and send them to VHP. The collection management staff receives the materials donated to the Library, stabilizes and processes them by noting the contents (e.g. oral history, diary, letters, and photographs) and the item’s condition, and places the collection items into appropriate archival housing. We put on dozens of programs annually. Last year we presented more than 20 readings, discussion panels, gallery talks, film screenings, and other public events. That is in addition to over 100 presentations to schools, historical societies, and organizations across the country, and not to mention around 40 blog posts per year and daily Facebook posts featuring veterans from our collections and VHP events. We also have a robust Web site which features online-only content such as our “Experiencing War” series.
Do you have a favorite item from the Library’s online collections?
Well, as a veteran I have to say I’m thrilled by how our collections “talk” to each other. A couple of my favorites are Staff Sergeant Homer Hall, a World War II POW, and Colonel John Stavast, a Vietnam War POW. Both of these individuals kept diaries, which were clearly forbidden. SSG Hall was part of the 82d Airborne Division who parachuted into France as a part of the D-Day operations. After creating chaos for a week behind enemy lines with other American soldiers who also missed their drop zones, he was captured and sent to Stalag Luft 4 in Poland. His diary is made up of old maps, canned food labels and cigarette packaging. From the diary, it appears he taught himself Spanish to keep his mind occupied. Colonel John Stavast was a POW at the Hanoi Hilton. His diary is also made up of old maps, food labels and cigarette packaging. In it he lists the different pilots that joined him at the Hanoi Hilton and gives their names, type of aircraft they flew and date of arrival. Senator John McCain is listed and we also have his collection along with others from the Hanoi Hilton. His diary shows he taught himself French.
Share a time when an item from the collections sparked your curiosity.
Every time VHP is invited to conduct a table top display for an event or special guest, I am always amazed by the fascinating stories our curators select. Generally these table top displays include a variety of the Library’s Collections and Services divisions. It is always fun to see how these collections “talk” to each other. For example for a recent display, the Geography and Map Division had a German map with all the Stalags listed, including the one where SSG Hall stayed.
Tell us about a memorable interaction with a K-12 teacher or student.
Classrooms across the nation are developing programs where students, using the VHP tools as a guide, interview veterans and then travel to Washington, DC to donate them to VHP. I enjoy talking with the teachers and students to learn from them the impact of this experience on them, how did it change them, what did they learn about themselves. The answers are always positive and heartfelt.
What’s one thing you’d like to tell teachers about the materials that you work with or the collections in general?
Working with primary source materials can be very exciting, but being part of a program that creates primary source materials that are housed at the Library of Congress is really special. As a part of a well-structured program, students are able to learn good listening skills while conducting an intergenerational interview with a veteran. I have discovered that a key part of the Project is asking students what they learned from the experience, and I am always amazed at the variety of answers.