Steering Share: the Digital Library Work Behind “An Other War Memorial”

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from I&A Vice Chair Rachel Mandell. She is Metadata Librarian at the University of Southern California. The Mid-Year Steering Share was developed to discuss projects currently active or recently completed, either personal or professional.

Since my last steering share, I started a new position at a new university. I am now a Metadata Librarian working in the University of Southern California’s (USC) Digital Library. Fight on! Under this new title, I have relinquished some traditional archival tasks like processing collections, creating finding aids, and rehousing archival materials. However, I am still very much involved in archival description and cataloging, as one of my main responsibilities is to provide the metadata and publish collections online in USC’s robust Digital Library.

One of my current projects is to create a collection based on the work that USC professor and Pulitzer Prize winner, Viet Nguyen has conducted with his students in our digital library. The website, “An Other War Memorial: Memories of the American War” http://anotherwarmemorial.com, was developed for a class Nguyen teaches titled, “The American War in Vietnam.”

"An Other War Memorial" home page

The goals for this course are multi-faceted, “Besides learning critical thinking skills and acquiring knowledge about the war, what students will take away from the course is a set of multimedia skills and the ability to use them to share their scholarship and ideas with the general public” (http://anotherwarmemorial.com/about/ ). The multimedia skills referred to here are those involved in contributing to the website which profiles and commemorates witnesses of the war and testimonies to the dead through oral history interviews. The students themselves have been charged with conducting the oral histories in collaborative groups, using the WordPress website to construct the profiles, and also upload the videos of the oral histories using YouTube. Each profile includes background information about the interviewee along with the videos of the interviews and the transcripts, which have been organized into thematic segments depending on the content of the interview. Those profiled share a variety of experiences and perspectives as they were somehow involved or affected by the war in myriad capacities–from soldiers to civilians.

The “An Other War Memorial” website was designed with simplicity in mind, in order to empower the students to take an active role in creating this resource and reduce any technological difficulties that might have hindered the final product. The idea then is to create a resource that the students can use in their own studies, can be shared with the public, and hopefully be used by students and researchers in the future.

At the Digital Library, we are working to essentially capture the information found on the An Other War Memorial website and bring it into our digital library, thereby making this material accessible and discoverable to a wider community and user group. The important work of bringing these perspectives together into a single portal has already been done by Nguyen and his students, though I am hopeful that the new digital library environment will also yield new ways of experiencing, interpreting, and analyzing this material. We are still in the early stages of capturing the information on the website, choosing an appropriate metadata schema, and transforming the information into the new environment.  In the digital library environment, we are able to standardize certain aspects of the material, which can certainly assist in making the material more discoverable. However, we also want to retain the original content and feel of the original website, as well as preserve the students’ involvement in the development of the project.

I am so excited to be part of this project and this new team of colleagues. Keep an eye out for this incredibly interesting resource in the months to come!

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