In April of 2012, I visited the Library of Congress (LOC), located across from the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. It was National Volunteers week and there were several signs up in the building celebrating the volunteers. While many of us have heard of the Library of Congress before, I had no idea of the depth and breadth of research and preservation that the LOC undertakes.
James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, describes the Library of Congress as the Nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. It serves as the research arm of Congress. It is also the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs and manuscripts in its collections. The Library’s mission is to support Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.
Walking in D.C.
Those that wish to support this mission can donate both time and money. If you tour the LOC, you too can observe from the balcony and see citizens utilizing the vast collections. The LOC also supports a project to preserve the history of veterans. This involves the gathering, processing, preservation and access to oral histories and personal documents collected from veterans from all wars. In January of 2012 The Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP) launched a multi-year campaign to preserve the stories of the nation’s Vietnam War veterans. Volunteers and veterans are needed to record these important stories for the Veterans History Project collection, accessible at www.loc.gov/vets/. Preserving and accessing the individual stories is of extreme importance. The LOC was established by an act of Congress in 1800 when President John Adams signed a bill providing for the transfer of the seat of government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington. The legislation described a reference library for Congress only, containing “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress – and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein.” In August of 1814, when invading British troops set fire to the Capitol Building, burning and pillaging the contents of the small library, retired President Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement. Jefferson had spent 50 years accumulating books and his library was considered to be one of the finest in the United States.The Library of Congress is a great treasure, indeed.
The stories of former Sen. Chuck Hagel and his brother Tom Hagel, who fought side by side in the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong River Delta, are among the more than 13,000 Vietnam veteran collections already held by VHP. “When we think of war – whether it’s Vietnam or any other war – we think of it as a unitary subject, the Vietnam War,” Tom Hagel shared at a recent event. “But there are millions of Vietnam Wars. If you were a clerk-typist stationed in Saigon or up on the demilitarized zone, or some other unit with some other type of job, your Vietnam War would be totally different from ours. And that’s important to tell. It gives a more complete, realistic picture of that experience. That’s the value of this project.”
For 35Projects I videotaped and submitted to the library of congress the stories of a young man from Michigan who flew over 30 missions during World War II. He talks about what it was like to live in the stress of battle and about his wonderful life after the war. It was touching to be a part of that and his story needs to be preserved for future generations. One of his interviews can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAO0g0owXfc
Both the library and the Veterans History Project are deserving of our attention and support. I was privileged to have Nelson share his story with me.