Wednesday, January 28, 2009

WWII U.S. Medical Research Center

Collection: the WWII U.S. Medical Research Center

The WWII U.S. Medical Research Center is authored by two individuals, Alain Batens and Ben Major, who provide most of the narrative text and explanations preceding transcribed records and soldier’s accounts. The site was originally funded by the United States Medical Department and now functions as a research tools for “anyone interested in WW2 United States Medical history”. The home page for this collection explicitly states that the WWII U.S. Medical Research Center is “a work-in-progress” and that any contributions from visitors are welcome. One portion of the organization’s collection that struck me was the ‘items for sale’ page where WWII medical history buffs can buy and sell artifacts. This gave the site an e-bay feel and I wondered about the audience especially after reading that the collection was begun by WWII re-enactors and medical collectors.
The acquisitions and display policy seems to be anything and everything that this organization can get relating to WWII medical supplies or experiences. There are specific groupings in this collection such as an item database, medical kits and items, and articles. These groups remain visible at all times in a menu oriented vertically on the left side. The collection is very easy to navigate because the user does not have to go back to the home page to see the various groups. It appears to be actively managed (the last site update was in January 2009), the authors provide their names and contact information, and there is a real-time running statistic of current and past visitors. There is also a guest book for posting comments about the site and why a user has visited the site.
A lack of distinction between the metadata and the objects made it difficult to understand what I was viewing. Item lists, medical kit lists, and field reports were all written in the same simple sans-serif font as the explanations and introductions. It was hard to decipher where the commentary ended and the actual text-based object began. At this time the only objects in the collection which fit my understanding of the term digital object are photographs. The photographs are static, lacking a zoom function or any other way of organizing them for research outside of the categories the authors have assigned them to. There are labels under each photograph and many are highly descriptive and specifically address questions a user might have such as ‘why are those crosses painted on all the tents?’ to providing the design history of medical field kits.
The photographs and the transcribed text from field reports and testimonials of soldiers are legally protected under a footer that appears on each page. A user can not copy the photographs and must contact the site administrators for any type of outside use. It is possible to copy the text and this concerns me because many of the soldier’s accounts are personal and have specific names, dates, and other potentially sensitive information that may be misquoted or misused.
The pages take a very short amount of time to load with a digital connection, although the photographs reproduced on many of the pages cause hiccups in scrolling and loading. The technical problem I encountered with the WWII U.S. Medical Research Center were pages that did not load and I received an error message and directions to return to the home page each time. The “statistics” page for this collection contains many fields of user data, breakdown of numbers of links per page, and the number of items in the collection as a whole and within the imposed groupings. There is a strong curatorial presence in this collection and the authors appear to be very concerned with the opinions and needs of their users.

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