Revised Scope of Collection Statement for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Museum Collection
Since its dedication in 1982, visitors have left offerings at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to honor and remember those who served in the Vietnam War. These poignant tributes are now preserved in the National Mall and Memorial Parks' museum collection. Tributes left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are considered voluntarily abandoned property and are handled according to 41 CFR Part 102-41 Subpart C. Objects that become part of the museum collection are preserved by the National Park Service in perpetuity, which requires ongoing preservation and obligates the government to pay for their long-term care.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, like every national park site, is mandated to have a Scope of Collection Statement, a document which defines the scope of each park's current and future museum collection holdings. The Scope of Collection Statement ensures that materials added to the collection contribute directly to the understanding and interpretation of the site's purpose, themes and resources. It should also protect against arbitrary or excessive growth of the collection so that the park can adequately care for it.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial museum collection consists entirely of objects left at the Memorial since its dedication. The original Scope of Collection Statement, written in 1985, was written vaguely, interpreted broadly and not actively implemented. Far too many items were kept resulting in a collection that has swelled to over 400,000 items, many of which have little or no connection to a name on the Memorial or a Veteran's experience of the war. Of the 1,477 boxes of materials in the collection, only 440 have been cataloged - a huge backlog that cannot be addressed at the rate the collection has grown.
The National Mall and Memorial Parks proposes a new Scope of Collection Statement for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial museum collection. The new scope will emphasize a preference for materials directly relating to the names on the Memorial, Vietnam veterans, and the Vietnam experience. The park will be very selective about what is kept for the collection. Objects that are kept for the permanent museum collection must provide context for a better understanding of the many aspects of the Vietnam War and its veterans.
Tributes left by the general public with no direct connection to the Vietnam experience will not be retained, except for a small sample already represented in the collection. This includes the vast amount of materials left by school and youth groups, of which the park receives thousands of every year. The volume of this material grows every year and its long-term preservation cannot adequately be supported.
Every object accepted into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial museum collection must be provided the same amount of care, protection, and research. The more items the park keeps that do not to tell more about those who served in the war or what our Vietnam veterans faced during and after the war, the less time and funds the park has to preserve the many treasures that are left by our veterans. The implementation of a new Scope of Collection Statement will allow the park to tackle its large backlog and catch up on preserving those materials that seek to honor those who gave their all for our country.