August 5th, 2022
West Virginia University Libraries has been awarded a $39,300 LYRASIS Catalyst Fund grant to support the American Congress Digital Archives Portal, congressarchives.lib.wvu.edu, the first-ever online portal that brings together congressional archives from repositories throughout the United States.
The Portal will provide open access to congressional archives by bringing together these geographically dispersed and civically important sources from multiple institutions using open-source software (OSS) into a single online portal.
“The portal will illuminate the connections across collections, provide opportunities for new scholarship, civics and history education, and make the archives of the ‘People’s Branch’ more equitably available to the people,” Catalyst Fund Program Lead Leigh Grinstead said.
The prototype portal currently aggregates materials from WVU Libraries, the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at The University of Kansas, and the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education. The one-year foundations project was made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The archives of members of Congress document the democratic process, the evolution of Congress as an institution, and narratives related to the country’s social, cultural, and political development. At a time in which America is experiencing deep political divisions, challenges to democratic norms and values, and when many Americans believe democracy is in crisis, the project takes on a new urgency. It has perhaps never been more important for scholars, educators, and the public to have access to the historical records of the people’s branch.
However, practical barriers to using congressional archives mean researchers, students, and the public may struggle to find and use them. Unlike presidential papers, which are centralized in one location with dedicated staff and funding, congressional archives are geographically dispersed among institutions large and small. For researchers, collections may be difficult to use because of limited travel funding and uneven description in and across collections. The pandemic has made these problems worse.
The American Congress Digital Archives Portal project addresses these challenges and provides easier, more equitable access to congressional archives. Work remains in the project phases ahead to make the Portal an essential resource for scholarship and education.
“We are thrilled that LYRASIS selected our project, and their support will help us reach our goal of having a sizable, open-access digital portal for the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026,” Danielle Emerling, project director and associate curator of congressional and political collections at WVU Libraries, said. “Ultimately, we believe this project will expand availability of valuable documentation, lead to new topics of scholarly research, and serve as a resource to advance civic education and knowledge of America’s constitutional democracy.”
Over time, the Portal will make the history of Congress—and its importance in our daily lives today—more discoverable and accessible for everyone.
The WVU Libraries’ West Virginia and Regional History Center holds the archives of many of West Virginia’s congressional delegations from the founding of the state in 1863 to the present. Resources from several collections are included in the portal.
LYRASIS, one of the nation’s largest non-profit member organizations serving archives, libraries, and museums, awards Catalyst Fund grants annually to foster innovation among members and knowledge communities worldwide. This year, five projects were chosen by the LYRASIS Leaders Circle and $159,408 will be distributed to projects across the United States.