State Library of South Australia

South Australian Red Cross Information Bureau project update

From 1916 until 1919, the South Australian Red Cross Information Bureau (SARCIB) performed the service of undertaking research into 8,033 enquiries from family and friends of missing Australian Imperial Force personnel who fought in World War 1 (WW1). An envelope was created for each enquiry containing:

  • information about each soldier enquired upon
  • letters from the requesting family
  • eyewitness statements about the soldier's last known whereabouts
  • and, in most cases, the resulting information on the fate of the soldier, expressed to the enquirer.
Stephanie one of our volunteers at one of the dedicated workstations. Photo Katie Hannan
Stephanie, one of our volunteers at one of the dedicated workstations. Photo – Katie Hannan

The State Library of South Australia (SLSA) is undertaking the phased development of a web resource for this information that will enable other institutions, researchers and family historians worldwide to interrogate, contribute to and harvest the database, and highlight South Australia's contributions to WW1. We anticipate releasing this web resource in 2015.

Just as the Bureau used a volunteer workforce, SLSA continued this tradition by engaging volunteers to contribute to the discovery of these missing South Australian soldiers again.

Using dedicated workstations equipped with twin screens and a range of tools, such as specially prepared spreadsheets available on Google Drive, our volunteers completed the research and indexing of more than 8000 enquiry packets digitised in Phase 1 in 2012-13. Red Cross Information Bureau

This mammoth task achieved these staggering figures

  • 8,024 digitized packets with a total of 76,718 pages were indexed.
  • 19,696 names were indexed which will be turned into individual records in the final resource - soldiers, nurses, eyewitnesses and enquirers were indexed to broaden the appeal and usefulness of the content

The project engaged 40 volunteers from our current volunteer program (including some recently retired archivists from our own staff). Students from the University of South Australia's (UniSA) Business Information Management and Library Information Management course, were also engaged.

SLSA was fortunate to have the support of the Barossa Public Library where 13 volunteers worked on this project from Nuriootpa.

As it wasn't possible to have external volunteers keying data directly into our catalogue, a spreadsheet was developed to aid the data entry process. Some fields for each record contained the same information across the collection and so the spreadsheets were pre-populated with those fields hidden. Volunteers were only required to key in unique data for that record.

  • We also controlled the data entry by having drop downs with selected terms so that the correct form of battalion name appears etc.
  • The spreadsheets were on Google Drive and exported to Excel and then using the Marc Edit program to concatenate the fields, staff could create a MARC record suitable for Millennium.

Their efforts have kept the project on track to be completed in the first quarter of 2015 and were worth approximately $80,000 to the project.

The recruitment of volunteers for data entry was a natural alignment for this project, neatly creating a full circle that commences with volunteers in 1915 and ends with volunteers in the 21st century. We remain grateful to all volunteers associated with the South Australian Red Cross Information Bureau.

More information about the South Australian Red Cross Information Bureau project.

More information about our projects.

Story by: Andrew Piper

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