A presidential library and museum preserves and provides access to historical materials, supports research, and creates interactive programs and exhibits that educate and inspire. Project Whistlestop provides such for those interested in original source materials from the Truman Presidency.
“Our initial target audience was K-12 students and teachers in five Kansas City-area schools, but we quickly realized researchers, historians, and others were also accessing our Truman Library site,” said Dr. Thomas Kochtanek, associate professor emeritus and principal investigator of the project. This prompted the addition of a “hit counter” on the website to note where searches were coming from. As a result, it was discovered that hundreds of thousands of domestic and international users were linking to the website and searching its digitized records.
Initiated in the early days of the Word Wide Web, Project Whistlestop was only one of 11 grant award recipients to have a live website with a search function enabled in the first few years of the project. Currently Archivists and an Internet administrator add content on a regular basis. A team of mainly archivists and content specialists located at the Truman Library have collaborated on the project for over two decades.
The project initially received a five-year, $1.96 million grant from the Department of Education Challenge Grants that lasted until 2001. Over the next decade, a series of one-year grants ranging from $80,000 to $100,000 per annum were secured from the Truman Library Institute. The project later partnered with NARA, and both the Institute and NARA provided funding from 2001 to 2014.
Additional key members of the project include: Amy Williams, deputy director and Mark Adams, director of education at the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum; Tammy Williams, archivist and social media manager at the Truman Presidential Library; Kurt Graham, of the Truman Library and past directors; Bennett Magnino and Jim Borwick, for their work on the website; and a host of other students and volunteers.
“We plan to continue as long as there are professionals committed to the project,” said Kochtanek. “In 2016, the Truman Library website had around 70 million hits from end users, so we feel like we are making a solid contribution.”