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VIRIN Reflects a Century of Military Tradition

By Lee Thomas, Chief of VI Policy and Programs DIMOC

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Have you ever wondered where the unique number you’re required to assign to your Visual Information (VI) products comes from?  The Visual Information Record Identification Number, or VIRIN, as most know it, turns nineteen years old May 10, 2018.  But the VIRIN is actually part of a 100-year history of assigning unique numbers to military visual records. 
 
Unique numbers for military still and motion records can be traced to the establishment of the Army Signal Corps photographic division in August 1917.  Starting with just five officers, the photographic division reached a strength of 92 officers and 498 enlisted soldiers by the end of the war in November 1918.  During that period, Army cameramen deployed to the front produced 589,197 feet of film while pictorial units in the States shot another 277,173 feet. 

To ensure accurate identification, every piece of film used a fairly complicated numbering system.  Every cameraman was assigned a group of consecutive scene numbers that were then perforated in the leader of every scene as the film was developed in the Army lab in Paris.  

At the same time, separate index files were created containing the record number and captions written by the photographer. Film records were then categorized into more than a thousand different subjects arranged chronologically, fully captioned, and shipped to the central photographic records center at the Army War College at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C.  Once film records arrived at the War College, the captions were verified and a detailed subject cross-reference was devised to make the entire collection easy to search.

Today, the DoD centrally receives more than 1,200 digital VI records every day through the designated ingest point hosted by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS).  That’s more than 438,000 records added to the DoD collection every year!  Unlike the World War I system where record numbers were centrally controlled, the VIRIN was devised to empower any Public Affairs or VI professional to create a unique record number without the need for a centralized authority.  The advantage of the VIRIN is that no two VI record identification numbers are ever the same.  And thanks to the addition of electronic embedded captions and metadata, all records can be easily searched and discovered online as soon as they are uploaded into DVIDS.

The next time you add a VIRIN to a new VI product, remember that unique number is part of a military tradition going back more than 100 years.  And 100 years from today, that VI record and VIRIN will represent your contribution to the visual history of the United States.




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