University Libraries continues its work to build the archives of thousands of artifacts related to April 16 tragedy
February 1, 2008
Virginia Tech's University Libraries is working with the university community and is guided by consultants from the Library of Congress to establish the archives for materials related to the tragic events of April 16, 2007.
The research archives will provide primary source materials on how people grieve and offer consolation after a major tragedy. They will provide long-term access and preservation of relevant materials in analog and digital formats.
Work to establish the archives of the millions of artifacts received by the university began in the days following April 16, explained Tamara Kennelly, university archivist and librarian who is leading the project. University librarians consulted with colleagues at other universities who developed archives after tragic events at their institutions, including Syracuse University, Ny. (the loss of 35 students following the crash of Pan Am 103 caused by a terrorist bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988), Bluffton University, Ohio (a bus accident that killed five members of the their baseball team in 2007), Oklahoma State University (a plane crash that killed members of its basketball program in 2001), and Texas A&M University (12 students were killed and 27 were injured during the construction of a bonfire pile).
"The team from the Library of Congress came to Blacksburg within weeks of the tragedy to witness all the displays, all the materials that were pouring into campus," said Kennelly. "They needed to get a better sense of the scope of the project."
Eileen Hitchingham, dean of University Libraries, asked people on campus who found themselves working in some way with post tragedy events to come together in order to facilitate further cooperation and collaboration.
"We wanted to ensure that all of us were working together," said Kennelly. "Virginia Tech's Center for Digital Discourse and Cultures' April 16 archive and ‘DLVT416: A Digital Library Test Bed for Research Related to 4/16/2007 at Virginia Tech’ were just some of the departments on campus we wanted to make sure were concerned with the long-term preservation of the materials they collected."
Since the summer, the University Libraries has worked with University Unions and Student Activities (UUSA) to organize the many condolences received by the university. These items came from all 50 states and around the world.
"We estimate that the university received over 87,000 items expressing condolence," said Kennelly. "This includes thousands of cranes (33,000 cranes were received in one lot) and thousands more cards and letters. This is in addition to the thousands of items distributed through the student union in the days after the shootings."
Under the direction of Greg Beecher, UUSA's associate director of administrative services, UUSA organized a building-wide display in Squires Student Center of condolences received. Thousands of stuffed toys, wristbands, ornaments, cranes, cards, cookies, and other gifts were distributed to the university community at the student center. A large team of volunteers organized by Steve Estrada tagged each item received.
In June 2007, a temporary site was established at Virginia Tech's Corporate Research Center to process items in what is now informally referred to as the "Prevail Archives." A database was constructed to log in metadata about materials received by the university.
Digital images were taken of these items and will be available online through a timely but temporary arrangement with Rutgers University, N.J.
Gail McMillan, director of Virginia Tech's Digital Library and Archives, is heading up this digital archive.
"In addition to being a tremendous source of support and strength for the university community, these items are a rich source of material about how we express grief and the effect this tragedy has had on people around the world," said Kennelly. "There are materials that would be of research interest not only to sociologists but also to students of popular culture. Paula Cushing, department chair and curator of invertebrate zoology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and Joann Brennan, chair of visual arts at the University of Colorado, Denver, have inquired about borrowing some items from the archive for an exhibit case showing ways people memorialize the deceased."
"In addition to planning for the permanent collection," Kennelly said, "we also are planning to have a traveling collection that might visit different venues."
Items selected for the permanent collection will be appropriately organized, preserved, and housed in a climate-controlled environment, said Kennelly. The items will also be described in a finding aid that will be made available through the University Libraries' Special Collections website and the Virginia Heritage Project.
Once the collection has been processed, the physical collection will be available through the Special Collections Reading Room on the first floor of Newman Library. Aaron Purcell is the director of special collections.
For more information about the collection, e-mail Kennelly or call (540) 231-9214.