Art Libraries Society of
Session 4: Documenting 9/11: Approaches and Challenges
This session was generously sponsored by DAP, Inc.
Bart Voorsanger, President, Voorsanger and Associates, Architects
Stephan Marc Klein, Professor,
Nina Nazionale, Interim Library Director, New-York Historical Society
Jeremy Adamson, Chief, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Joy Kestenbaum introduced the session and the speakers.
Bart Voorsanger, “Artifacts, Memories and Memorials”
Mr. Voorsanger described his role as consultant charged with selecting artifacts and objects from the World Trade Center site for future exhibitions and a memorial by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He was hired by the Port Authority soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and began the process of collecting 9/11 materials.He stated that the World Trade Center site was a complete catastrophe. The questions he had to deal with were: What does one collect? What is the most valuable? Eventually Mr. Voorsanger came up with a list of different types of objects. They were divided into six categories: objects on site, salvaged objects off site, commissioned fine art objects, objects memorialized by salvage crews, photographic archives, and objects having social content. He then proceeded to describe what each category entailed. For the objects on site, he looked at the site, located objects, documented them and then those objects were given to the salvage crew to take away. Each object was described and its selection was justified. People who were working on the site became “curators” and offered Mr. Voorsanger suggestions for collection development. After starting this acquisitions process, Mr. Voorsanger decided that the intended collection needed to be rethought of as an archive and not merely a collection of objects for a memorial. He posed the question to the audience as to how long should we keep these objects because they can not be given away or sold. The objects are currently being stored at a hangar at JFK airport.
Stephan Marc Klein, “Class Project to Create a Memorial at Ground Zero”
Professor Klein teaches museum exhibition design and the building of interpretive exhibits at Pratt Institute. After 9/11, his graduate students decided to use Ground Zero as their Spring 2002 thesis project. The project was to plan and design a permanent memorial for Ground Zero. The research and design of the project were completed 10 months after the attack. He then described to the audience the process followed in carrying out the project. The class visited other museums which dealt with tragedy and talked with the staff at those museums. They also met with victim’s families, firefighters, policemen and survivors. An archive of literature and media related to 9/11 was created. The students asked questions among themselves such as what should people think, feel, learn and experience from visiting the memorial. Professor Klein gave a virtual tour through the students’ final design for the memorial at Ground Zero. He then presented his own thoughts on the project having now had two years to reflect on the students’ work. Professor Klein commented on some issues with displaying sensitive objects, their presentation in the exhibition space, and possible misplaced meaning and representation of these objects.
Nina Nazionale, “Documenting the Events and Effects of September 11 at the New-York Historical Society: Strategies and Challenges”
The entire staff at the New-York Historical Society had a meeting three days after 9/11 to discuss how to document the event. From that point on, they moved forward rapidly making site visits to Ground Zero and Fresh Kills, where all the debris from the site was being transferred. They also visited sites related to the event like Nino’s, a restaurant where employees and volunteers fed the rescue workers, firehouses, and a victims’ family center. Ms. Nazionale described the process of collecting for both the museum and the library at the New-York Historical Society. They collected things such as children’s notes and drawings, quilts, photographs, firefighter’s bolt cutters, and a pair of shoes used to run out of the WTC which had been discarded. The staff collected ephemera documenting the actual event, aftermath and the rescue. They also focused on collecting things which showed how life in the city continued after such an event. The ephemera included New York City subway announcements and posters, pamphlets on the efforts to revitalize lower Manhattan, along with information on the economic aftermath, the health aspects of 9/11, and even religious tracts. Finally she described the 9/11 exhibitions held at the New-York Historical Society.
Jeremy Adamson, “Documenting the Present for Posterity: 9/11 Acquisitions at the Library of Congress”
Dr. Adamson discussed the Library of Congress’ 9/11 acquisition of newspapers, documentary photography, comic books, posters, maps, websites, architectural material, and both audio and visual material. The circumstances of the tragedy required that the staff move quickly to collect first and then to process the collections later. Using existing personal and professional contacts, including the Library of Congress’ many field office representatives, the staff was able to collect a wealth of information documenting 9/11, including the complete inventory of several exhibitions held in the Fall of 2001. There were many professional and ethical issues involved with collecting 9/11 material. These issues include problems with selection, preservation, rights management, access, how to convey the events of the tragedy and staff concerns regarding handling and cataloging of the 9/11 objects. Dr. Adamson proceeded to discuss each of the categories of material the Library of Congress collected and the particular problems encountered with their acquisition.