Archivists struggle to preserve public record of 9/11 attacks

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New York City

Five years after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center building in New York, archivists have revealed that they are struggling to preserve the mass of documents and objects related to the event. At a recent conference in New York, speakers expressed their concern that funding from the US National Archives has run out, and that the preservation and storage of records and artefacts is currently split between several different institutions. Many of these institutions are not equipped to store the huge mass of material suddenly generated by emergency services, news agencies and individuals in the aftermath of the attacks.

Archivists and conservators met two weeks after the terrorist attacks to discuss what should be preserved from among the millions of relevant  pieces of paper and artefacts.  These include telephone and text messages, photographs, video clips, missing person posters, a dust mask worn by a fleeing survivor and debris from the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center. Many of these items are problematic for conservators, either because they are essentially ephemeral in nature, or because they are so personally sensitive (e.g., items relating to individuals who died in the attacks).

Among the bodies preserving items from the World Trade Centre is the September 11 Digital Archive, managed jointly by the City University of New York and George Mason University. This archive has 150,000 items, including e-mail transcripts from survivors, and the heart-rate monitor readout  from a jogger who witnessed the attacks, causing his heart-rate to peak suddenly. The New York State Museum in Albany is also storing thousands of items, including more than 1,500 cubic feet of sympathy material and other objects salvaged from ground zero. The most striking of these are the 8-foot square metal grilles which supported structural pillars in the World Trade Center. "They're remarkable objects that should be saved," said Mark Schaming, the New York State Museum's Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs.

Fight to save story of 9/11 goes on -- Times Union, Albany NY

 September 11 Digital Archive website

 New York State Historic Records Advisory Board website -- World Trade Center pages

 New York State Museum website


Being a rescue worker at ground zero, and my son was only 3 weeks old, I think it is one of the most important things that we can do. I already see how many want to rewrite and distort history. I plan on explaining to my son exactly what happened as he gets older. Preserving any documents is imperative to show what occurred in the most truthful of ways.