By DIANE NESTER KRESH
Within hours of the September 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, and the crash of the hijacked airplane in Pennsylvania, several offices within the Library of Congress mobilized to begin doing what libraries do best: document and record for posterity. On Sept.12, the Library initiated several acquisitions projects aimed at documenting the events of the previous day. Many of them are described in more detail in the pages that follow.
The exhibition, "Witness and Response: September 11 Acquisitions at the Library of Congress," which opens in the Jefferson Building's Great Hall on Sept. 7, draws from all of these collections to give visitors an overview of the broad range and diversity of materials related to the September attacks that have been acquired by the Library of Congress in the past year.
The curators in the Library's Prints and Photographs Division immediately began a campaign to acquire a range of pictorial images, which has resulted in a stunning array of material commemorating September 11. They include, for example, photographs made within minutes of the devastation at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; original illustrations by leading comic book artists; highly personal creative contributions from individuals around the world; and imaginative architectural designs that were submitted as proposals for rebuilding at the World Trade Center site.
The Library's American Folklife Center called upon folklorists across the nation to document on audio tape the thoughts and feelings expressed by citizens following the events of 9/11. The center subsequently received hundreds of hours of taped interviews conducted by professional ethnographers, teachers and students, as well as accompanying written documentation and photographs of memorials to the victims of the attacks from around the United States. A selection of these interviews is part of the Library's "Witness and Response" exhibition. Called "Soundscape," the half-hour presentation will run continuously in the Orientation Theater in the Visitors' Center of the Jefferson Building from Sept. 7 to Nov. 2.
A similar call went out from curators of the Library's newspaper collection. By Oct. 1, the Library had assembled some 2,500 newspapers printed since September 11, including 40 extra and special editions published on the day of the attacks. Ironically, one of the hardest editions to find was the Washington Post's special edition of September 11, which had a press run of only 50,000 copies. A Post reporter eventually supplied two copies. Newspapers came in from throughout the United States and from around the world. Special editions or sections published on September 11 and 12 bear banner headlines screaming "Terror, "Horror," "Infamy," "Bastards!" "Apocalypse"; and dramatic photos, such as the London Times' two-page photographic spread of lower Manhattan in smoke and flames.
Curators and specialists in other parts of the Library also made special efforts to gather materials from their usual sources and beyond to add to the documentation of the ever-widening ramifications of the events of September 11. Staff members in the African and Middle Eastern Division surveyed their existing collections for materials that might be helpful in trying to understand the tragedy; in the Geography and Map Division they searched for maps and geographic information that they knew would be helpful in responding to requests from members of Congress. Library employees in the overseas offices snapped up materials in their localities wherever they could find them–with an emphasis on ephemera such as flyers, posters and booklets that appeared almost overnight in areas of the Middle East and Latin America.
Capturing the Web
One of the Library's initiatives was to collect and preserve what was going out to the world over the Web after September 11. To understand the context in which the Library of Congress has embarked on a series of Web archiving pilots, one must consider the Library's 200-year history of preserving the national record of artistic and intellectual achievement. In the 21st century, the Web is one of the prime sources of information and data that may reside nowhere else. The rationale for Web collecting is, therefore, strongly linked to the Library of Congress' mission and purpose.
In 2000, Congress requested that the Library lead a collaborative effort to explore how to collect and preserve digital materials, especially materials that may exist in no other format, through the creation of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP). One of the first projects initiated by the Library in response to this mandate was a Web Preservation Project–Mapping the Internet Electronic Resources Virtual Archive (MINERVA)–to collect, catalog and preserve collections from select Web sites for research use. The contents of this prototype Web site are now available only on the Library of Congress campus, at www.loc.gov/minerva. A second pilot, conducted in collaboration with the Internet Archive, a public nonprofit organization, developed a thematic archive, which targeted Web sites devoted to the 2000 national election. The collection comprises more than 2 million terabytes, or about 200 million pages, of election-related information gathered between Aug. 1, 2000, and Jan. 21, 2001. The link for this archive, which is currently hosted by the Internet Archive, may also be viewed at www.loc.gov/minerva.
Building the September 11 Web Archive
Following the events of September 11, the Library of Congress, in collaboration with the Internet Archive, Archive.org, a group of scholars and students dedicated to developing tools and strategies for studying the Web, and the Pew Internet & American Life Project, began work on a new Web Archive to preserve the Web expressions of individuals, groups, the press and institutions in the United States and from around the world in the aftermath of the attacks. With the September 11 Archive, educators and researchers can learn what the official organizations of the day were thinking and reporting about the attacks on America; and they can read the unofficial, "online diaries" of those who lived through the experience.
The ability to collect such raw first impression material, in addition to information from the more standard sources, means that the Library can provide scholars with the chance to "live through" what so many experienced. Web sites provide dynamic, firsthand accounts and reflect a range of sentiments and points of view, functioning much as the morning and evening newspapers of the past.
The inherent power of the Web as an immediate, often impressionistic, communications medium, is also its chief liability–which makes collecting it a challenge. With the average Web site lasting between 45 and 75 days, the Library had to act quickly before some of the national and international responses were erased from the historical record.
To create the September 11 Web Archive, the Library's subject, area and language specialists recommended Web sites for inclusion in the archive, just as they recommend items for the permanent collections of the Library. The Library also worked with outside partners. The Internet Archive (www.archive.org) captured and stored the Web pages; WebArchivist.org (www.webarchivist.org) is creating archival metadata to make the collection searchable and the information retrievable; and the Pew Internet & American Life Project (www.pewinternet.org), explores the impact of the Internet on children, families and communities.
As a first step, on behalf of the Library of Congress, the Internet Archive sent an e-mail to the owner of each Web site selected for the archive. The e-mail stated that the collection was being created for the Library of Congress, and that the collection was part of a pilot project mandated by Congress to collect and preserve ephemeral digital materials for current and future generations. Creators of Web sites were provided instructions on how to opt out of the collecting process. If their site was collected, but the site owner did not wish to permit offsite access to the materials, use of the site could be blocked.
The Library's specialists worked closely with the project to ensure comprehensiveness and diversity in the collection. Essentially, the Library wanted everything–American and international reactions to the events of September 11, responses from the U.S. government and the military, as well as the responses of religious, ethnic, mental health and educational communities. The Library also sought personal accounts and public discussion from listservs and online newsgroups.
The period of Web site collection began within hours of the tragedy on September 11 and continued through the first week of December 2001. During that time period, the Internet Archive collected and indexed 40,000 sites, 500 million Web pages, or five terabytes of data. Of these, the Library of Congress alone nominated between 1,500 and 2,000 Web sites for inclusion, and Library staff provided the first level of subject terms around which the Web sites were organized for access. Subject descriptors included such terms as the press, government, portals, charity/civic, advocacy/interest, religious, school/educational, individual/volunteer, and non-English. Currently, the September 11 Archive can be searched by date, key word (e.g., charity), URL or title. With the help of WebArchivist.org, the Library is planning to catalog 2,500 primary sites, according to selection criteria that will be developed jointly by the two organizations. Deciding which Web sites to include in this category will be a challenging task requiring the review of thousands of sites to select the most relevant.
The Web site was made available to the public on Oct. 11 at http://September11.archive.org. A recommendation form was placed on the WebArchivist.org home page, and requests ran on listservs inviting researchers and members of the public to nominate sites for inclusion. Although the site went "live" on Oct. 11, it continues to be modified. WebArchivist.org will continue to improve subject access, eliminate capture duplications, and develop descriptive metadata for each site using MODS XML-schema (www.loc.gov/standards/mods). The records eventually will be added to the Library of Congress online catalog.
The research potential of the September 11 Web Archive has been noted both in print media and, not surprisingly, on the Web itself. The Internet portal Yahoo! selected the archive as its top site of the year for 2001. The site was also included in the Librarians' Index to the Internet (www.lii.org), featured in The Scout Report (http://scout.cs.wisc.edu), and selected as both a Yahoo Pick of the Week (http://docs.yahoo.com/picks) and a USA Today Hot Site.
The September 11 Web Archive project raised many of the same issues librarians have been confronting since the profession's beginning. What are the dangers in collecting unevaluated sources? How do librarians, as keepers of the culture, ensure accuracy, balance and objectivity when disseminating information that has not been vetted through the avenues of peer review common to print media? When there are issues of national security at stake, how do we protect intellectual freedom and guard against censorship? Is it appropriate for the Library to collect Web sites that primarily seek to inflame, offend and promote hate? Librarians, as keepers of the public record, have a responsibility to sublimate personal values for the public good and to consider what scholars and researchers of the future may wish to know about what happened today. The Library's September 11 Web Archive will give them the opportunity to obtain that information.
Diane Nester Kresh is the director for Public Services Collections.