By GENE BERRY
On the afternoon of September 11, the Library began collecting U.S. and foreign newspapers that recorded the immediate horror of the day in journalists' words and through photographers' lenses. Because official distribution channels were affected not only on 9/11, but by closure of all U.S. air traffic for three days and for months afterward due to the anthrax attack disrupting mail delivery to the entire Capitol complex, Library staff obtained some of the newspapers in the current Library exhibit from family, friends and colleagues across the country and overseas. Some of these special editions received from an extended Library family may not have been otherwise available to the Library.
On this, the first anniversary commemorating September 11, the Library continues to collect newspapers chronicling the unfolding story of how our nation and the world responded to the tragedy of that day. The 9/11 newspaper issues are now part of the Library's Historic Events Newspaper Collection, which allows future generations to read contemporaneous accounts of the tragedy.
Although the collection is occasionally used by journalists, scholars and members of Congress, the Historic Events Newspaper Collection is primarily used by the Library to support educational exhibitions and outreach to the public, such as the current Library exhibition, "Witness and Response," marking September 11.
Other newspapers in the Library's current exhibition show the impact on every aspect of society in the months following 9/11. Newspapers printed pictures of flags, which were in short supply at the time, and encouraged readers to cut them out and display them. They also embellished their pages with other patriotic images, slogans and pleas. Advertisements used patriotic motifs and themes along with the products they intended to sell, and sometimes advertised nothing, showing instead a flag or making a public service plea for victim relief. The grief, as well as the resolve of an entire nation, was cataloged on many levels through the pages of newsprint published daily and weekly across the nation, as the hunt for the perpetrators continued and the world asked how this could happen.
Within days of the attacks, comic book artists working for major publishers turned their talents to commemorating the ordinary folks who became heroes by their extraordinary deeds of service and sacrifice. Both the comic book and historic news collections will give future scholars and researchers insight into what Americans were reading, thinking and doing during this time of national emergency, and how it compares to previous national tragedies or events.
Newspapers and comic books are usually published on paper that poses many problems for archival preservation. The Serial and Government Publications Division is working with the Preservation Directorate on two new treatment strategies for select original issues of newspapers and comic books with high archival value. A sample of comic books and 9/11 newspaper issues will be sent this fall for mass deacidification under an existing Library contract with Preservation Technologies L.P. A small sample of embrittled newspaper volumes and historic single issues has been programmed to be treated by the Zentrum für Bucherhaltung's innovative paper-splitting treatment technology, which gives a new, more stable core to very brittle papers through mechanical means. The contribution of these collections to the nation's cultural legacy more than compensates for the challenges of conserving them.
Gene Berry is administrative officer in the Serial and Government Publications Division.