The Shelby White & Leon Levy Digital Archives Initiative

  • September 18, 2023
An archivist in a blue shirt and blue baseball cap reviews Memorial designs at a table
Back and side view of an archivist, wearing a beige sweater, viewing digital assets on a computer screen

With a generous grant from the Leon Levy Foundation, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is embarking on a project to establish its first-ever institution-wide digital asset management system (DAMS) that will incorporate digital collections and institutional archives. Formed in the digital age, the Museum’s collection is majority digital and consists of over 50,000 photographs, moving images, audio recordings, and oral histories that document the history of the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks. The digital institutional archive documents the history of the Memorial and Museum. The DAMS will enable the Museum to further organize, preserve, and significantly expand access to these materials. This four-year initiative will be transformative by improving internal access to collections and strengthening preservation practices, but also by making these materials accessible to a global audience, including many comparable memorial-making efforts around the world which have sought guidance from the Museum. In addition to the DAMS, the Foundation is supporting two related initiatives to build and expand access to digitized and born-digital collections.

An entry into the WTC site memorial competition featuring colorful detailed illustrations.

Digitizing the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition Collection

The Leon Levy Foundation is additionally funding the digitization, cataloging, and storage of the Museum’s collection of entries to the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition. Launched in 2003, the competition was an open, international process undertaken by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) to solicit designs for a memorial at the World Trade Center site. Approximately 5,000 entries were received in the required format of a 40” x 30” foam core board. The grant will allow each board to be professionally photographed, cataloged in the collections management system, and published to the Museum’s online catalog, Inside the Collection. New storage cabinets will also be purchased to ensure their long-term preservation.

Recording Oral Histories with Founding Trustees

The Museum’s oral historians began conducting interviews in 2006 to document the 9/11 tragedy and its aftermath. The collection has since grown to over 1,100 interviews that record the experiences of 9/11 survivors, first responders, witnesses, family members, recovery workers, public officials, and others affected by the attacks and their aftermath. With support from the Leon Levy Foundation, oral historians will conduct interviews with founding trustees of the LMDC and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, key members of their staffs, and members of LMDC advisory boards to document their experience and strengthen the archival record of the Memorial and Museum’s creation. These recordings will be cataloged and made publicly available.

Each of these initiatives to preserve, build, and expand access to collections is underway. Visit the MEMO Blog again for future posts where staff will provide a closer look at their methods and outcomes of these exciting projects.     

By Bethany Romanowski, Head of Collections Management

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