The Story of the Stuff: Issues in Temporary Memorial Preservation

Archives as Memorials?

The resulting finding aid for both the online and physical collection spans nearly 300 pages, with exceptional detail to help researchers examine these objects in a material culture context. The detailed “notes” fields indicate where the project archivist has made note of reflections of popular culture, personal notes to victims or the shooter, references to other historical events/shootings, and other significant attributes of the item (not described in traditional metadata fields) and as outlined in the unique selection criteria detailed earlier in the Processing & Principles of Selection section of this case study. Notably, Kennelly decided not to censor distasteful materials in the collection, though many of these are not available on the digital collection site.

According to Kennelly, both the development of the metadata schema and search functionality, such as the ability to search by the name of the person memorialized, for the digital collection was carefully discussed and planned by a large committee at Virginia Tech. These decisions were further informed by discussions and interviews with the task force and archivists at other universities, such as Texas A&M, who had experienced a similar influx of items following a campus tragedy.

Care was taken, however, in the finding aid for the physical collection to note any mentions of specific individuals memorialized in any given text item or any significant references to the events of 4/16 or other American campus shootings. In lieu of text searching, these special notes help users identify items of potential interest. For instance, a note on a banner item from Arizona State mentions in the finding aid notes, “Seung-Hui Cho’s family remembered; special condolences to family of Professor Kevin P. Granata, recognition of his service to editorial board of Human Factors.”

Unfortunately, these notes are not available in the digital library database, but a PDF of the collection finding aid , in EAD (Encoded Archival Description) format, is readily available online to help researchers find specific mentions without hand sorting through each banner, book, or set of cards. While the text used in notes does not use a controlled vocabulary, it can be searched using the find function available in most PDF viewers.


Take a moment to explore the April 16th digital collection, paying special attention to how items are arranged and how the collection might benefit future researchers of the tragedy.

Explore the April 16th Condolence Collection online. Read the Finding Aid. 

In addition to functioning as a space to house a collection, how can an archive serve as a memorial? Does the April 16th digital collection effectively serve this dual role? Why or why not?

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