Three years after the April 16, 2007, shootings shattered the lives of many connected to the Virginia Tech community, university archivists are still trying to put the pieces back together.
Tamara Kennelly, an archivist who works for the special collections division of the Newman Library, is in charge of organizing the physical archive from April 16.
Shelves of stacked boxes containing more than 90,000 items that came to the Tech community from every state, and more than 40 countries line the walls of a designated room in the basement of the library.
Kennelly has spent the past three years working to organize and categorize artifacts that range from bracelets and teddy bears to massive pieces of plywood signed by members of the Tech community in the days after the shootings.
Some notable items include an American flag flown by a U.S. Army division in Kabul, Afghanistan, detailed portraits of the 32 victims drawn by an incarcerated person, 32 hollowed-out painted egg shells decorated to reflect the victims sent from a craftsperson in North Carolina and a giant horse head carved of solid pine that came from New River Valley Community College where the mascot is the horse.
“We’re very close to being finished,” Kennelly said of organizing all of the items. She said she hoped by the end of April, all of the artifacts would be properly organized and displayed.
The process of sorting through and documenting every item has not been an easy one. It began immediately after the shootings, when gifts poured in to Squires Student Center and other accessible buildings on campus.
“Squires was unbelievable,” Kennelly said. “We’ve had unbelievable things.”
Kennelly said at first many smaller items such as wristbands, bracelets, ornaments and stuffed animals, along with food and baked goods, were given away to students in Squires.
“It made more sense to give those away,” she said.
Origami cranes, 33,000 of them, also made their way to Blacksburg. Those were put in Plexiglas boxes, Kennelly said, and given away to students and community members in Squires.
Despite many tokens of remembrance being given away, special collections was sure to retain some of the mementos.
“We tried to keep a representative section,” Kennelly said. “We don’t have space in the library to keep it all.”
That “representative section” is what is now catalogued in special collections.
Other items that were immediately disposed of included multiples of items, and items left on the Drillfield or outside that got damaged by rain, including perishable items like flowers.
Archivists from the Library of Congress, who had previously worked with collections made after the Sept. 11, 2001, destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City, also assisted Kennelly and others from special collections in summer 2007 in the process of archiving and organizing the artifacts.
Until special collections could be reconfigured to make space for the artifacts, they were stored in a warehouse in the Corporate Research Center, where they were photographed. Kennelly hopes to launch the electronic version of the archive soon, where photographs of the items can be seen online.
Kennelly said the archive would remain in special collections indefinitely.
“This is important to us to document our history as a university. Forty years from now, perhaps there will be a research interest,” she said. “We’re in it for the long run.”
Kennelly noted her commitment to keep the archives organized and updated, not just for future students of history but also for today’s students, faculty and community members who were affected by the shootings.
“The more I work with it, the more meaning I find in it,” she said.