Olin Library displays archive of Ferguson documents, images

Sam Seekings | Contributing Reporter

After over a year of archiving media related to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson last August, Olin Library is now displaying a variety of digital and physical artifacts in a collection called “Documenting Ferguson.”

The collection includes not only physical media, much of which can be seen inside Olin’s main entrance, but also a vast digital archive ranging from tweets to video clips that express facts, opinions and thoughts with Ferguson, Mo. at the epicenter.

Shannon Davis, digital library services manager, was a part of the team that worked on the collection from its inception. The team, according to Davis, was formed just about two weeks after Brown was shot on Aug. 9, 2014. University Librarian Jeffrey Trzeciak called upon fellow Washington University librarians and tasked them with gathering the material coming out of Ferguson.

The team was archiving information as it was created, which posed a challenge to the enterprise.

“We don’t normally work in the now. Usually someone has a collection, and they donate it to the University long after the events it details have occurred, so you already have an idea of what’s in it,” Davis said. “In this case we didn’t really know what we would be getting or who we would be getting it from.”

The resulting donations came in a variety of forms and had a reach far beyond campus, as detailed by Associate University Librarian Chris Freeland.

“The physical side of what we have in the collection focuses more on student response to Ferguson on campus here,” Freeland said. “The digital side, which is the majority of what you see in the collection, came from the community at large. That community included students and faculty, but the donations came from across the board.”

These donations have combined to create a digital library of more than 1,500 media files including audio, video, images, personal stories and creative works, all accessible for use by students and the general public.

Freeland said he hoped the collection would help spark discussions.

“I hope people will look at the collection, see what it has to offer, reflect on that and then maybe have conversations about it with their suitemates or people in class,” Freeland said.

The exhibit therefore will function as part of the ongoing discussion at Washington University concerning equality, one that Director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion LaTanya Buck feels has already helped to ease a difficult situation.

“At the height of the events last year, I saw a community in pain. A community who had lost hope,” Buck said. “I believe that the unrest in Ferguson has certainly served as a catalyst to have more open dialogue about race on campus.”

Freeland hopes that the collection will help lead to a more open and accepting environment on campus.

“I think here at Wash. U. we are now having conversations that we wouldn’t have had 18 months ago, and they’re difficult conversations,” Freeland said. “If there is any good that has come out of the loss of life that day, it’s that the discussion is now on the table, and I think that’s not only good but necessary.”