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Datebook: Normal Public Library Remembers 9/11 With New Interactive Exhibit

The Normal Public Library will exhibit posters contributed by the 9/11 Museum, and audio recordings of locally-sourced memories.

Where were you when it happened?

That is what Normal Public Library is asking McLean County residents as the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches. An immersive exhibit, on view in the library’s gallery from Sept. 7-30, includes a poster display and audio recordings of community members reflecting on where they were that fateful day and how they feel about it today.

“I thought our community would find this really valuable, to not forget what happened on that day, to think about where they were, to stop for a minute and remember,” said children’s librarian Lyndsey Carney, who conceived an exhibit commemorating the 20th anniversary of the deadly attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania.

The idea came from an email Carney received from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York offering her access to a set of posters with photographs from 9/11 and images of various artifacts from the day.

Carney said the "Remembering 9/11" exhibit is suitable for people of all ages and provides an opportunity to teach children about the significance of 9/11. The children’s department will run a simultaneous display on community heroes to honor doctors, nurses and first responders.

“As we started to plan these different events, I struggled with how to bring kids into this," Carney said. "It’s a really big, sensitive topic. How do we engage kids and families? When I was talking to my own kids about it, I found that, if we started with the bigger pictures and let them ask questions, that helped to educate them on what happened that day. That’s the idea behind the posters and audio, to help kids and families to engage on their own level.”

Fourteen posters provided by the 9/11 Memorial and Museum will be on display, with Bluetooth speakers throughout the gallery playing reflections from about 30 different community members. Those who wish to share their own stories can record them, adding to a growing oral history archive that will be preserved with help from the McLean County Museum of History. For people unable to see the exhibit in person, streamable audio files and digital versions of the posters will be available on the library’s website until the end of the month.

Laura Golaszewski, NPL's community engagement manager, took the lead on collecting and recording community members’ stories. Adult services manager John Fischer and public services librarian Rhiannon Shoults also contributed to the project.

“We did not anticipate when we started this project that we would be asking people to recall these memories when so much history was being made. As we were asking them to think back 20 years, in our midst were these life-changing events happening in Afghanistan,” said Golaszewski.

“It added a whole other layer we didn’t anticipate, but I think will be very important for people to hear as they’re in the exhibit looking at the posters. The point of getting those oral histories from our community members was to bring a local element to it. This was a national event and we all experienced it in different ways.”

Among the stories contributed are memories from current McLean County residents who were in New York City or Washington, D.C. on 9/11, while others, who were in Bloomington-Normal, experienced it on their televisions. A veteran and his wife were stationed in South Korea at the time. He recalled a bicycle ride after weeks of lockdown following 9/11.

“They were riding in a mountainous area where there were a lot of ancestral Korean homes,” said Golaszewski. “A lot of the residents there were Korean War veterans. As they were riding, the saw a row of Korean flags and American flags. The American flags had not been there prior to 9/11. We all can agree that there’s been somewhat of a lack of compassion — it’s been a hard time. To hear that, it’s a reassurance that human beings really do care for one another and when the chips are down, they’ll show up for one another.”

The Normal Public Library's free 9/11 exhibit, "Remembering 9/11," is on view at the library from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 7-30 and online at normalpl.org.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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