We Are All Living Through History. Let’s Make Sure to Archive It.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many new experiences for everyone. Along with the experiences, there have also been a flood of new experiences and materials representative of the COVID era that communities have been working to preserve. Libraries and archives across the country have created COVID archives projects which consist of collecting stories documented across a variety of formats.

From audio and video to photographs and journals, these archive projects are hoping to preserve the unique voices and experiences of people living through this historical crisis. Most states have multiple institutions running these projects and are inviting community members to submit.

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Cool Projects To Check Out
There’s plenty of interesting COVID archive projects already taking place. Many launched earlier this year as lockdowns were taking place across the country and the world. The important aspect of these projects is that they are being captured in real-time which archivists and librarians believe is the best way to preserve an accurate representation of what has been happening.

An initiative that the University of Connecticut launched the Pandemic Journaling Project which is overseen by professors at the university. This project was created for the purposes of giving the public a platform to chronicle the impact of the pandemic. It also is a way for researchers at the university to study the effects that COVID has had on the community. When designing the parameters of this project, the team at UConn kept in mind the idea that society was living through a period of time where it is “consciously thrust into history”. They ask their community to engage with the project by responding to weekly surveys and journal prompts that touch on topics like mental health, finances, living circumstances, and social connection. Entries to the journal can be submitted through voice, writing, or pictures. Those that choose to make their submissions public are then shared with others.

The internet has been a key factor in connecting people across the world who are facing the effects of the pandemic. It has given people from completely different geographical communities to connect and share in their experiences as well as give insight on the conditions of COVID specific to their own regions. Efforts made at Arizona State University with the crowdsourcing archive, “A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19” has seen responses from all over the U.S. to faraway countries like Australia. The team at the head of the project have incorporated best practices and lessons learned from other crisis archives while also implementing trends of the digital age such as hashtags.

The city of New York is familiar with living through crisis. The work professors at Columbia University working in INCITE and the Oral History Archives at Columbia are doing builds upon their experiences working with human stories after September 11 when the city and the nation was plunged into unexpected grief. They are focusing on conducting video interviews to piece together rich stories of the struggle that this pandemic epicenter has faced this past year. They interview each participant three times over the course of twelve months and supplement these digital records with daily diary entries and demographic surveys. So far they have included the voices of everyday New Yorkers from doctors and nurses at the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis to public officials, parents, homeless people, immigrants, and teachers.

Library systems in the city have also used the pandemic to continue contributing stories to ongoing programs already in place. The Queens Public Library in collaboration with Queens College has a community archiving program in place that focuses on representing and sharing the perspectives of the diverse community in Queens. The Queens Memory project has recently added a COVID-19 project to this archive. It encourages borough-wide participation to record how people of the community are coming together during unprecedented times. Submissions become official integrations to the archives at the college and the library system and will also be shared by the Urban Archive, a nonprofit focused on creating technology that enhances engagement with collections and digital storytelling at libraries and museums.

It isn’t just the United States that is interested in recording peoples’ experiences. Institutions and academic libraries in many other countries have also created their own archival projects. The Duke Kunshan University in China has created an especially interactive and cool website using ArcGIS StoryMaps to create a collection of COVID-19 materials. This software is really impactful when it comes to connecting people, data, and locations. The COVID-19 Memory Archival Project hopes to preserve personal experiences while also bringing “comfort, peace, reflection, and healing” to participants. There are lots to explore on this website from visual poetry to materials that individuals who spent time analyzing the media submitted as well as resources and graphics that explore the spread of COVID-19 and provide information on the virus itself.

Many of these projects take on different lives based on the institution asking for materials and the communities that participate. But, there are many key sources and materials that these projects look for.

Who Should Submit
These projects are looking to collect a diverse range of stories from people in the community. This means that they are looking for the stories of local businesses, government agencies, schools, healthcare providers and systems, civic associations, community organizations, and especially individuals.

What To Submit
Processes for submitting are very accessible to anyone. While some projects are focused specifically on journal entries or surveys, many are open to all mediums of submission. Examples of materials that many archive projects accept include:

  • Photographs, videos
    Diary entries, notes, lists
    Teaching lesson plans
    Takeout restaurant menus with notifications of COVID precautions
    Meeting minutes

These archives are more concerned with preserving history and, like Indiana University in Bloomington, do not stress proper grammar, spelling, or style. Instead, the focus is on “self-expression, candor, and willingness to be a social commentator”.

How To Get Involved
It is relatively easy to locate COVID archive projects in your area. Simply search your local, state, or academic library’s pages to see if they have one started. Some organizations only want materials related to COVID in the local area but there are also many that are accepting submissions from people living anywhere. A quick Google search on “COVID Archives Projects” will bring up endless results in projects to get involved in.

A few restrictions to keep in mind are age and health information. Some of these archive projects have agreement forms that require participants to be at least 18 years old. In addition, since COVID-19 highlights a public health crisis, it is important to keep in mind that information shared about yourself or others may be legally protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Living Through History
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected people on a global scale in ways that it hasn’t been in generations. Not only is it important to think about what we will remember in the years to come, but it is also important to think about what we will need to remember. Our perceptions of the world change daily in pandemic times and people are coming to realizations and understandings that will create a rich retelling of life in the COVID era.