Archiving COVID-19: Four Strategies

This year is one for the books, as they say. There have been personal losses and changes in everyday life. An important social movement has come forward. Many archives and museums have been actively archiving records of the COVID-19 period. Their strategies range from simple to technical, and from local to global.

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Purposeful Collecting

Archivists have therefore changed over the past century from being passive keepers of an entire documentary residue left by creators to becoming active shapers of the archival heritage.
Terry Cook, What Is Past Is Prologue

Archives and museums are working to collect records of their community’s recent experiences. In Washington D.C., curators from the Smithsonian Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Anacostia Community Museum have been ‘rapid collecting’ George Floyd protest signs used during the Black Lives Matter protests.

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The Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County is also archiving COVID-19 by inviting residents to submit, via e-mail, their stories, videos, and audio recordings. These submissions will be part of the COVID-19 archival record.

The University of Iowa Libraries is collecting memories of how life has changed during the pandemic. Librarians are gathering photos, videos, and written testimonials, which can be submitted online. In this article, a librarian talks about the gap in their collections around everyday life during the 1918 influenza pandemic. The library felt strongly that they needed to rectify that during COVID-19.

Social Media Outreach

The #NorthVanStories campaign is one example of a local archives engaging with the community to preserve ‘history in the making’. Residents are encouraged to submit digital content about their lockdown experiences on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using the hashtag.

Using Questionnaires

Both the University of Iowa Libraries and the California State Archives (CSA) are examples of institutions that are using online questionnaires to prompt residents to tell their stories. The CSA questionnaire asks how family and work-life has been impacted by COVID-19.

Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash

Coordinated Web Archiving

Early in the crisis, the International Internet Preservation Consortium called for members to nominate websites for a collection of web content on the pandemic.

For example, in Quebec, the sources submitted to the IIPC became the basis of a web collection of content harvested from the websites of government, health bodies, educational institutions, and others. The Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec is also preserving the social media accounts of key players, such as the premier.

In France, a similar national effort is underway, with local and regional partner libraries and archives contributing digital sources. The BnF is also crawling hashtags, including #coronavacances, #ConfinementJour29, #OuSontLesMasques, and #OnOublieraPas.

When the world wants to revisit 2020, I hope archival and museum collections are the first stop. Due to the active work of archivists, there will be a rich collection of memories.

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