Archives preserving local pandemic memories

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That poem you wrote. That song you performed on YouTube. A photo of neighbourhood chalk art encouraging health-care workers. Your musings about working from home or teaching Grade 4 math to your kid.

All of these memories and moments will become a treasure trove for future historians – and Western libraries is attempting to preserve them all in a new project, COVID-19 in London, Ontario: Capturing the local experience.

“How often do you absolutely know that history is being made?” said Leslie Thomas-Smith, a university archivist in Western Archives and Special Collections. “We know that this is significant while it is happening – and we know that it’s going to change a lot of things going forward.”

COVID-19 in London, Ontario will be an archive unlike any other in the libraries’ holdings – real-time contributions to posterity from ordinary people living life in extraordinary ways.

It’s also a reminder that future generations won’t automatically remember the unusual and mundane events that have become part of our daily lives: facemasks while grocery shopping; two-metre physical distancing; the frustrations and successes of adapting school and work and leisure time; the daily tally of illnesses, recoveries, and deaths.

Archivists are urging people in London and Middlesex County to upload journal entries, video blogs, audio recordings, photos, videos, pandemic-related business documents and their social media posts that illustrate what life is like now.

If that’s a little too freeform for some contributors, they can also draw inspiration from a framework of questions that ask how they are passing the time, how their work/education has been affected, whether they know anyone who has been ill; and how they believe life will be better or worse after the pandemic.

“People can come back and do it again. They can say, ‘Two weeks ago, I was feeling this way and I was doing this. Now. I’m feeling this way …,’” Thomas-Smith said.

Even though the site has only just launched, it already has several contributed items, all of which are publicly viewable: a photo of an inspirational painted rock found on a path; a ‘boredom banana bread’ recipe; a recording of a Zoom ballet class; as well as poetry, watercolour art, a journal entry and a parody video.

“What’s super-exciting is that we have the opportunity to capture the view of ordinary people. People want to talk about this moment in time; we’re giving them a permanent place to put it,” Thomas-Smith said.

Researchers can also compare local experiences to that of people in other Canadian communities, several of which have launched similar community archives.

Documents are all uploaded to a secure platform and, like other items in the archives, become donations to Western. While contributors must submit their entries with a valid name and email address, they have the option of making their names public or private.