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Archiving the Covid-19 pandemic

Ideas and inspiration for Community Archives

We have created this guidance to help a community archive decide why it might be important to collect material related to the pandemic, and what sort of things to collect. It offers some ideas about how an archive group might go about doing that, and the stages required to create an action plan for your organisation.

The guidance is structured around the headings 'Who, what, when, where, why, how?'

Who? Is this guidance suitable for your group?

This guidance is for community archive groups or heritage organisations. It is focused on voluntary groups who are responsible for a collection which is defined either by geography (eg a parish history group), or by a specific subject area (eg an industrial heritage museum). It may also be useful to smaller professional archives.

What? Records generated during the pandemic.

The pandemic has already produced all kinds of records, artifacts, ephemera and images. There are obvious things archives in general could collect from the pandemic. The most obvious visual images tend to reinforce certain well-worn themes. Examples of this include:

  • Mask wearing
  • Working from home
  • Home schooling
  • Rainbows for the NHS
  • Quiet Streets and daily exercise
  • Vaccination
  • Clap for Carers

There are also widespread public records of some of the negative stories and impacts. Examples of those would be:

  • Vaccine hesitancy and the anti-vax movement
  • Covid scams
  • Mental health impacts
  • Impacts on other public services
  • Racism, and other problems made worse by the pandemic and its environmental impacts

We are not suggesting that community archives need to collect these records as they are well understood and recorded on the national and international level. Instead, we suggest that smaller archives should focus on:

  • The very local - what happened in your local area?
  • The very short-lived - things no larger organisation would have access to
  • The very personal - individual memories and recollections
  • The themed - what did people do in your area of work?

These are things which are specific to your area or subject matter and might end up underrepresented in the future if only the mass media and incidental records of what has been happening are preserved.

Why? The potential aims and objectives of having a pandemic collection.

The International Council on Archives (ICA) have made a statement on the duty of archives to document the Covid-19 pandemic.

It can be summarised as saying that archives' duty to document doesn't stop in a crisis, it becomes more important. The statement has three main points:

  • Decisions must be documented
  • Records and data should be secured and preserved in all sectors
  • The security, preservation and access to digital content should be facilitated during the lockdown

If your mission is to record a certain community or subject area, it's highly likely that there has been an impact on that area from the pandemic. This is where it helps if your organisation already has a clearly defined Mission Statement.

Community archives should also be guided by their communities. You should assess the level of interest and need from people around you for a new collection.

When? We are over two years into the pandemic as this guidance is written.

Although the pandemic is not over, it's clear that the nature of the situation will change repeatedly over time. Some things like national lockdowns may never happen again - and other things have become so normal now that they are no longer newsworthy. Don't wait until 'it's all over' to begin collecting.

How? Practical steps to collecting in these times.

Firstly, don't go outside of the existing limits of your collecting. That could water down your core mission, and lead to the material you collect not being very useful in future. You need to make sure that the material will be found by researchers, so there should be a match between their likely interests and the advertised mission of your archive.

You should also make sure that the material you collect is something you can look after long term It should fit with the logic of the rest of your collection.

To control these two factors, you need to have a clear statement of your plans. Hopefully, your community archive group already has a general collecting statement or policy on what it covers. If not, you can see our guidance on creating a collections management policy document.