Universities, organizations documenting COVID-19 pandemic for future generations

Posted at 2:22 PM, May 28, 2020

From empty store shelves to people visiting their elderly family members through glass windows, we are living history. Now, librarians are looking to document it.

“I think the pandemic affects all of us, but how people are experiencing that really varies so much from region to region, town to town, state to state," said Anna Neatrour, Digital Initiatives Librarian with the University of Utah.

Neatrour’s colleague, Jeremy Myntti, Head of Digital Library Services, says this an unprecedented time for most of us, but some have lived through similar experiences.

“If you think back to World War II or even during the 1918 flu pandemic, what people were going through is pretty similar to what we're going through now."

Over the last two months, the University of Utah has collected mostly photographs but also letters and oral history videos, documenting how the coronavirus pandemic affected us all in 2020. Many of the early submissions included photos of empty grocery store shelves and people social distancing in each other's front yards.

"People try to visit their elderly family members and in adult care facilities and not being able to do that and having to visit them through windows," said Rachel Wittmann, Digital Curation Librarian.

History students at the University of Utah are also helping the librarians document this time. More than 600 items have already been collected.

"So, once we have items submitted to us, they’re processed, they’re put into an online digital collection where anyone in the world can access to them," said Myntti.

University of Utah isn't the only one working to preserve this historical perspective. Boone County Public Library in Kentucky is also working with the public to collect items and they got the idea from another neighboring library.

In Canada, mother Natalie Long created a free downloadable time capsule to help children document their time in quarantine during the coronavirus. The PDF has been shared and download thousands of times, hoping to help children understand and get through this unprecedented time.

As for how long University of Utah will keep documenting, they say it could be years.

"As we move from being more locked down to opened up, things are going to shift and change. So, I think as long as everyone’s lives are disrupted, we want to still keep collecting materials and then we can document each phase of what’s happening to everyone," said Neatrour.

They’ll give future generations a digital look into what life was like in 2020.