COVID-19 has impacted people’s lives worldwide, and New Mexico State University Library Archives and Special Collections is interested in documenting those changes for the local community in real time.
The Archives and Special Collections staff has established a COVID-19 archive to collect and record responses from not only the NMSU community but also Las Cruces and southern New Mexico residents.
“While the traditional archival collecting model waits for events to run their course before documentary evidence is acquired, archivists around the country are creating rapid response collections to document this historic event,” said Dylan McDonald, political papers archivist and special collections librarian. “Future scholars, historians, scientists, health experts and students will want to understand how we in 2020 reacted and experienced this pandemic.”
Archives and Special Collections is focused on collecting digital materials such as emails, journal or diary entries, photographs, videos, voice memos, audio recordings, digital art or other documents that highlight the impact of COVID-19. Staff members urge contributors to be creative. Contributors can make submissions online at https://openstacks.nmsu.edu/covid19/.
Dennis Daily, Archives and Special Collections department head, encourages contributors to document current experiences now because reflections in a few months may look different. He added that collecting archival materials on contemporary events has become increasingly more common during the last 20 years.
“Events such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina led to some groundbreaking collecting efforts in archival repositories. We see the same thing happening in the current crisis,” he said.
“One challenge for historians is that you can find facts about the past,” Daily said. “There are plenty of government records, court records and newspaper accounts that provide facts, but often historians are interested in knowing about how these events affected people, how people felt about what was going on. And that’s often more difficult to find in the archival record.”
The Archives and Special Collections staff has developed a questionnaire with prompts to help contributors, which is available at https://openstacks.nmsu.edu/files/2020/04/COVID-19-Questions.pdf.
McDonald said he would like to work with professors who are interested in including the project in classroom instruction.
“The hope is to be able to collect enough contributions, submissions and stories that allow researchers in the future to better understand what was happening here at NMSU, in Las Cruces and southern New Mexico, because those stories are very powerful things,” McDonald said. “We see that all the time in our work as archivists. People come in and they discover or rediscover stories and are really taken by them. It allows users to bridge this gap in time where they see real human stories and allow themselves to see that people in the past had a lot of the same feelings and fears that they do.”
If contributors have physical items to be considered, email Archives and Special Collections at firstname.lastname@example.org for instructions. Once submitted material has been cataloged, the archive will be available at NMSU’s Library digital collection at https://lib.nmsu.edu/digitalcollections/.