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Library Spotlight: An Update on the Documenting COVID-19 Project at CSUN

eNews Edition: Spring 2022

Contributed by April Feldman and Katherine Dabbour

As previously reported in the Fall 2020 Library eNews, the University Archives, part of the Special Collections and Archives department in the University Library, launched the Documenting COVID-19 project in spring 2021, which, like many academic libraries, endeavors to capture CSUN Matadors’ experiences during this crisis and preserve them for future generations. As the prevalence of COVID-19 appears to be waning, Archivist April Feldman provided the following project update.

How many submissions have you received to date, and who have been the contributors?

In the last two years, the University Archives has received over 200 submissions, and most have been from CSUN students.

What types of materials have been submitted so far and in what format?

The bulk of submissions we have received so far have been class assignments given in sections of "University 100: The Freshman Success Seminar." They were most commonly either a short, written reflection based on a brief questionnaire or an interview with a friend or family member regarding their experience of the pandemic.

We have received a number of these self-reflections as text documents in various electronic formats: Word, .txt, and .pdf. University Archives then converted the documents to .pdf as needed, which is the archival standard for preservation. The interviews, whether self-reflections or interviews with friends or family were submitted in various electronic formats including .wav, .mp3, .mp4, .avi, .m4a, and .mov. These are in the hands of our Digital Services Librarian, Steve Kutay, who will convert them to archival standard if they are not already: .mov for video and .wav for audio-only recordings.

Tell me more about your experiences working with faculty on the course assignments.

Early in the spring of 2020, a couple of professors in the English department offered the assignment as extra credit and we received a handful of submissions. Beginning in the fall of 2020, we partnered with several faculty members teaching University 100. There was enough lead-time to create documentation for both faculty and students, which, I think, was helpful, but the first run always has a few bumps along the way, and we learned as we went along. Every semester since has seen updates to the paperwork and workflows and, at least on my end, it has gone quite well, getting easier to manage every semester. I certainly hope that has been the case for participating faculty, as well.

Because we would like to continue documenting experiences and recovery from the pandemic, I hope CSUN faculty will continue creating projects to include in the COVID-19 Community Archives; journaling, photo essays, art projects, vision boards, songs, a scene script are just some examples of possible projects. The only requirement is that it is related to COVID-19, attending classes remotely, public health requirements, and all that goes with it.

If you have had a chance to view individual submissions, can you describe any that stand out and why? Are any of them particularly moving to you personally or of interest as an archivist?

Though I have not seen all of the most recent submissions, I do have a couple of favorites from last academic year. One we included in the Fall 2020 eNews, a video by Omowale Oniyide. I find it quite poignant. If you watch it (view video in previous article), I think you will see why I like it so much.

Other favorites include side-by-side images of “Before” and “During” the pandemic. I think it is an apt telling of learning remotely, from the perspective of a twenty-something-year-old college student. Nothing over the top, just average, run-of-the-mill kinds of things, like applying lipstick "Before" and putting on a mask "During," or cute boots "Before," and comfy house slippers "During."

There are also “day (or week) in the life of…” submissions that I find interesting. This is a glimpse of how people really lived that you cannot get from the “official” record. It is the details of daily life that are so often lost in the past. Finding individual recollections of big historical events, like the JFK assassination or the attack on Pearl Harbor, is relatively easy, but an average Tuesday during the Spanish Flu pandemic is a much more difficult task.

Do you anticipate using this “Documenting _____ @CSUN” method of collecting for any other CSUN-related topics for the University Archives?

I would love to! I think it would be an excellent way to document a sampling of the human experience at CSUN. In a perfect world, we could have several similar types of projects, collaborating with any number of campus entities. Percolating in the back of my mind are projects documenting the stories and experiences of any number of distinct communities within the CSUN community. They deserve to be told and retold, saved, and shared. They are all important and they all offer something of value, to both members and nonmembers of their communities. Unfortunately, University Archives & Campus History has a small staff and there are limits to how much we can take on at any one time, but if anyone is interested in partnering on a project like this, I would love to hear from them.

Since there is currently no end date to accepting submissions, including those that document individuals’ experiences during the recovery and post-pandemic phases, I would also like to encourage members of the CSUN community, including alumni, family, and friends, to share their stories with the University Archives. You can find more information about the project at Documenting Covid-19 @CSUN.