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Bentley's COVID-19 Collection offers a varied look at the pandemic

Student films. Journal entries. Tributes to the hospital workers.

Items in the Bentley Historic Library's COVID-19 collection offer a poignant insight into the impact of the pandemic on University of Michigan students, faculty, and staff.

Launched in April 2020, the collection includes 265 digital items from more than 150 donors. Archivists are still compiling submissions, with an eye now to how the pandemic continues to affect people's lives more than a year after it began.

"Times of profound change and challenge are important," said Aprille Cooke McKay, senior archivist for university archives at Bentley. "Just experiencing the turmoil made it clear to us that this was a time that people would want to know about in the future."

The project marked the first time that Bentley used an online Google form to accept submissions digitally through crowdsourcing. Materials arrived from all over the campus.

 Michigan Medicine employees share messages of support during a tribute on June 19, 2020. (Photo by Henry Hedly, Michigan Medicine) "class =" wp-image-80707 "/>
<figcaption> Michigan Medicine employees share messages of support during a tribute on June 19, 2020. (Photo by Henry Hedly, Michigan Medicine) </figcaption></figure><p> Many of the items reflect how members of the Faculty and students had to change quickly after the campus largely closed in mid-March of last year. With her students scattered throughout the county, Terri Sarris, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Film, TV, and Media, asked them to change course and complete their final video projects on their experiences during the pandemic.</p><p> Some students focused on feeling restless and what it was like to be back home with their families. They recorded images of tributes to essential workers and people talking about their pandemic experiences. A student took a video of the completely empty streets of New York City.</p><p> "They really are a time capsule of what people were going through at the time," Sarris said.</p><p> Disclosure was an important part of building the collection. Before the end of the 2020 winter semester, McKay contacted the associate deans of several schools and asked them to alert faculty members to the project.</p><p> Archivists also contacted groups historically poorly documented in the Bentley archives, but particularly affected by the pandemic, such as hospital, transportation, and facility workers.</p><p> The project used a different type of archiving process. Archivists typically collect groups of documents from a creator, often after significant time has passed, rather than cataloging individual items as an event unfolds.</p><p> "I think one of the cool things about this project is that it democratized access and people were able to see their own stories represented in the archives, so they could feel that their contribution was important, their story was important." McKay said.</p>

Most of the items in the collection are from the first weeks of the pandemic. A teacher donated her journal entries from that period. Someone who was studying seismic noise near Michigan Stadium presented a graph of these data.

"As soon as the closure started, the volume level in the city at the stadium just dropped," said Caitlin Moriarty, project archivist at Bentley and coordinator of the COVID-19 collection project. “We don't normally think about the sound around us. I remember he was so quiet everywhere. "

One item that caught the attention of archivists was the lighthearted pandemic-related superhero movie of a student in which he played a multitude of different superhero characters .

"We all thought that provided comic relief to the team as we worked on the project, even when we were feeling scared and worried in our own lives," McKay said.

Donations dropped significantly around July of last year, when the novelty of the pandemic wore off and people began to settle into a new normal. Both McKay and Moriarty said they would love to have newer materials in the collection, such as items related to the launch of vaccines or how you felt coming out of quarantine

Six university archivists are involved in the project. they continue to accept donations, they are working on how to package and present the collection, which is completely digital, in a complete and accessible way.

Ultimately, the collaborative collection will constitute only part of the archived pandemic materials of the University. Bentley regularly acquires various U-M school, university and department records, and some of those materials also include items related to COVID-19. The Bentley expects to continue receiving pandemic-related materials through direct connections like these for years to come.

No decision has been made on when the COVID-19 collection project could end.

"One of our team members joked that when we have a football game at the stadium, we will close the (Google) form," McKay said.


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