University Compiles a COVID Archive

May 27, 2020

When the school year ends, many teachers and staff take a break, but at the University of Mary Washington But three librarians are busier than ever – creating an archive that will tell the story of COVID-19 on campus. 

UMW librarians Angie Kemp, Carolyn Parsons and Sarah Appleby are assembling a COVID archive for future students and historians.
Credit UMW

As head of UMW’s special collections and university archive, Carolyn Parsons understands how present day documents become history.  She’s fascinated, for example, by minutes from meetings during the 1918 Spanish flu.

“Both faculty and students came down with the flu.  Some went home.  Some stayed on campus.  The school was closed for eight days. At the end of it all they charged each student five dollars for the additional medical services”

Now, she says, it’s time to begin collecting materials from our own pandemic, and digital librarian Angie Kemp is already reaching out to students, faculty and alumni to share their journals, poems and other reflections on COVID-19.

“We want people to know that they can record these stories in whatever format they feel comfortable in, so someone might want to document their story through audio or through a song or there are some folks baking their way through this crisis and taking photos of that.”

UMW named this initiative the Call to Contribute, and University Records Coordinator Sarah Appleby is confident the new archive will interest future scholars. “This is completely unprecedented.  The scope of this and where we are as a society – the kinds of responses that people have had.”

Among the items collected so far, the story of how fellow librarian Peter Catlin married his fiancée on the sidewalk outside Fredericksburg’s courthouse, a blog called Coronavirus Captivity, and a production of Shakespeare by the UMW theater department on Zoom.  To take a peek, go to archive.umw.edu.