Cambridge University Library builds a collaborative history of the coronavirus outbreak

Cambridge University Library appeals for help in building a collaborative history of the coronavirus outbreak.

An empty corridor at Cambridge University Library after its closure to readers, March 2020. Picture by Blazej Mikula.

The current move to homeworking for both the University of Cambridge and the majority of the city in response to COVID-19 is unprecedented in modern times. Social distancing, restrictions on movement, and sickness are affecting everyone. 

Aiming to capture the experience of the Collegiate University and the city of Cambridge during the pandemic, Cambridge University Library has launched a new collaborative collection involving both the University, and the wider Cambridge community.

“Many of the materials that give an account of this current period will be in digital formats, especially the web,” said Caylin Smith, Digital Preservation Manager at Cambridge University Library. “With this collection, the Library is responding to collecting materials that could be at risk of loss.”

Jacky Cox, Keeper of the University Archives, said: “In launching this appeal for material, we want to revive the shared enthusiasm for themed collecting which assembled the Great War Collection at the University Library from 1915 onwards and the more recent collection on our Brexit materials, launched in 2016."

Records of all kinds are in scope for the coronavirus collection. The Library particularly wants to reflect the response of its community of staff and students to the present situation, as people adjust to new patterns of work, socialisation, and leisure.

The Library’s approach has been informed by academic historians, who want to ensure social and historical records about the outbreak are captured for future generations of researchers.

Added Smith: “How are we documenting our changed lives? We’re looking to collect all kinds of digital and physical materials relating to the pandemic. These include, but are not limited to, videos, photographs and images (including posters and leaflets), audio recordings, creative projects, as well as journals and diaries.”

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Image: An empty corridor at Cambridge University Library after its closure to readers, March 2020. Picture by Blazej Mikula.

 Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge

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