Solidarity tree in front of Uni building

Library helps create COVID-19 historical record

21 May 2020
Call for contributions to capture pandemic’s impact 
In recognition of the extraordinary period of history the COVID-19 pandemic represents the University of Sydney's Library is asking University staff and students to contribute materials capturing their experience of living through the pandemic.

Liz Litting, Associate Director, University Library said, “We are creating a collection to preserve the daily individual reality of the pandemic’s impact on the University community. It will hopefully create a cultural record and valuable historical resource for our own and future generations.”

The library is inviting people to submit videos, personal diaries, artworks, photographs, newsletters, poetry and short reflections that demonstrate their response to the unfolding of the pandemic. It will work with the State Library of New South Wales to capture social media including specific hashtag content such as #usydonline.

The library has a significant collection of cultural heritage materials some of which are available through the library’s Digital Collections repository. Separately, the Library collects metadata and open access versions of University research publicly shared through the Sydney eScholarship repository and is encouraging researchers to use the repository to share their COVID-19 research. Research and cultural heritage materials relating to COVID-19 and the University will be available for research, teaching and public interest.

University historian Associate Professor Julia Horne said, “It is only through the preservation of records from the Spanish Flu pandemic that we know today the University was faced with the difficult decision of approving first-year medical students to support containment of the flu in the absence of other medical workers still stuck in Europe at the end of the First World War.”

She encouraged international students to contribute, including materials in languages other than English, and for new undergraduates to provide their perspective.

Participating in the project is an honorary archivist for the University’s School of Medicine and Royal North Shore Hospital, Associate Professor Catherine Storey, a retired neurologist who supervises research projects involving the history of medicine at the University of Sydney.

“We often miss what happens at ground level and don’t realise the importance of documenting the period we are living through which, with the emergence of social media, is more challenging than ever. What people might consider as ‘trivial’ is often the most revealing, such as lecturers’ notices to their classes. During the pandemic I’ve been keeping a diary but also collecting institutional notices, messages and fact sheets that have been issued and published online.”

Associate Professor Storey will work with the University of Sydney Library, the State Library of NSW and National Library in Canberra to contribute to their records. Similarly the University’s library will, with permission, share materials that fall outside its scope with those same libraries.

The University’s cultural heritage collection of the pandemic will contribute to a national and international record of the events during the pandemic. The library, together with archives and records management, will curate the ‘Collecting Covid-19’ items before making them available for public use, currently planned for 2021. 

Verity Leatherdale

Manager, Faculty Media and PR

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