Library launches pandemic archive

While the the physical Macdonald Library building may be closed, the staff is committed to providing resources for both current and future scholars. Inspired by collections of memorabilia from past outbreaks, archivist Anne Ryckbock launched a digital archive for Xavier’s experience of COVID-19.

The Xavier University library has launched the COVID-19 Digital Collection. The project aims to capture the experiences of the Xavier community during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The digital collection was started in March as cases in the United States began to increase. “I began work on the digital collection during the first week of March when we started getting more announcements from the president and the administrators regarding their monitoring of the situation,” collection director and founder Anne Ryckbost said. “I really started capturing stuff around March 10 when we made the announcement while students were on spring break that we would be transferring to remote learning.” Inspiration for the project was drawn from historical archives created in response to past pandemics. Archivists used archives from the 1910 cholera outbreak and the 1918 influenza pandemic as a blueprint for the COVID-19 archive.

The digital collection is designed for students, faculty and alumni to contribute any form of media relating to the pandemic to the collection. According to the library page, contributions can include anything from “Documentation of the peculiar sights, sounds, and events of Xavier on quarantine” to “Reflection on what the crisis has revealed to you about either yourself or Xavier.” “What I’m hoping is that students, faculty, staff and alumni can go on the libguides page and use the contribution submission form to submit reflections, blog posts, videos or social media posts of their own so that we get a diverse representation of what the Xavier experience was like during this time,” Ryckbost said. 

The project aims to document the impact of the pandemic on a personal and institutional level. The university archive has been actively working with the administration to document the effects of the pandemic on Xavier as an institution as well. “I want to know what it was like for a student on the ground trying to learn all of the sudden through remote learning, but also I want to capture what it was like for those administrators to have to make those tough decisions,” Ryckbost said.

According to Ryckbost, six contributions have been received so far, but more contributions are expected soon. “When I announced the collection, some faculty members contacted me that their students were really interested in contributing, so they’re beginning to work as classes on how they can capture their experience.” Contributions from students will be open until the end of the semester. 

Archiving the information and experiences has not been a seamless task, as many of the effects of the pandemic have interfered with the archiving process. Ryckbost identified two major problems that the pandemic has caused for the project. “One is that we’re not all in the same place physically. It’s harder to feel a sense of connectedness or they can’t just drop by my office and ask a question.” A second major issue faced by the library and archivists is the lack of access to the university campus. “The other thing that follows is that one of our biggest challenges is our response to being digitally based. How as an archivist and how as a collection can we preserve and maintain access to digital records over time. We want to make sure that the stuff that is submitted has the appropriate legal requirements and that we maintain the creator’s rights and be respectful of those.” Other issues posed by the fully digital system are issues of presentation and how to effectively show and catalog video footage.

  While the collection is still in its infancy, Ryckbost hopes that the archive will serve as a valuable resource for years to come. “I think it’s going to be used to study a couple of things. It’s going to be used to study our social and cultural experiences of this period. How did we connect and build community?… What was disrupted and what was continued? I think it will also be used to inform our administrative positions.” The archive will also serve as a valuable resource to future scholars and researchers looking back on the pandemic. “In 20 to 50 years, we’ll be looking back at this pandemic trying to understand what the implications of it were… as university archives we get a lot of questions about past experiences like this so I looked at cholera epidemics and the 1918 influenza pandemic… we were able to use newspaper clippings and diary entries etc. which talked about the personal experiences during the 1918 flu. So now, when this pandemic came up, immediately one of my thoughts was that people are going to be asking about this in the future.”

The contribution form can be accessed on the Xavier libguides website at