Today@Sam Article

For The Record Books: NGL Launches 2020 Community Archives

July 10, 2020
SHSU Media Contact: Hannah Haney

How will future generations view 2020? What materials will be available for scholars, students, and the community to assess the impact of these unprecedented times?

Thanks to a new initiative by the Newton Gresham Library, Sam Houston State University and Huntsville community members now have the opportunity to share their stories and experiences by contributing to a digital archive intended to document multiple aspects of 2020.

What_can_I_say_about_2020.Headed by Erin Owens, scholarly communications librarian for the NGL, the SHSU Archive of 2020 came to life after examining the projects of other universities who were building COVID-19 archives. She had the urge to do something similar, but broader.

“The original idea was to create an archive of the COVID-19 pandemic experience. But when we began discussing and planning, it was just shortly after George Floyd’s death, and the protests were really beginning to grow around the nation. That made me stop and think about how much more was affecting our lives on all fronts, beyond just the COVID-19 experience, and how all of it was so intertwined,” Owens said. “Would the protest movement have been as heated if society hadn’t already been so impacted by health care issues, massive unemployment from the economic shutdown, and so forth? How were these events affecting each other, and could we create a three-dimensional record of this moment in time if we tried to limit our focus? That’s why we agreed to capture the year itself, in all its glory and terror, instead of narrowing the focus to only COVID-19.”

The NGL is currently seeking personal narratives, letters, diary/journal entries, poems, artwork in any medium, photographs, video, audio, etc. There is no limit as to what can be submitted, and they plan to accept material into early 2021.

“Nothing is too strange or too mundane. It could be photos of streets and businesses deserted during the COVID-19 lockdowns, crowds wearing masks, or a positive COVID test. It might be official documents about unemployment, a business’s emergency planning documents, or just an amusing meme about toilet paper shortages that someone created on social media,” Owens said. “I’d really love to see some original artwork, drawings or paintings maybe, that help to capture the feelings of fear, isolation, and uncertainty. There’s no telling what sort of primary sources from today could provide insight to a researcher in the future.”

According to Trent Shotwell, special collections & archives librarian, archives record and preserve historically significant information to provide future generations of researchers with context to specific persons, places and events.

“By collecting and maintaining information related to ordinary and extraordinary times, an archive is the best place for a researcher to learn about cultural movements, individual perspectives, and social changes relating to their history,” Shotwell said.

For Owens, her goal for the collection is more personal.

NGLFourthFloor“As a mom, I want my young child and his peers to have first-hand evidence to look back at to understand how it felt to live through 2020 in our community,” Owens said. “This will be a defining year in the lives of many people who suffered illness, lost loved ones, struggled to support their families through the staggering wave of unemployment, grieved and fought against racial division, or celebrated victories for justice and equity. In my opinion, libraries are about preserving information and making it accessible to all. This is one small way that we can do our part to preserve details about the life-changing experiences of 2020.”

While the university has always collected and maintained archival records, a project of this scale requesting input from the community is a completely new endeavor.

“Our mission statement says that NGL ‘endeavors to create physical and virtual environments that promote discovery of new knowledge and the transfer of existing knowledge.’ That’s at the heart of what we’re doing with the Archive of 2020. We’re inviting our community to convey their existing knowledge, their lived experience, in the hopes that this compilation of sources will contribute to the development of new knowledge and understanding.”

The Archive of 2020 will be its own collection housed within the library’s larger Digital Special Collections website, Visitors to the site will be able to search and browse items in this collection, or cross-search them with other digitized materials.

Items for the collection will be uploaded to the Digital Special Collections, along with information describing each item and identifying its creator. Then the collection will be preserved with the same care as all online materials, including storage on a networked drive and secure off-site duplicate storage.

To share your story, and become a part of history, please visit:

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