Living in Lockdown The Archives of the Trinity College Community during the Covid-19 Pandemic
2 July 2020 - The Library of Trinity College Dublin in collaboration with the Trinity Long Room Hub, has embarked upon a rapid-response archival collecting project as a response to the pandemic. The ambition is to build a corpus of primary research materials, comprising the recorded experiences and opinions of individuals, and to make this material available for research. Here we talk to Dr Jane Maxwell, Assistant Librarian, Manuscripts & Archives Research Collections, about the project.
Jane Maxwell, Assistant Librarian, Library of Trinity College Dublin
Jane, tell us why the Library of Trinity College Dublin is leading a project like this?
Part of the Library’s mission is to anticipate and provide for developing strands of research. There can be no doubt that the pandemic - a global event with national, local, institutional, and personal repercussions - will be of enduring research interest. The Library would be failing in its duty if we did not apply our resources and expertise to securing this primary source material (much of it likely to be valuable to the history of the University, for whose historic archives the Library is also responsible).
Are other libraries or institutions also collecting this archival information?
It is true that every institution, from local county museums to the University of Columbia in New York (early encouragers of our initiative, through the Trinity Long Room Hub) are engaged in the exact same activity. However, this does not diminish the value of each separate initiative, rather it makes each one a vital element in an unusual whole. There cannot be enough of this material simply because there has never been an opportunity such as this; while we confidently predict research interest in the subject, we cannot foresee what questions that research will ask.
Dr Lilith acadia, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Cofund Fellow at the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute.
Who would you like to see contributions from?
The main focus is the Trinity College Dublin community, including alumni, but we will welcome contributions from anybody interested in participating. We want as wide a range of participants as possible and we welcome records in any format although we cannot accept physical items until the Library reopens. We are also offering participants the opportunity to engage in recorded interviews if they would prefer.
Tell me about rapid response collection?
Rapid response collecting has become popular in the USA and the UK over the last decade. In Ireland it began with capturing the public reaction to the death of Savita Halappanaver, and the on-the-spot collecting of the often-ephemeral archives of the Eight Amendment in 2018. As an institutional collection-development activity, it is part of the long arc of social history which has curved, in the space of a century, from a top-down concepts of masses of individuals, homogenised as ‘the poor’ or ‘women’ or ‘emigrants’, to a welcoming curiosity about the world-view of the citizen-historian or, more accurately in this case, the citizen archivist.
Jane, how does Covid-19 differ from other pandemics in terms of archives?
Yes, there have been pandemics before, but never in a world like this one, where every activity is scrutinised from every angle. The activity of collecting will itself be the subject of theorizing apart altogether from what is collected. What kind of people responded to the call for participation? What evaluation criteria were applied to submissions? Do women outnumber men in participation and why might that be? What differences are to be seen in the submissions to our Library and those made to the archivist in Offaly? Or indeed Columbia University?
Why collect this information now?
A browse through the ‘Collecting Covid’ websites of sister institutions worldwide, show that we all use the same language to answer the question ‘why should anyone participate?’ It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the institution to ‘collect the now, now’; it ensures that nuance and contradiction have to be accommodated in the official narrative; and it offers private individuals the opportunity to reinscribe their names on Trinity’s and Ireland’s historical record. We hope these exhortations will be sufficient encouragement for many members of the community to volunteer to take part.