For over a year, Henry Madden Library’s Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) has been documenting the campus response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Capturing myriad websites, communications, projects and documents from Fresno State leadership faculty and students, has allowed them to build a collection of digital materials for future scholars to study. The SCRC is still accepting submissions of student, faculty, and staff experiences of the pandemic to be included in the archives for future posterity.

The project was inspired by the fact that when searching the archives for how the Fresno Normal School (Fresno State’s earliest incarnation) responded to the 1918 influenza pandemic, there was precious little to go on. Aside from a few mentions in the yearbook of choral events being cancelled and classes stopping and starting again, there weren’t many mentions of it. That may be the result of the campus closure. Administrators and teachers simply weren’t thinking about preserving what was happening while students weren’t in classes.

“There is relatively little written about the 1918 pandemic. . . And there’s just not a whole lot of information on it,” says Julie Moore, librarian in Special Collections. “So when we have the next pandemic, hopefully, we will leave behind a treasure trove of information that explains what we have lived through – both the positives and the negatives. And how it can inform our future researchers.”

So Adam Wallace, the digital archives specialist in the SCRC, began putting in place a system to capture how Fresno State adjusted to the pandemic and now how it repopulates the campus. Building this archive tracks how decisions were made, how circumstances evolved, and creates a snapshot of the campus experience in 2020-2021.

Having submissions from individuals will round out the archives, giving a specific, personal perspective to the activities on campus. A wide variety of things can be considered including social media photos and videos, lesson plans adjusting to remote learning, student or department projects that shifted due to the requirements of the pandemic, even art or selfies students have saved when they are affected by COVID-19. Everything from screenshots to selfies are valuable to future scholarship.

Cartoon by Jenny Bahn about anti-Asian racism during the pandemic

We spoke with Wallace about the Fresno State COVID-19 Digital Archive and how it’s been developing:

1. You started archiving the campus experience around COVID-19 last spring. What kinds of items have you documented thus far? 

We have been collecting campus emails, press releases, reports, and websites.  We also have partnered with Professor Tim Drachlis’ MCJ 2 classes to create and archive oral histories of student experiences during the pandemic.  Additionally, we partnered with Professor Jenny Banh in Anthropology and her students to create and archive “Letters to my Descendant” a series of personal reminiscences about their experiences during the pandemic.

2. What tools do you use to process a digital archive. What’s different about how you work with digital items versus traditional materials?

We use software such as Data Accessioner, ArchivesSpace, the Microsoft Office Suite, and databases such as ContentDM to accession, process and make available digital archives items.  The process is similar to physical materials with a few differences necessary to preserve provenance and data integrity specific to digital items.

3. Have you seen any themes float to the surface regarding what you’ve collected so far? Either from the campus perspective or from individuals?

There’s definitely a sense of shared struggle across the entire campus community. Additionally, there is the impact of other happenings, such as anti-Asian racism, police brutality against people of color, the wildfires of last Summer and Fall, the presidential election, etc. during the same time as the pandemic.

4. Heading into the archive’s second year, what do you hope people will contribute at this time? More items from individuals on campus? More documentation of the work from departments? What would really help to round out the archives?

We are really hoping to gain more personal reminiscences, especially from faculty regarding their teaching experiences during the pandemic. We are hoping that since it has been over a year now since COVID-19 upended how we educate/are educated here at Fresno State that members of the campus community will have a greater depth of experience to draw from and contribute to the COVID-19 Archive.

5. Now that we’re a year into the pandemic and California is looking to open up the economy (and its CSU campuses) more in the next year, how would you like to see people interact with the Fresno State COVID-19 Archives down the road?

We are hoping that the COVID-19 Archive will serve as a snapshot in time of when our world was fundamentally altered and the way in which our university operates had to radically and rapidly change in order to continue to provide a quality education to our students. In addition we hope to show how COVID and other events of 2020-2021 impacted our campus community on both an aggregate and personal level.

6. Anything else you’d like to add or that you think the Fresno State community should know about the Fresno State COVID-19 Archives?

We hope that the COVID-19 Archive will be a great resource for future researchers and members of the Fresno State community to learn from. There is multi-disciplinary potential for research with this archive, and it will hopefully serve as a tool for campus administration to prepare for the next pandemic in the future.  However, the archive will only be as good as what gets contributed to it, so we urge any Fresno State faculty, student, administrator or staff who has anything they’ve personally created or captured during and about the COVID-19 pandemic to donate it to us here in the University Archives.  Your participation makes a huge difference in this endeavor!

To submit your digital materials to the archive, fill out the form with your information and your digital files.

For inquiries regarding submissions to the Fresno State COVID-19 Digital Archive, please email the Special Collections Research Center at the Henry Madden Library. scrc@mail.fresnostate.edu

Screencap from an oral history project from Tim Drachlis’ MCJ2 classes, now archived in the Fresno State COVID-19 Digital Archive.