COVID-19: An Archivist at Home (Part Two)

So, it’s been two weeks since I posted my first COVID-19 blog post. I am hoping to post every two weeks or so as I think this will be an interesting chronicle of how things are progressing. I found it quite cathartic to write the first blog post and I got some nice feedback that others found it interesting (and dare I say helpful too). So here we go with Part Two!

I think this probably sums everything up nicely…

Here’s a taste of what Vancouver looks like these days. This video is eerily beautiful and the ending brought me to tears (although admittedly, that’s not too hard these days).

This is the best PSA on social distancing that I have seen. So effective!

My coping strategies

I am sure by now (more than 4 weeks in for those in BC) we have all developed coping mechanisms for the anxiety this situation is causing. Unfortunately, I am not a baker (or cook of any kind) so I have not jumped on the sourdough bandwagon, but my husband has so we do of course have a starter hiding in a warm place in our house right now. I have been enjoying the baking he has been doing but I have had to reach for other activities to fill my non-work time. This past Easter weekend was four days of being at loose ends but here is how I am filling my days. I would love to hear about how others are passing the time.

  • News check only once per day
    • I am limiting myself to one news check per day. I don’t need to make myself any more anxious than I already am. This rule has been very helpful.
  • Limiting Twitter to a scan for the good stuff, avoiding the rest
    • Twitter is usually a dumpster fire of hate but lately it’s been kind of nice in between the hate. I have found scanning for signs of a funny dog video a most effective strategy.
  • Writing a COVID-19 journal
    • I decided that since I was tracking all of these COVID-19 documentation projects I might as well do one myself. In addition to this blog, I decided to keep my own journal with thoughts and feelings about the situation. Unfortunately, I decided to start this after a month of isolation so I had a lot of writing to catch up on. I am also taking photos of changes to the outside world where I see them (gas price drops, signs in shop windows, long lines at the grocery store, etc.) For some reason, documenting all of this is making me feel better about it, like it all has some meaning, or will have some later meaning to someone.
  • Collecting COVID-19 posters
    • I am fascinated by the different ways the various levels of government have been communicating to the public and I decided to maintain a collection of posters from BC and national authorities. I never knew there were so many ways to tell people to wash their hands! I also love that I inadvertently created a collecting mandate to structure my collection. Ever the archivist.
  • Making plans
    • One of the best coping strategies I have found is to have plans. It sounds so simple, but it has been really important to me over the past month. I am a planner by nature and my calendar is always full weeks ahead with things that I can get excited about – a dinner party, a night at the pub, or a games night with friends. I have been doing a lot of ‘Zooming’ and ‘House Party-ing’ with friends but one of my favourite things to do has been virtual trivia. IQ 2000 (a local Vancouver quizmaster) has been offering a virtual trivia night every Monday and Wednesday through Twitch. We jump on a Zoom call with some friends and we submit our answers through a Google Docs form. It was a bit of a rigmarole to figure it all out the first time, but it has been a great way to spend a few hours with friends. We all grab a cocktail and try to guess that song. It feels *almost* like we are at a real trivia night.
  • Exercise videos on YouTube
    • It took a lot of mental effort to force myself to do a bit of exercise but it has helped tremendously. There are tonnes of virtual classes available these days. My employer (the City of Coquitlam) has even released a few of its own featuring fitness staff from our closed facilities.
  • Daily walk to a green space
    • I never realized how good the air smells outside. Every time I step outside for my once-a-day walk, I just sit for a minute inhaling the air and appreciating it. I am super fortunate to live in Vancouver where the weather has been pretty glorious of late. (Apologies to all my friends and family in the rest of Canada…this is all I will say about the weather, I promise).
  • Routine
    • Routine has been key. This past weekend was tough! Four days with no structure was not good for me. Routine, routine, routine.
  • Giving myself a break if I just don’t feel like it
    • When this all started, everyone talked about how productive we would all be with all this time on our hands. What they didn’t talk about was the fact that anxiety eats at creativity and desire to be productive. I have learned over the past few weeks is that it’s ok to cut myself some slack. It’s ok if I fall short of my goals right now. It’s really hard for me to give myself a break, but I am going to take the lesson that this time is teaching me. Seems like the Washington Post agrees with me, so that’s good.
  • Writing when I do feel like it and finding the joy in it
    • It’s taken about a month for me to feel a desire to do anything beyond the necessary but this weekend I finally found the urge to write and I worked on a screenplay project that I have been writing for a few months. I was able to find the joy in it again. This was huge!
  • Checking in on friends and family
    • I don’t have children or pets so I don’t have much outside of myself to consider during these times. But I have found that thinking about looking after my friends has been hugely helpful. I have found great solace in checking in with my friends and family. The sense of “we’re all in this together” shines through most when I am talking to them and they help to give me perspective.
  • Article Club with my team
    • I have been enjoying the weekly Article Club that I have estabilshed with my team at work. We pick an article every week and then have a discussion about it at the end of the week. Not only is it helpful for our work, but it gives us some structured social time. I miss these folks so it is nice to see them and chat archives at the end of the week.
  • Brooklyn 99
    • Captain Holt has been getting me through these tough times. It may be a third watch of the entire series, but it makes me happy so I am not questioning it. 99!

Documentation Projects

I started out keeping up an ongoing list of documentation projects starting on Monday April 6th. By the end of the week, the list was enormous and frankly, a bit overwhelming. While gathering for this blog post I found myself getting that frantic feeling I get when the amount of information to capture is so vast and I am rushing to capture it all. True to form, archivists and heritage professionals want to document. We need to document. It’s in our blood. But I decided that I needed to be less stressed out about it. There are hundreds of projects underway so I can’t possibly mention them all – but here are some that I have found over the past two weeks:

  • COVID-19: Ethical Contemporary Collecting
    • A Slack Channel for discussing COVID-19 collecting was created on April 6th. At this point it has over 160 members. There are a lot of interesting discussions happening on the channel and I would encourage people to check it out. Follow this link to join.
  •  What to do during covid-19? A list for archivists
    • This is a good list that is being updated regularly. It provides links to ongoing documentation projects as well as webinars, courses, and readings:
  • The Society of American Archivists has released a resource kit for documenting in times of crisis.
  • The IIPC (International Internet Preservation Consortium) has created a map that shows all of the institutions with ongoing COVID-19 collecting initiatives
  • The New York Times is reporting about COVID-19 collecting practices…you know things are intense when major publications talk about the heritage sector. But I’ll take it!
  • UK Web Archive
    • The UK Web Archive has initiated a collection of Coronavirus websites  (nearly 1,000 websites so far). Websites are being selected by a cohort of curators across the Legal Deposit Libraries and our partners. They are asking colleagues and members of the public to submit websites via a form on their website.
  • COVID-19 Chroniclers
    • “The idea for this blog was sparked by Dr. Gilly Carr of St. Catharine’s College at the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom). She called upon members of the Women in Academia Support Network to begin diarizing their experiences in March 2020.” This has been a fascinating project to follow.
  • Sounds for the Global Lockdown
    • This is a beautiful project that is intended to document life under lockdown through sound recordings. The organizers are encouraging people to send a sound recording about what life is like where you live. Visitors to the site can listen to the recordings and read peoples’ stories through an interactive map interface.

Projects in Canada:

Projects in the UK:

Projects in the U.S.

Projects in New Zealand

And the list goes on. If there are other projects you are aware of, I’d love to hear about them.

Collecting Concerns

There has been a flurry of collecting initiatives launched in the past few weeks. I wonder how many of them will bear fruit? I must admit that I do have some concerns about all of this and I think that many of my archival colleagues will share in these concerns. Archives are not typically active records instigators. More and more we are becoming part of the creation conversation (lifecycle, continuum, post-custodial models, etc.) but I am still a bit uncomfortable with the idea of being so involved with encouraging the creation of a record. We are typically the receivers of records that are an organic reflection of a life lived. Perhaps that life was lived with a view to the legacy being left behind and the records were curated accordingly; however, I would venture that more often we are the bearers of the products of a life that was simply lived. If we are inserting ourselves into this documentary process during these difficult times, are we going to get records that reflect the true nature of thoughts and feelings, or are we going to get records that are specifically designed to speak to future generations. Does it matter? Will we get a better record if people are more conscious of the act of documenting a historical event as it unfolds? I don’t know exactly where I stand but it’s something I am keeping in mind as I produce my own COVID-19 collection and encouraging others to do the same.

Professional Discussions

There have been some interesting professional discussions occurring and some interesting developments with regard to supporting archivists through these tough times. Here are some resources for professionals:

Mental Health Resources

There are plenty of links out there to mental health resources, but I thought it would be helpful to include some here just before we get into the fun of my SELF-CARE VIDEOS below.

Self-Care Video of the Day

Here is a selection of my favourite tweets and videos from the past two weeks.

The winner for self-care video of the past two weeks goes to John Krasinski. I didn’t think I could love him more, but his new Some Good News videos are beautiful and moving and as far as I’m concerned, unmissable.

Take that double rainbow! You’ve been one-upped!

The care and attention that people are putting into their videos of late is pretty darned impressive. Here’s one of my absolute favourites from the past two weeks:

The New Zealand Police have been putting out extraordinary videos. So far this one is my favourite but I would encourage you to check out the whole series. All ten episodes are available here.

I’ll finish this post off with this little guy who made my day. Look at his face!!