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by David Portman

Using digital preservation in real time to document the global pandemic for future generations

With the theme of Digits: for Good’ for this year’s World Digital Preservation Day — we’ve taken this opportunity to highlight the work of our user community, who’s diligence and enthusiasm for capturing events and data in real-time, will enable future generations to relive and learn from this historic chapter in all of our lives.

November 4, 2020

With the theme of ‘Digits: for Good’ for this year's World Digital Preservation Day and a focus on celebrating the array of work, creativity, and responsiveness by the digital preservation community during the COVID-19 pandemic – we’ve taken this opportunity to highlight the work of our user community, who’s diligence and enthusiasm for capturing events and data in real-time, will enable future generations to relive and learn from this historic chapter in all of our lives.

Throughout the pandemic the value of inter-personal relationships has become even clearer, and as we move towards a world that’s become increasingly digital the relationships fostered in a pre-COVID world have had to pivot to survive and thrive online.

In May this year we invited Preservica users to share their own COVID-19 stories with the wider community – six archivists from a range of sectors took to the virtual stage and shared their plans of action, explaining how they’re using digital preservation in real time to address the challenges and opportunities presented by the pandemic.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN)

Katherine Chorley, Digital Archivist at RCN shared her main motivation for the team’s proactive collecting efforts to encourage and promote appropriate record keeping across the organisation.

"From around February, we started saving emails, press releases and guidance resources. As an archive team, we did this from instinct knowing that these records are going to form a significant part of our contemporary collecting," said Katherine.

As well as collecting to enhance the corporate memory of the RCN ensured the archives could assist in maintaining records that could be vital in supporting and demonstrating the position of the college and its frontline members, in relation to significant issues during the pandemic.

Hear from Katherine in this short video

City of Boston Archives

Marta Crilly, Archivist for Reference and Outreach at City of Boston explains how the team has been highly focussed on documenting how the city’s government is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to crawling the city’s main website, Marta also archived updates on other city department websites including the Boston Public Health Commission, the Boston Housing Authority and a Boston public school site.

Marta has also been soliciting submissions from city officials and employees about their experiences working for the city throughout the pandemic. The main focus of the project has been to specifically document the experience of city workers, officials, and the city governments response.

Hear from Marta in this short video

Lloyds Banking Group

Amanda Noble, Archivist at Lloyds Banking Group explains how as soon as records started being created around the coronavirus, they knew immediately that they would want to collect them, as the archiving team is responsible for the group’s corporate memory. The focus is on capturing key decisions and strategy developments, but also the culture, identity, and values of the business and its colleagues.

The Group identified five areas of collection: governance, guidance, communications, personal stories, and the organisations societal response. It was also important to support customers and colleagues and document the group’s wider impact in its work with Mental Health UK, and help supporting victims of domestic abuse.

Hear from Amanda in this short video

Rhode Island State Archives

Kate Telford, Digital Archivist at the RI State Archives explains how their approach had been to capture the government response to the pandemic, along with the state government’s response, and how they are responding to the crisis. This meant collecting state agency policies, judiciary court orders, press releases, FAQs, preparation plans, and any correspondence that is made public. Even science posters and the various web pages that have been designed to address pandemic related issues.

"The types of records we're collecting include guidance documents, press conferences, executive orders, and more – and are now available to the wider public a lot quicker than they normally would be,” Kate adds.

Hear from Kate in this short video

Network Rail

Vicky Stretch, Archivist at Network Rail explains that there were a couple of key drivers for the organisations COVID-19 initiative. The shape of the business has changed radically since the start of the pandemic. On a very basic governance and social responsibility level, Network Rail is a critical national service, providing vital passenger train services for key workers while also increasing freight traffic to get medical supplies, food, and other goods around Britain throughout prolonged coronavirus outbreak.

Planning and publication of a new devoted railway timetable was key in this change. This was in response to the fall in passenger demand as people unsurprisingly changed their travel patters to help tackle the spread of the virus. However, on the other hand, Network Rail also dramatically increased freight movements. Vicky’s team has been working to document each and every change across the organisation, in the interest of social responsibility and to provide resources for any future situations that may require a similar response.

Hear from Vicky in this short video

University at Buffalo Archives

Sarah Cogley, Digital Archivist at the University at Buffalo Archives explains how her team collect documentation from multiple viewpoints. Separated into public facing, internal and community-based perspectives, collecting in these areas was the best way to help the archive team build a broad record of the pandemic at the University. It would also help the archives continue to support the research mission of the university by allowing future scholars study the impact of the coronavirus.

At the end of April, the archives launched a project to build a community archive about COVID-19 that encourages students, faculty, and staff to document their personal experiences and to contribute them to the archive.

"This project was initially to open the submission to students. We wanted to focus on this group since we felt it is generally underrepresented in the archives,” said Sarah.

Hear from Sarah in this short video

A host of organisations and major corporations, from government to education, have come forward to share their own stories since the start of the pandemic and these examples are only a snapshot of the response from the Preservica user community.

We hope that by sharing some of these stories on World Digital Preservation Day 2020, we will help you continue your digital preservation journey as we continue to navigate the pandemic together.

Further reading

RCN supports frontline nurses during COVID-19 pandemic with online information hub

Keeping on track: How Network Rail has documented the COVID-19 pandemic