UC Santa Barbara’s University Library launched a new archives project in mid-May based on student, faculty and staff experiences during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The COVID-19 Archives Project is the library’s first fully digital collection. Cameron Hsieh / Daily Nexus

The project will be the University Library’s first fully digital and submission-based collection and marks a step toward “less traditional archiving,” said Calli Force, who spearheads the project.  

Force is the University Library archival processing specialist for California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives (CEMA), a division of the special research collections department that “advances scholarship in ethnic studies through its varied collections of primary research materials,” according to the CEMA website

The move to submission-based content is a product of discussions surrounding more “radical” archive groups, Force said, which offer more transparent and inclusive approaches to archiving.

“That allowed us to kind of just sit back and let them tell their stories rather than kind of picking and choosing and being that kind of secret keeper kind of archival experience. So a little less traditional archiving for community archives,” Force said.  

Force is working with Matt Stahl, the university archivist, on the COVID-19 archives project. Stahl said archives focus traditionally on documents like administrative records; while Stahl and Force plan to collect UCSB announcements and official documents related to the coronavirus pandemic, the focus for this project is to provide a community perspective of life during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The all-digital aspect of the project adds a greater degree of access for the UCSB community, many of whom are scattered across the country, to safely participate in the project. 

Through a google form on the University Library website, interested participants can answer questions about their coronavirus stories –– where they are waiting out the pandemic, how they have been impacted and how the pandemic has changed their perspective on life — all while remaining anonymous.   

Submissions could be anything from YouTube videos about a day in the life during the coronavirus pandemic to photographs of an empty UCSB campus to personal blogs, but the possibilities for submissions are limitless, Stahl said.  

“It allows for a safe place for self-expression and catharsis,” Force said.

But for Force, the role of documenting UCSB history during the coronavirus pandemic goes beyond simply archiving — preserving the experiences of individuals during the pandemic is an essential piece to recovering and surviving it. 

“We’re kind of acting as cultural heritage first responders. We’re responding to moments of tragedy and crisis in a different way than the frontline medical professionals do,” Force said.  

“We’re offering a way to preserve people’s stories and truths, not only for evidentiary value but for self edification to capture historical moments at its most raw and unfiltered form.” 

Stahl pointed to other examples of when UCSB archive projects were used as a response to community crises, like the Isla Vista Memorial Project. The COVID-19 archives project parallels the memorial project because both projects ask fundamental questions of “how are people dealing with trauma,” and “how does the UCSB community deal with trauma,” Stahl said.  

The COVID-19 archives project has been accepting submissions through its website since May 14, but there is no set deadline for the closure of submissions. Force said that the move to a digital platform will make keeping up with submissions more difficult, as technology advances quickly and the project team will have to stay up to date with making the archives “safe and accessible.”

Submissions are limited to UCSB-affiliated participants and will be curated through a “quality control process,” Stahl said, but noted that this process is only to filter out non-serious submissions. 

Now that Force and Stahl are in the collecting phase of the project, the next step will be organizing the incoming submissions and data from participants, known as “post-capture work.” Here, Stahl and Force will work to preserve the files and find a place to store them. 

Beyond preserving the everyday stories of the coronavirus pandemic, Force hopes that this project will open the community to the University Library’s archive work and encourage future collaborations. 

“There are places that want to tell their stories, that want to collect their history, that your individual experience matters,” Force said.  

“Telling that story as accurately as possible and creating that safe space and kind of forging those bonds is critical to the human experience.”


Sofía Mejías-Pascoe
Sofía Mejías-Pascoe is the deputy news editor for the 2020-2021 school year. She can be reached at sofiamejias@dailynexus.com or news@dailynexus.com