Staff and students at Ithaca College are working together to create an archive documenting community members’ COVID-19 experiences
At the Ithaca College Library, a small but growing collection of personal letters, pictures and videos of life during the pandemic is being collected and archived by Bridget Bower, librarian and college archivist, who serves as the project’s administrator. Bower is assisted by communications librarian Cathy Michael and science librarian Abby Juda. The group also receives help from six student volunteers who interview people about their experiences during the pandemic. So far, the collection has 17 items and can be accessed through digitalCommons.
Several colleges have created archives dedicated to the pandemic — including Kalamazoo College and Reed College — that served as Bower’s inspiration. The Kalamazoo College and Reed College archives include materials like videos, writings, photos and audio recordings. Bower said she was interested in collecting records that depict the lived experience of a person during the pandemic.
“I knew as soon as we shut down in March  that this was a big deal for the college, and it was going to have a broad impact across students, staff and faculty — and it has,” Bower said.
Most of the content in the archive comes from the college’s student media outlets, like The Ithacan and WICB. Journalism students have helped contribute interviews to the archive, but Michael encourages all members of the campus community to contribute material to the collection.
“Newspapers are often seen as the first draft of history and historians refer to them as sources, but this is a mixture of journalistic coverage plus some personal reflections,” Michael said.
Michael also said she hopes the archive can reflect the impact the pandemic has had on the college community.
“I think this really caused a shift in society,” Michael said. “This will be an archive that will be a taste of the greater change in our world.”
Senior Antonio Ferme first became involved with the project after Michael reached out to him regarding a story he published to Ithaca Week, an online publication run through the Department of Journalism, about the Long Island History Project, a longform podcast that sheds light on Long Island history. Ferme attended the earliest meetings regarding the collection and helped to brainstorm ways to find content for the archive. Ferme now contributes by interviewing students about their experiences during the pandemic.
“After working on multiple projects related to local history, I realized the inherent importance of preserving stories for future generations,” Ferme said. “These stories can tell us more about our culture and where we might be headed in the future.”
Ferme also collaborated with junior Vedant Akhauri on a special edition of Ithaca Now for WICB called The Online Learning Curve. The story follows teachers and professors as they navigate hybrid learning during a pandemic. It is one of the pieces Ferme has contributed to the archive.
Ferme said he hopes the archive will be able to offer a tangible idea of what student life was like during the pandemic. Ferme also said he hopes the archive will serve as a valuable resource for future reference.
“We are living through history, and the ongoing pandemic will serve as a tantalizing conversation point for the rest of our lives,” Ferme said.