UW Libraries Blog

April 6, 2020

Documenting COVID-19 – A Service of UW Libraries Special Collections

Ann Lally, Digital Collections Curator for Special Collections

The University of Washington Libraries Special Collections brings together the most rare and unique resources held by the larger University of Washington Library community. From papyrus to born digital, our holdings span history and the globe and offer boundless opportunities for exploration and discovery.

While many people associate our work with physical materials—our digital archives represent around 10% of our collection, and we are continually adding to it and creating new collections in real time. This work covers, among other things, documentation of web sites; current events as they are happening such as the 2017 Womxn’s March; and collecting electronic records from regional organizations.

At this unprecedented time in our history, documenting the impact of the novel coronavirus to our region is an active and ongoing effort.

Special Collections staff are still working, albeit remotely. We are galvanized in our role as stewards of the University’s history and our cultural heritage.  Documenting the COVID-19 pandemic is an important part of our job right now, and a service we are honored to perform.

1918 newspaper article on flu

A digitized copy of The Daily Seattle Times’ coverage of the 1918 flu pandemic.

Unlike the influenza pandemic of 1918 during which news was primarily conveyed by newspaper, today we have twitter feeds, websites, streaming video and a variety of other online news sources.

Special Collections has an active website archiving program in partnership with the Internet Archive. Since 2013, we have routinely captured the content contained in over 500 URLs documenting the wide range of our communities with the focus being on the Pacific Northwest. Many of the websites captured by this ongoing program are now documenting local reactions and initiatives in response to the novel coronavirus. These sites are updated regularly. For example, the Mountlake Terrace News is one local site regularly captured.

In addition, Special Collections is contributing local website URLs to an effort by the International Internet Preservation Coalition (IIPC) to capture websites from around the world related to the novel coronavirus pandemic; our contribution will be websites from communities and institutions of the Pacific Northwest. As one might imagine, there are many websites to be captured and there is currently a backlog of website URLs to be crawled, but they will be captured and made available in due time.

Our work in Special Collections is ongoing. In addition to preserving the past, we also collect for the future.  One day, when the crisis has long since passed, tomorrow’s scholars will be looking back at these materials for insight, context and answers—answers that can be found in the documentation of our region’s response, captured by UW Special Collections.

photo of Librarian Ann Lally

Ann Lally, Digital Collections Curator for Special Collections, working from home.

For more information about the COVID-19 archive, please contact me, Ann Lally, Digital Collections Curator for Special Collections: alally@uw.edu 
















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