As the College moved to remote classes for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester, Special Collections Librarian Elizabeth Williams-Clymer and College & Digital Collections Archivist Abigail Tayse were faced with a challenge: How could they continue to work remotely when the majority of their work was centered around physical artifacts? They were not alone in this; librarians across the country have had similar difficulties.
The solution to their problems arrived during a conference call with the Association of College and Research Libraries Rare Books and Manuscripts Instruction and Outreach Committee, from one librarian at Indiana University who suggested that college libraries could document their institutions’ experiences with the COVID-19 crisis. Since then, Williams-Clymer and Tayse, who together run the Greenslade Special Collections and Archives, have launched their own project at Kenyon, which they are calling “Archiving Kenyon’s COVID-19 Story.”
With this project, Williams-Clymer and Tayse hope to collect materials from various members of the Kenyon community in order to show a cohesive story of Kenyon’s COVID-19 experience. Though at first they did not know what they wanted to collect, the duo quickly realized that any materials would have to be digital.
“Right now, we don’t have a staff to receive packages on campus, [so] we don’t want anything physical … Our warehouse space is limited, so if we get a flood of materials … we don’t have room for that … so [a] digital [collection] was decided for multiple reasons,” Williams-Clymer explained. The project will therefore be posted on Digital Kenyon upon completion.
Since launching the project, they have received contributions from many different members of the Kenyon community.
“It’s nice to see not just students, not just faculty, not just staff [are submitting materials], and [that we are] having a good mix, even this early on when we don’t have as many submissions. It’s nice to have a mix from all over the community,” Tayse said.
Among these early submissions was a photo from Professor of Economics Jay Corrigan, who, after learning that his children would be homeschooled for the foreseeable future, brought home ducklings for his family. AVI Director Christopher Wisbey submitted a photo of Peirce Dining Hall’s servery set up to serve to-go meals to on-campus students. However, Williams-Clymer emphasized that the submissions are by no means limited to photos.
“We’re accepting audio, video, documents and images, and we’ve gotten [submissions] of each [type]. So people are not [just] sending us pictures from their cell phones,” she said. “It’s a nice variety, which is what we had hoped for.”
The duo also said that they wanted the collection to have as few constraints as possible, and that Kenyon community members should feel free to submit anything relevant to their COVID-19 experiences.
“We want stuff that’s related to classwork, connecting with friends, and all that kind of stuff. We also want the silly stuff that everybody’s doing to pass the time, all of the weird videos that are on the internet right now … We want everything, because it really creates a well-rounded picture of what everybody’s going through,” Tayse said. “I mean, we’re all having the days when we don’t want to get dressed, and [want to] stay in our pajamas all day and just kind of stare out the window longingly. But we want to have the joyful moments, too. It’s not just the one thing.”
Williams-Clymer echoed this sentiment. “We never really wanted to focus on the health crisis itself,” she explained. “We want to focus on the people in the [Kenyon] community—this isn’t a project to keep track of the wider world and what’s going on [with the pandemic]. That would be impossible, and it’s not really reflective of our community.”
Above all, William-Clymer and Tayse emphasized that this project is incredibly meaningful in these times of chaos and uncertainty, which they personally have taken comfort in as they receive submissions.
“[Not only is] this is creating a primary source for future researchers, [but it is] also just an outlet for expression for our community now … I can’t imagine that others won’t find some joy and digital collection like this,” Williams-Clymer said.
Tayse agreed. “Looking at the submissions … it makes you not feel alone, even when you’re alone in your house. It’s nice to know that other human beings are going through something similar and we’re all, you know, together apart.”
Though Williams-Clymer and Tayse are not sure of when they will end the project or what the finished product will look like, they are sure of one thing: that by the end, “Archiving Kenyon’s COVID-19 Story” will be a meaningful depiction of this difficult time, and will serve the Kenyon community for years to come.
You can submit photos, videos, audio files or documents related to your COVID-19 experience to “Archiving Kenyon’s COVID-19 Story” here