Watkinson Library Collects COVID Stories from the Community for College Archives

3 min read

Brendan W. Clark ’21


Trinity College’s Watkinson Library and College Archives has started an initiative to collect stories from students, faculty, staff, and other members of the Trinity community about their experiences during the 2020 coronavirus crisis for preservation in Trinity’s archives. 

The Tripod spoke with Director of Special Collections and Archives Christina Bleyer who indicated that the Watkinson staff realized that they should be “documenting this” after the first week Trinity began remote instruction. Bleyer added that other NESCAC institutions, including Connecticut College, undertook similar initiatives around the same time. College Archivist and Manuscript Librarian Eric Stoykovich also spoke with the Tripod, adding that he has found “more than 60 institutions” that have sought to preserve COVID stories in various media formats. 

Responses can be submitted in a number of ways—audio, visual, pictorial, or text-based—and can be uploaded via the archive’s “Stories from the Summit” online form. Responses are encouraged from across the Trinity community, including staff, whom Bleyer identified as a group that is often “disproportionately missing” from the archives. Bleyer told the Tripod that they have seen a “pretty good response” so far and added that they received a significant collection of video clips reflecting on the current situation from students in a class taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Film Studies Ian K. Harnarine. 

Stoykovich indicated that inspirational programs, such as the Library of Congress’ Story Corps, have focused on the value of “documenting the now.” Stoykovich added that Trinity’s initiative reflects the need for the College archives to “emphasize collecting and documenting student experiences” and has as its focus “preserving the digital.” 

Originally, the program was driven by the Watkinson’s student employees, who have been interviewing current students and preparing other materials on the COVID crisis to include in the collection. The Tripod spoke to Kyre William-Smith ’21, a Watkinson student employee and one of those who conducted interviews, who aid that he has found it “interesting to interview students and see how things have been for them.” William-Smith added that he has conducted “three interviews, and each of them were very different.” They included an informal interview collected while playing a video game and two formal interviews conducted over Facebook Messenger and Google Duos. 

“What a college archives aims to do is tell the history of the college,” Bleyer added, emphasizing that this project is one attempt to tell Trinity’s store during this momentous time. She added the importance of preserving Trinity’s history now, citing the limited information that was documented about Trinity’s experience with the influenza pandemic of 1918 as a case for preserving our collective history today. 

William-Smith echoed Bleyer’s comments, stressing that “while we can always look at statistics of the broader picture of things, nothing is more eye opening than reading about personal experiences.”  William-Smith is hopeful that by reading these stories, “people could know they aren’t alone” in this difficult time. 

For the future, Bleyer emphasized adding additional Omeka exhibits of COVID stories to the Watkinson’s new virtual museum to share the materials with the Trinity community. 

If you would like to submit materials, you can do so via the online portal here


Brendan W. Clark '21 is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Trinity Tripod, Trinity College's student newspaper.

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