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The COVID-19 Web Archives

by Kimberley Barker on 2020-08-06T13:49:00-04:00 | Comments


Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash
This article was written by Emily Bowden and Dan Cavanaugh, and edited by Kimberley R. Barker.


In March, the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library launched a project to document the COVID-19 pandemic at UVA and in Central Virginia. With our partners in University of Virginia Libraries, we are building a large collection of ephemeral online content, including websites, news articles, videos, podcasts, and blogs. Once complete, this collection will be a valuable resource that will help future generations understand how our local community shaped and responded to the pandemic.

A cross-Grounds team of librarians and archivists are working together to build this collection. At the heart of this group are ten individuals who have volunteered to capture relevant online resources before they are altered, deleted, and forever lost to history. Before this project, many of the 'web crawlers' had no experience with web archives. However, now they have become adept at using open source tools like wget and Webrecorder to save historically significant records.    

While some websites immediately presented themselves as likely candidates for collection, the project has grown tremendously since March with many new sites discovered along the way. As of the end of July, our team had collected over 150 unique websites at least once. At the core of this collection is a large number of UVA webpages featuring updates to academic calendars, alternate graduation plans, and, most recently, procedures for students and staff returning to Grounds. Also, archived materials include COVID-19-related ordinances for businesses and residents of the City of Charlottesville and surrounding municipalities, online learning plans from local schools, a huge assortment of informational resources offered by area nonprofit organizations, and a variety of articles from news outlets around the region.

Here are three examples of the type of content that comprises the COVID-19 Archives: 

Cville Craft Aid: www.cvillecraftaid.org


Crafty individuals in the Charlottesville area came together to create this volunteer-run resource. Cville Craft Aid tracks requests from community groups in need of masks, face shields, and other products, and distributes handcrafted (non-medical) supplies to local organizations. The site offers patterns for 12 styles of face mask, as well as surgical caps, gowns, and headbands (to relieve ear strain while wearing masks). Facilitating success through collaboration, the site maintains a digital community board for volunteers to share fabric, elastic, and even sewing machines.


City of Harrisonburg Coronavirus (COVID-19) Multilingual Resources: www.harrisonburgva.gov/covid-language-resources

Municipal government websites were identified early in the COVID-19 Archives project as important resources to capture. Containing press releases, emergency ordinances, and information on key community resources, these websites provide a view of local government's response to the pandemic. Many of these websites offer content in languages other than English, and the City of Harrisonburg maintains a particularly robust collection of multilingual resources that includes flyers and printable materials in Spanish, Arabic, Russian, and Swahili.


Charlottesville Tomorrow and Vinegar Hill Magazine's "Determined" series.

The COVID-19 Archives project has captured thousands of pages of news articles and videos produced by local media outlets. Among these materials is a tremendous six-part series created by Charlottesville Tomorrow and Vinegar Hill Magazine, which "uses the Social Determinants of Health as a foundational framework and guideposts [for] stories of how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted some of our African American communities."

The COVID-19 Archives project continues its collection efforts, while also preparing for later stages of the project and undertaking steps to ensure its long-term preservation. At this stage of the project, the project team plans to store the downloaded data into an environment hosted by the APTrust Consortium. Before being sent to APTrust, the data will be processed and cataloged in a finding aid hosted at the Health Sciences Library's ArchivesSpace repository. Initially, users will be able to search and browse the online finding aid for websites and other online resources they would like to view. Then, users will contact Historical Collections for instructions on how to access the websites. The current goal is to ensure that the proper infrastructure is put into place to sustainably preserve the data and make it at least minimally accessible. In the future, if resources become available, the project team would like to explore ways to make this collection more directly accessible to users and would welcome the opportunity to work with partners on interactive exhibits.

While it's possible that the finding aid might be available later this year, Historical Collections can't guarantee it, given the nature of the project itself; i.e., that the finding aid is being built at the same time that the material is being gathered. On an optimistic note, the project team is close to finishing its development of new tools and workflows that will enable it to process all of the gathered data.

For more information on the COVID-19 Archives project, you can contact Dan Cavanaugh, dmc7be@virginia.edu, or Emily Bowden, eab3w@virginia.edu.

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