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‘Collecting COVID’ exhibit highlights material from library archive

A new online University Libraries exhibit of photos, blog posts, recordings and other artifacts archived over the past two years lets you revisit the pandemic experience at Carolina.

Collage of four images: three Covid-related posters and a photo of masks
Four items from the exhibit (clockwise from top left): “Are You Okay?,” by Robby Poore; “Mask Up and Buy Takeout,” by Bob Goldstein; “Princess Leia,” by Mike Benson; and face masks by Barbara Tysinger.

A Carolina Together Care Kit. A notification for a positive COVID-19 PCR test. A Kenan Cutout with a lifesize photo of University Librarian Elaine Westbrooks made to place in Kenan Stadium during football games. You’ll find these and other artifacts in the University Libraries’ newest online exhibit, “Collecting COVID: Documenting the Pandemic Experience at Carolina.”

The exhibit includes documents, artifacts, websites and audio-visual recordings that reflect the pandemic experience at Carolina and the surrounding communities. Some of those items are part of the Carolina COVID-19 Archive, 2020-2021, created by library staff soon after the pandemic started. “How great would it have been if people in 1918 had systematically collected items documenting the 1918 influenza pandemic and the impact it had on campus,” said Linda Jacobson, keeper of the North Carolina Collection Gallery. “I would have loved to have some of the masks that were worn or additional documentation — more than what was saved. It’s important for us to document the current pandemic for the future.”

The archivists began collecting material back in March 2020, around the time the University transitioned to remote operations because of the global pandemic. “When really big events happen, archivists automatically start thinking about how they should be documenting what is happening,” said Jessica Venlet, assistant university archivist for records management and digital records. “In addition to collecting University documents, we began asking ourselves what was appropriate to collect and asking people to share any contributions.”

The collection features artwork created during the pandemic by local artists. The Orange County Arts Commission hired Carrboro artists for a social media campaign, #MaskUpOCNC, which urged Orange County residents to comply with state and county mask mandates. One of these posters features popular “Star Wars” character Princess Leia wearing a mask above the words “You came in that thing? Good for you!”

Bob Goldstein, James L. Peacock III Distinguished Professor of biology in the College of Arts & Sciences, created public service announcement posters that were displayed throughout Chapel Hill and Carrboro. One looks like the classic Uncle Sam “I want you” poster, with a finger pointing at the viewer encouraging them to stand more than 6 feet apart. Another poster features Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, depicted above the words “Pray for us Saint Anthony.”

Robby Poore, design manager at the UNC School of Government, made a coloring book that illustrates aspects that he and his family experienced during the pandemic. One of the coloring sheets features a work-from-home setup that includes multiple characters on a computer Zoom call.

“Collecting COVID” is an ongoing project. Do you have something you would like to share from your pandemic experience? The collection still welcomes submissions from members of the Carolina community as well as Triangle area residents. If you have a physical submission or you would like to nominate content for the web archives please contact archives@unc.edu to discuss your donation.

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