COVID-19: Preserving the stories of Australia

COVID-19: Preserving the stories of Australia
Recording the experiences of Australians
12 May 2020

As Australians live through a global pandemic, the National Library of Australia is determined to make sure that their stories and experiences are preserved for future generations. Right now, the Library is working alongside the State and Territory libraries around Australia to archive websites and online publications to ensure that the stories and experiences of COVID-19 are remembered in the future.

In today’s society, cultural, social, political information—which, ultimately, has enormous historical significance—originates online. Since February 2020, we have been proactively collecting Australian online content; preserving this moment in history, and making it discoverable for generations to come. Once it is safe to do so, we are also keen to collect other material, including ephemera, that records the day-to-day experiences of Australian people.

In February 2020, web archivists began identifying and collecting material about, what was then, a breaking national story about a novel Coronavirus, COVID-19. Online material that has been collected includes a mix of government advisories and tertiary education information for incoming students. News sites have also been archived, as well as travel advisories from travel companies like Qantas and Virgin Australia.

While the focus of our web archiving collecting has been on critical government information and national news sites, we have also been doing what is possible to collect more broadly to document a variety of perspectives.

A particularly challenging part of the impact of COVID-19 has been the ramifications the virus has had on many Australian livelihoods. I Lost My Gig Australia was established as a quick-response data capture project to quantify the impact of COVID-19 on performers, musicians, production teams, crews, and venues.

I Lost My Gig – Australia, 28 April 2020, retrieved from webarchive.nla.gov.au/tep/181028

The I Lost My Gig site was first archived by the Library on 26 March 2020. On that date, the tally of lost earnings was $46 million. The most recent capture of that website, made on 28 April, shows the devastating impact COVID-19 is having on this sector, with lost earnings now totalling $340 million.

Online content changes quickly and very often disappears. This is why it is so important for the Library to capture critical moments in time while it is possible to do so. In doing so, the Library ensures that rich content will be available for future generations.

As of today, 681 websites have been collected, with collection activities remaining ongoing—meaning that tomorrow, this number will increase. Some sites are collected daily, some weekly and others monthly. 

Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) COVID-19 Corona virus, April 4 2020, retrieved from webarchive.nla.gov.au/awa/20200403152400/http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/95304/20200404-0000/headspace.org.au/young-people/how-to-cope-with-stress-related-to-covid-19/index.html

You can access webpage snapshots and collections we have saved from a point in time about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic and Australia, 2020.

While web archiving is at the forefront of collecting, the Library is also collecting material in other ways to ensure that COVID-19 is remembered and preserved. Publishers from across Australia are already depositing electronic publications in the National edeposit service (NED). NED is an online service for publishers that enables the deposit, management, storage, preservation, discovery and delivery of published electronic material across Australia. Maps, newsletter, and statistical bulletins relating to COVID-19 are just some of the types of content already available through Trove.


Australian Strategic Policy Institute, After Covid-19: Australia and the world rebuild (Volume 1) (cover), 2020, nla.cat-vn8279191 

We are confident that we will capture much of the online Australian content mandated by legal deposit, but we know that there is more out there that we need to collect to tell the National story.

Support Act | The heart & hand of Australian Music, 29 April 2020, retrieved from webarchive.nla.gov.au/awa/20200415010857/http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/181473/20200415-1057/supportact.org.au/index.html

The challenges of collecting in a pandemic are not insignificant; our traditional methods of crowdsourcing contributions from the community are not possible. Plucking posters off of walls or signs from supermarkets may compromise public health and safety messages—plus, with the official advice to stay home and limit excursions outside your home, the National Library could not be seen to be encouraging Australians to undertake non-essential travel.

We are working with photographers who are visually documenting COVID-19 around Australia and we will later conduct oral histories with a diverse group of interviewees to ensure that many perspectives and experiences are recorded.

COVID-19 is a global issue and so is our collecting; our Indonesian Office will pursue local collecting of ephemera and other published material once it is safe to do so. Pacific websites related to COVID-19 from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, and Bougainville are being archived.

You can help us, for example, by collecting and keeping printed ephemera like the flyers in your mailbox about your neighbourhood COVID-19 support group and sending them to us when it is safe to do so. Content from remote and regional Australia is of particular interest, along with content in languages other than English. Follow the National Library’s social media channels to learn how to help us collect this National story.

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