A city's pandemic

A city's pandemic

How are the people of the city of Cambridge documenting their changed lives?

Cambridge University Library’s collaboration with the people of Cambridge brings to light the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Green leaf social distancing markers at Cambridge Botanic Gardens. Photo credit: Lloyd Mann

Green leaf social distancing markers at Cambridge Botanic Gardens. Photo credit: Lloyd Mann

Image 1: Socially distanced exercise class in Coleridge Recreational Ground, Faruk Kara
Image 2: Punts and grey heron near Trinity college, Dora Pereira
Image 3: Mill pond, punts but no punting,
Dora Pereira
Image 4:
Empty path, Dora Pereira

Launched in April 2020, Cambridge University Library’s Collecting COVID-19 initiative aims to build a collaborative history of the coronavirus outbreak and capture the experience of the Collegiate University and the city of Cambridge.

To date, almost 240 digital items have been transferred into the collection from nearly two dozen contributors, including photographs and audio material as well as video, song lyrics, art work and other creative projects.

"Once lockdown kicked in, the word "HOME" took on more meanings, and maybe the meaning even changed for some" -HOME by Suzanne Morris

"Once lockdown kicked in, the word "HOME" took on more meanings, and maybe the meaning even changed for some" -HOME by Suzanne Morris

The library is looking to collect all kinds of digital and physical materials relating to the pandemic. These include, but are not limited to, videos, photographs and images (including posters and leaflets), audio recordings, creative projects, as well as journals and diaries.

Taken at home during Lockdown indicating online classes showing the need for privacy, technology and adequate internet connection. Image credit: Faruk Kara

Taken on the market at the fishmonger. I took this to highlight the queuing sign to observe social distancing. Image credit: Faruk Kara

Taken at home during Lockdown indicating online classes showing the need for privacy, technology and adequate internet connection. Image credit: Faruk Kara

Taken on the market at the fishmonger. I took this to highlight the queuing sign to observe social distancing. Image credit: Faruk Kara

“How has the pandemic affected patterns of labour, social activity and leisure?” asks Jacky Cox, Keeper of University Archives at Cambridge University Library.

COVID-19 has altered everything about the way we work, socialise and interact with one another. The library aims to reflect how the community of staff, students, alumni and members of the greater Cambridge city, have adapted to life in the ever-changing ‘new normal’.

Among the unique deposits is a new hymn for Holy Week, ‘Dark is the Night’, written and donated by Chaplain Ally Barrett – and sung here by the choir of St Catharine’s College.

Photographs sent to the UL capture the deserted streets of a once bustling city centre, family and community life under lockdown, as well as a look at how Cambridge Colleges and departments are preparing and adapting to new COVID-19 regulations.

Empty streets and the ubiquitous Deliveroo cyclist. Image credit: Faruk Kara

Empty streets and the ubiquitous Deliveroo cyclist. Image credit: Faruk Kara

Life under lockdown gave people of all ages the chance to be creative. Four-year-old Guy de la Verpillière spontaneously imagined his family being infected by COVID-19. The virus is depicted growing in the bodies in each of the figures who seem to be enclosed in a "monster-like" house.

Felt-tip pen drawing on A3-format paper by four-year-old Guy. Credit: Lorraine de la Verpillière

Felt-tip pen drawing on A3-format paper by four-year-old Guy. Credit: Lorraine de la Verpillière

Further hand and digitally-drawn pictures have been donated by Suzanne Morris, reflecting on her thoughts and feelings during lockdown and her experience of the pandemic.

Insprired by the pack buying of hand wash and hand gel in March 2020 just before we we told to lock down. Credit: Suzanne Morris

Insprired by the pack buying of hand wash and hand gel in March 2020 just before we we told to lock down. Credit: Suzanne Morris

Annaliese Emmans Dean from York, decided to record an audio diary of the first 100 days of lockdown, contemplating those first weeks of a ‘new normal’.

A short example of Anneliese Emmans Dean's lockdown diary.

A short example of Anneliese Emmans Dean's lockdown diary.

Also donated to the collection are four issues of The Nose, Peterhouse MCR magazine. A light-hearted newspaper put together for, and by the graduate students of Peterhouse, Cambridge, during the COVID-19 lockdown, April-May 2020.

Montage of issues of The Nose

Montage of issues of The Nose

The Kettle’s Yard Community Team set up a Lockdown Letters project which encouraged members of the public to write letters to the gallery reflecting on their experience lockdown. The letters will become part of the library’s COVID-19 Collection.

Poet Hannah Jane Walker arranged extracts from some of the 41 of letters sent in as a collage poem, ‘How we got through’.

In the Time of Sorrow. Credit: Suzanne Morris

In the Time of Sorrow. Credit: Suzanne Morris

In the Time of Sorrow. Credit: Suzanne Morris

In the Time of Sorrow. Credit: Suzanne Morris

Lockdown begins. Credit: Suzanne Morris

Lockdown begins. Credit: Suzanne Morris

Count. Credit: Suzanne Morris

Count. Credit: Suzanne Morris

The aim for such a collection is for the material to be made available to researchers and academics in years to come. While the UL, and faculty and departmental libraries, carry on their processes of opening fully after lockdown, the commitment to digital collections has never seemed so crucial. 

Taken in the grounds of Great St Mary's Church with people using the space to have lunch, coffee or just a break. Credit: Faruk Kara

Taken in the grounds of Great St Mary's Church with people using the space to have lunch, coffee or just a break. Credit: Faruk Kara

Potential donors of physical materials are encouraged to act as their own archivists for the time being until the building fully reopens and it can be deposited.

The COVID-19 Collection is a community archive, built by the people of Cambridge - in whatever guise, city dweller, staff, student or alumnus/a -  eyewitnesses to events, the ‘abstract and brief chronicles of the time’.

Decorations in Granchester for VE celebration. Image credit: Dora Pereira

Decorations in Granchester for VE celebration. Image credit: Dora Pereira

Image 1: Establishing family time routines and taking advantage of our outdoor spaces ensuring vitamin D,Faruk Kara
Image 2: A socially distanced conversation between neighbours,
Faruk Kara
Image 3: Garrett Hostel Lane,
Dora Pereira
Image 4: An empty Trinity Lane,
Dora Pereira
Image 5: Art is hope,
Suzanne Morris

“In the coming months, the collection is promised posters, parish newsletters, and hand printed zig-zag books, among other things. We know we’ll be collecting responses to the pandemic for as long as it continues to determine our local, national and international story” adds Jacky.

More information about how to get involved and donate items to the collections can be found on the Frequently Asked Questions page.

You can help the Library by sharing your experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. Contact digitalpreservation@lib.cam.ac.uk to get involved!

Taken in Canterbury St during Lockdown easing: a Ph.D student neighbour reaching out to say hello. Image credit: Faruk Kara

Taken in Canterbury St during Lockdown easing: a Ph.D student neighbour reaching out to say hello. Image credit: Faruk Kara