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How to Preserve Your Pandemic Experience

In my recent vlog on “Preserving the Year We’d Rather Forget,” I talked about the importance of taking a moment to pause and reflect on the last twelve months. As more people become vaccinated and begin resuming portions of their pre-pandemic lives, memories will fade. It’s vital that we take the time to document the highlights and lowlights for future generations — before we no longer remember the details. 

Whether you’re looking at documenting and preserving the last twelve months from a personal perspective for your descendants or from a professional one for future employees or members, start by thinking about what has been produced that represents your pandemic experience. What items would we have scrapbooked or put into a time capsule to teach historians about this unique period in our personal or organizational history? 

Here are some examples to kick-start your own reflections:

  • Screenshots of Zoom calls, whether for work meetings, book clubs, or happy hours (Preserve the fact that NOBODY can look good in a screengrab!)
  • Signs and photos from protests you or your loved ones attended
  • Invitations to virtual celebrations for birthdays, weddings, baby showers, or graduations…or the notices cancelling the events
  • A playlist of songs that got you through the year
  • Recipes for and photos of the bread you baked (Kudos if your sourdough starter is still kicking.)
  • Takeout menus 
  • Selfies with your “I Voted” stickers and your vaccine cards 
  • Patterns you used to sew masks when we first realized how much they mattered 
  • A list of the shows you binged (Bridgerton, anyone!?) 
  • Photos of empty shelves at the grocery store (Yes, the toilet paper glut was terrifying, but it must be documented!) 
  • Photos of your work from home or homeschooling area(s) 
  • Signs asking people to social distance 
  • Photos of renovation projects or the garden you planted
  • Images of normally busy cities with empty streets during lockdown 
  • Memes (Social media won’t last forever — document!) 
  • Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration poem 
  • Photos of jigsaw puzzles you completed 
  • A list of books you read 
  • Photos of the puppy you adopted (Or if you were crazy like moi, the puppies you adopted!) 
  • Correspondence (Support USPS!) 
  • News articles about how your company or organization pivoted during the pandemic, e.g. the distilleries that made hand sanitizer

Next, think about the different phases of the pandemic (lockdown, extended social distancing, quarantining after exposure, returning to in-person schooling, vaccination, etc.) and what they meant to you. Consider setting aside some time to create something that reflects on each phase from your perspective. It could be a few written paragraphs, a poem, a vlog, or a drawing or painting — whatever your preferred outlet is. 

Ask your family members to contribute. The perspective of a child who is suddenly being homeschooled might (or might not) be similar to that of a parent who is suddenly having to supervise remote learning. If you’re preserving for an organization, ask a wide swath of employees or members to contribute. The lockdown phase probably felt much different to a frontline health care worker than it did to someone who was able to work from home or to someone who was laid off because of the pandemic. 

Finally, think about how to gather and store all of the above so that it is accessible to future generations. Your personal photos, memes, and moments live on social media for now, but download or screenshot what you want to save and gather those together in a folder on your home computer. For safekeeping, back that folder up with your cloud storage platform of choice. Any physical objects should be stored using acid-free archival boxes and folders. We recommend checking out Hollinger Metal Edge. To help you remember what it is you’ve preserved and why, create a spreadsheet that records a few details about each item. (We have a free template download just for that!)

Of course, if you’re looking to preserve a large number of artifacts for your organization and you’re in need of a digital preservation strategy and software, drop us a line.  

Whatever you decide to save, now is the time. Before your calendars begin to fill with social engagements again, dedicate a few hours to reflect and preserve. Save your history.

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