Cal State LA launches Pandemic Diaries digital history project

While navigating through the coronavirus pandemic since March 2020, the Cal State LA community has been adapting to a new normal of online learning, teleworking, social distancing and sheltering in place.

Each of the tens of thousands of students, faculty, staff and alumni who make up that community potentially has a unique or personal story about life under COVID-19.

With that in mind, Cal State LA is inviting every member of that vast, varied community to contribute digital diaries to a project that will collect and archive firsthand accounts of this historical moment.

“The Cal State LA community is very diverse, and what we try to do in Special Collections and Archives is collect stories of our diverse campus community,” said Azalea Camacho, an archivist and special collections librarian who is the lead on the project.

“This is really important because usually their stories are missing from historical records and they are not preserved,” Camacho said. “The goal is to capture such experiences now, as they are happening.”

The Cal State LA Pandemic Diaries Project, organized by the University Library Special Collections and Archives, aims to provide future researchers and historians with a better understanding of how individuals, as well as the collective community, adjusted to the uncertainty of this unprecedented time.

More than 100 student digital diaries have been submitted to date, but the Special Collections and Archives is seeking additional video or audio recordings, photographs and written accounts to represent the full diversity of cultures and voices of Cal State LA and its surrounding community.

Camacho encouraged members of the neighboring communities and local businesses to also share their successes and challenges.

Their stories are “important and historically significant,” she said. “The project’s goal is to bring awareness of how our community is experiencing the pandemic, so it is important for everyone to voice their opinions and perspectives.”

In addition to Camacho, the project team includes Jamie Zeffery, digitization projects assistant, who handles the digital submissions and processing of the digital diaries, and Juily Phun, professor of Asian and Asian American Studies, who provided the questions to guide participants through capturing their digital diaries.

Some of the questions that can be used as prompts for individuals who are recording their digital diaries include:

• How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your life, family or instruction?

• What is your daily life like during quarantine?

• What changes have you made to your daily routine to stay safe?

• What feelings are you experiencing?

• Have you had any revelations or realizations?

To submit a digital story, photo or document, and for information on how to record a digital diary, visit the Pandemic Diaries Project instructions webpage. A virtual exhibition of the project will be displayed on the University Library website near the end of the spring semester.

Photo: A notification regarding alternative instruction at Cal State LA displayed on a digital screen on campus. (Credit: Emilio J. Flores/Cal State LA)

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