Student View: Inviting the St. Olaf community to contribute to the College Archives
In this Student View column, student workers in the College Archives describe two projects they’ve developed to help capture St. Olaf’s history during “these unprecedented times.”
BY MADDY LAMERS ’21, SHELBY LOUK ’23, ERIN MAGOON ’21, AND BRIGID MILLER ’21
At this point, we’re sure that everyone is familiar with everyday references to “these unprecedented times that we are living through.” And it’s true, the last year of our lives has been a lot different than any of us would have expected. With so many life-changing events happening in one year, 2020 presented a new challenge for students like us, who work in the College Archives as stewards of St. Olaf’s history: how do we document the 2020 and 2021 St. Olaf student experience?
Capturing a Moment
Last spring, as our lives were turned upside-down, there were conversations within the College Archives staff about what we can do to authentically capture the history of these times, and also provide a place for members of the St. Olaf community to be able to share and process their emotions. From these conversations emerged two collaborative projects: the COVID-19 Archiving project and the 2020 Stories Project.
The COVID-19 Archiving Project gives members of the St. Olaf community the opportunity to donate items from or about their COVID-19 experience. These items can be in any form. Students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other members of our community have contributed photographs, videos, journals, songs, art, and personal social media posts to our growing collection.
The 2020 Stories Project welcomes members of the St. Olaf community to record an oral history, which is like an audio diary, to talk about any part of their experience in 2020, and now 2021, that they would like to have captured within the College Archives. We chose to frame this project around oral histories because this kind of audio record allows a person to be documented in their own words, on their own terms, and with their genuine emotions.
Across these two projects, the College Archives has already received contributions from over 50 members of the St. Olaf community, including students, faculty, and staff. As students assisting in these projects, it has been exciting for us to observe the way that people have begun to see their everyday lives as having value and historical insight for future generations. Some of our favorite contributions have described a person’s average day in 2020 or 2021. Future researchers will be curious about what it was like to live from day to day, and we are glad to see members of the St. Olaf community thinking about the historical significance of their experiences.
Today Holds Value for the Future
Within the archives community, there are discussions about an archives’ role as an active collector of material instead of a passive recipient. It is continually our responsibility, as employees of the College Archives, to be evaluating the archival collections and its contents to ask ourselves, ‘Who already feels invited to contribute, and who do we need to connect with more?’
An archive does its job best when a researcher can find original material reflecting a variety of perspectives regarding the subject at hand. This is why the COVID-19 Archiving Project and the 2020 Stories Project matter so much to us; they diversify who is adding their voice to the College Archives collections by providing an easy way for anyone to donate memories.
Like many of our peers, we felt adrift and aimless last spring when we were sent home in the middle of the second semester, and our lives still haven’t regained normalcy. Throughout months of public health crisis and social upheaval, we wanted to find ways to take care of and connect with our communities, and we’ve channeled those feelings into these projects. We want people who feel unheard to be able to tell their story on their own terms. We want people who feel out of control to be able to focus on a moment and share why it matters to them. And, most of all, we want all members of the St. Olaf community to feel valued and welcome to help create our collective history that will be examined by future generations.
Exploring a Future Career
As students who aspire to careers within the archives field, working in the St. Olaf College Archives has allowed us to learn about both the history of the college and the best practices and techniques of archival work. We have had the privilege of caring for historical documents, correspondence, video recordings, and other materials that tell stories about the people to whom items belonged and of what life was like in the past. Working in the St. Olaf College Archives has given us the opportunity to learn about the stories of past Oles, all while forging our own identities as students here.
Working on the COVID-19 Archiving Project and the 2020 Stories Project have expanded our roles as student employees and taught us valuable skills that we might not have learned otherwise. Brigid Miller ‘21 and Maddy Lamers ‘21 have worked primarily with the COVID-19 Archiving project, and their role has been to accession donated items and material into CollectiveAccess, our collection management database. This accessioning will allow the items donated to the COVID-19 Archive to be more readily accessible for researchers and interested parties in the future. Erin Magoon ‘21 and Shelby Louk ‘23 created the 2020 Stories Project, and have been with it at every step along the way. For them, the project has presented many new opportunities, like creating a promotional video for social media and even interviewing some members of St. Olaf’s administration for the collection.
It has been so inspiring for us to see how many students, faculty, and staff have contributed to these projects. Future generations of Oles will wonder what it was like to be alive during 2020 and 2021, and we are so grateful to the members of the St. Olaf community who have collaborated with us to create a large and multi-faceted collection of the 2020 experience. It speaks to the generosity of the St. Olaf community and their commitment to future students and researchers. We hope to create collaborative archives projects in any future careers that we may have, because we have been so gratified by the honest and emotional contributions to our collections.
For more information on these collaborative archives projects, or to get started, please visit the COVID-19 Archiving Project website, the 2020 Stories Project website, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.