Responses and Retrospectives: Sarah Meidl on The Colorado State University Archives & Special Collections Covid-19 Archive

Sarah MeidlThis is the latest post in our series Responses and Retrospectives, which features archivists’ personal responses and perspectives concerning current or historical events/subjects with significant implications for the archives profession. Interested in contributing to Responses and Retrospectives?  Please email the editor at with your ideas!

MLIS candidate at the University of Washington and SAA student chapter member Sarah Meidl brings you an interview with Mark Shelstad, Coordinator for Digital and Archives Services at Colorado State University.


Mark Shelstad manages the Covid-19 Archive at Colorado State University, a new project that seeks to document the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the community of students, faculty, and staff at CSU.

Please see the Society of American Archivists’ press release (drafted by COPA) for more information on organizations documenting COVID-19 in their communities.

Q. When did the Covid-19 Archive project start and what gave you the idea for the project?

A. Our official start date for working at home was March 23rd. And like many colleges and universities out there we were anticipating how the virus might affect the university community. In doing so, we surveyed what other institutions’ documentation efforts, and we took to heart the option for digital acquisitions through web harvesting, and a digital submission form to document the virus’ impact on the University’s community. Submitters can also fill out a questionnaire to share their personal stories about the virus’ impact on their studies, work, and other challenges.

Q. What types of submissions have you received so far?

A. So far, it’s been a little bit on the low side. We’ve received a couple of student video projects which have been great talking about their experiences. One is really well done with two students sharing their experience prior to being sent home interspaced with text messages that they were receiving from the University emergency response team and the county health office. We’ve had a couple submissions of folks who were sent home, the impact of doing remote work and remote learning, and then a lot of images from around campus, and where people self-quarantining.

Q. Are you open to all kinds of digital formats?

A. We wanted to set a low bar for submissions So far they have been the standard JPEGs, PDFs and MP4s. But we’ll do our best to accept the formats as they come in and convert them as needed.

Q. Are you actively processing things or are you waiting until things go back to normal to start the processing project?

A. We will begin making the items available in our digital repository, Mountain Scholar. When a corpus of material has been submitted, a Story map or another online exhibit platform will interpret the materials.

Q. How many people are working on the project right now?

A. Four members of Digital and Archive Services have been involved over the course of the project in developing the digital submission form, metadata creation, and web harvesting.

Q. Are the users creating any metadata for what they are uploading?

A. Yes, users are providing information about themselves, creation of the items, location, and topics. People have been very willing to share this information and self-document. s.

Q. And is this project just for the Colorado State University community or is it open to anyone?

A. As the University Archives, our project is focused on the CSU community. We have talked collecting scope with other archives in the area, and the University Museum of Design and Merchandising, which is collecting masks and clothing. The campus GIS center, the Geospatial Centroid, is running a survey on people’s locations after the semester moved online. We’ve managed to identify portions of this documentation project in a collaborative way.

Q. Will you experience any challenges when you start processing materials? Do you have access to needed software?

A. Submitted items are captured in the cloud, and our digital repository platform is DSpace, so we’ve been able to work in this new environment without many challenges.

Q. Have you had any challenges working from home?

A. Personally speaking, the main challenge has been getting bumped off the VPN depending upon user volume, and making the transition to Microsoft Teams for communication and collaboration.

Q. In addition to this project, are you also working on your regular projects?

A. Yes, we have other projects developed for remote work since we aren’t able to work on physical collections. Namely they involve metadata creation and cleanup, updating finding aids and Wikipedia entries. We also have two crowdsourcing projects underway, one for CSU President Charles Lory, and for interstate water compact attorney Delph Carpenter

Q. Have you managed a similar project in the past where you’re trying to have members of the community upload materials, or is this new ground for the Archives?

A. This is the first round for us, and I’m interested to see what kind of response we get over time. We’re planning to keep the project open, well after the return to work order has been lifted so folks can keep contributing. My sense is that individuals will have an opportunity down the road to reflect on their experiences.

Q. You mentioned having a collection in your digital repository. What is your plan on arranging materials in the repository?

A. We will load them into a Covid-19 collection within our University Archives Community in the repository, with Dublin core metadata supporting their discovery.

Q. Do you see this project as fulfilling the mission of Archives and Special Collections for CSU?

A. Absolutely. These are unprecedented times, and we need to document our individual and shared experiences, ranging from safety protocols, faculty moving their instruction online, staff working remotely, and students who had to leave campus on short notice and transition to online learning. At CSU, it harkens back to a devastating flood in 1997, and I would want to draw upon the oral histories with our emergency response team for comparison.

Q. Do you have any advice for other cultural heritage institutions that may be working on similar projects? Or, lessons learned from your experience so far?

A. I would say jump in. It’s an opportunity for setting collecting priorities and methods, and outreach with potential donors and users. Publicity is also very important, and this project’s selling point is the organic submissions, and getting to tell your story.

Q. How have you been publicizing the event so far?

A. We have used various outlets, such as our campus newsletter and social media outlets, and directly with targeted constituents. A schedule has been developed as periodic reminders for the fall semester.

Q. What do you see as the impact of this Covid-19 pandemic on the profession and on archival institutions?

A. I think there’s a great opportunity for a profession-wide case study to see what efforts were successful, what kind of materials have been acquired, how access and interpretation are being provided, and the impact this documentation efforts has with public policymakers.

Q. Anything to add?

A. In the fall we’d really like to do that oral history with our senior leadership to capture the lessons learned from the pandemic. For students, to have a story-both project for them to drop in and share their experiences, and a digital acquisitions day when they return. We would want to engage with them in physical and digital spaces.

This post was written by Sarah Meidl based on an interview conducted with Mark Shelstad. The opinions and assertions stated within this piece are the interviewee’s alone, and do not represent the official stance of the Society of American Archivists. COPA publishes response posts with the sole aim of providing additional perspectives, context, and information on current events and subjects that directly impact archives and archivists.

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