UVA library system sharing revelations after year documenting COVID-19 pandemic

A vaccine being administered to a patient.
A vaccine being administered to a patient.(NBC)
Updated: Mar. 29, 2021 at 4:21 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - We are living through history, and the University of Virginia library system has been documenting hundreds of websites since the first COVID-19 case in the commonwealth.

The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library is partnering with the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library to capture websites related to this pandemic. They hope to synthesize everything into one historical resource: From initial mask mandates, to the current vaccine distribution process, and the overall effect to the Charlottesville area.

“We’re looking at school board sites, we’re looking at the hospital, we’re looking at internal documents, these kinds of things,” Dan Cavanaugh, collections specialist at the the UVA Health Science Library, said.

The team scours hundreds of websites, capturing speeches, state guidelines, and more all with the goal of understanding how our approach to the pandemic has changed over time.

“We’ve been getting the most ephemeral things that get deleted with the idea that later we can get oral histories. We can go to people and talk about their personal experiences, and then maybe they can donate personal photographs,” Cavanaugh said.

The team is now sharing some revelations, including how history really can repeat itself.

“A lot of the things that occur - anti-masks protests and things like that - all occurred in 1918. I felt like I was reading current events. It’s interesting to see that 100 years later, somethings change, and somethings don’t,” Cavanaugh said. “Initially, we all thought it was going to be two weeks, three weeks, whatever. So we were doing things that you would do in an emergency. As this goes by, this is no longer an emergency, this is part of our lives.”

With COVID-19 becoming a part of our daily lives, it’s made documenting the pandemic itself difficult.

“The coronavirus information has blended into other information and it’s just become part of the reality. So now we’re just documenting everything at this point, there’s no specific coronavirus documentation,” Cavanaugh said.

The team says hopes to create its historical resource sometime in 2022.

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