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A Web Letter from the Office of the Provost - September 2021

By Mary Jane Chew

Libraries’ COVID stories tent captures students' memories and perspective

In the March 2021 edition of Momentum, Libraries introduced Purdue COVID Stories, an ambitious archival project in conjunction with the Office of the Provost and WBAA. Led by Archives and Special Collections (ASC), Purdue COVID Stories is an ongoing effort to collect the personal experiences of members of the Purdue community during the global pandemic and then, to preserve those stories for posterity in the University Archives.

In order to increase student interest and engagement in the project, Libraries hosted a video storytelling tent outside the Thomas S. and Harvey D. Wilmeth Active Learning Center during Boiler Gold Rush week. Faculty and staff took turns interviewing students about their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using a set of interview questions developed by ASC, Libraries captured video stories of resilience navigating COVID-19, lost loved ones, high school plans interrupted, and the unique challenges and uncertainties of applying to college during a pandemic. In total, Libraries collected over 160 interviews from both undergraduate and graduate students who hailed from places across the country and around the world. Some were humorous, others solemn, but each had something in common– a tremendous amount of Boilermaker pride, perseverance, and optimism for the future. 

Dean Beth McNeil interviews an undergraduate student for Purdue COVID Stories during Boiler Gold Rush 2021.
Dean Beth McNeil interviews an undergraduate student for Purdue COVID Stories during Boiler Gold Rush 2021.
Photo credit: Libraries and School of Information Studies, 2021.

“I personally conducted dozens of interviews and was struck again and again by the honesty, vulnerability, and eagerness of our incoming students to reflect and share their experiences,” said Beth McNeil, dean of Libraries and School of Information Studies. “These students wanted to talk. Many of them needed to talk. Each interview felt powerful and cathartic, and I am humbled to have been part of those moments.”

These stories and more will be catalogued, archived, and digitally preserved by ASC for future researchers to access, study, and understand the pandemic experience at Purdue. To learn more about this project, please visit this website, and be sure to look for the Libraries’ storytelling tent at other events throughout the year.