UNO Criss Library archivist documenting student experiences during pandemic


Elle Love

Photo courtesy of Omaha World-Herald/Ryan Henriksen

UNO Criss Library archivist Claire Du Laney said the “Documenting COVID-19” project was started as a way to give UNO Library’s student employees work that would help them document their experiences during the pandemic.

“The director of Archives and Special Collections, Amy Schindler, saw other institutions talking about this kind of project on social media and professional platforms,” Du Laney said. “It allowed for a creative outlet during a very stressful time while also helping the Archives and Special Collections gather important materials about this specific moment in history.”

Du Laney said documenting an experience, especially during a major event like the pandemic, is important because it sparks conversation while the events are still fresh in our minds.

“Memories have a tendency to fade and time dulls the sharpness of how we remember actions, experiences and emotions,” Du Laney said. “This event has so many different social, political, community and economic facets that we want to gather the evidence of how many diverse groups experienced this event.”

Hagel Archivist and project co-lead Lori Schwartz added that people do not usually record their everyday lives.

“However, the mundane is a big part of many of our lives right now. What are we eating? How are we getting our groceries? How often are we wearing our masks? What do we do in our free time? What is our learning and work-from-home setup like?” Schwartz said. “All of these will help us properly record experiences of our community during this pandemic.”

Schwartz said several student employees kept journals and created art in tribute to the project, but the contributions won’t be collected until they’re completed and safe to mail or drop off.

“We’ve received many reflective writing pieces and photos from community members, and emails and videos from faculty, but we hope to get many contributions from UNO students,” Schwartz said.

Du Laney said the goal and mission of the project is to give students, faculty, staff and members of the Omaha community an opportunity to reflect and document their unique experience. She said it also provides a space for these materials to be preserved and made accessible to people in the future who want to understand what it is like to live through COVID-19.

“We in the Archives and Special Collections are well positioned to do this work because we have the ability to make these types of materials available for use, and we are always striving to make the historic record more inclusive and equitable,” Du Laney said. “If nothing else, it’s an invitation to be creative and release a little stress through journaling, creative writing or photography.”

Du Laney and Schwartz encourage students to contribute whatever they feel they can add to the project.

“We are always happy to chat about donation type, format or if students want to restrict access and not have their materials available for research immediately,” Du Laney said.

Du Laney said there are questions to help prompt writing reflections, but any form of art produced by students can be archived.

“We provide some questions that can prompt writing or reflecting. But really just about anything students produce can be archived. If you paint something, send us a photo. If you write a play, send it to us. If you make a zine, donate a copy. If you are still stuck, get in touch with us,” Du Laney said.

Lori Schwartz said journaling, writing letters to your future self or poetry would be a start, even if it’s sporadic.

“If you produce something that shows how you feel and what you’re doing during the pandemic, it counts,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz said the collection with available to view items will be in the Archives and Special Collections reading room, on the Criss Library website and periodically on display at the library.

Du Laney also said there’s no rush to participate if you don’t have the time or mental bandwidth to create something during the time period because students’ voices and experiences matter.

“Just email us and let us know you’d like to participate at some point. We foresee this as being a really long-term project so we will be collecting for a while,” Dulaney said. “Archives and Special Collections are for everyone and should include materials from everyone.”

To contribute to the “Documenting COVID-19” project, contact Clare Du Laney at or Lori Schwartz at