Collecting during Coronavirus
Like many museums and archives up and down the country we are considering how we can record the impact of Covid-19 in our local area, so Stoke-on-Trent’s Museum Service and Stoke-on-Trent City Archives have joined forces to ensure there is a permanent record in the museum and archive collections. The blog below sets out our reasons for collecting this material and the issues we have considered. You can find contact details and a list of what we’re interested at the end of the page.
This is a global pandemic. We already know that Covid-19 related objects and stories are likely to end up in museums and archives all over the globe, and certainly in other UK museums and archives. So is there any need for us to save things in our collection too?
Most museums and archives are guided by their Collecting Policy which lays out what they are interested in collecting. The Museum’s local history section of our policy includes the follow areas of importance:
- Reflecting the domestic and working lives of people within The Potteries
- Recording the history and development of Stoke-on-Trent
- Reflecting modern communities in the city
Likewise our Archive Service Collections Development Policy makes clear that (in summary),
Stoke-on-Trent City Archives seeks to ensure that the collecting of archives reflects the broadest range of the life and work of the people and communities of Stoke-on-Trent, past and present, and to ensure that collections at risk are preserved. We collect archive and local studies material relating to the current administrative area of the City of Stoke-on-Trent. These will include: the official archives of Stoke-on-Trent City Council and its predecessor authorities; archives including those of businesses, industrial and commercial organisations, nonconformist churches, organisations, including pressure groups, and institutions, families and estates, societies, trades unions and political parties; books, pamphlets, newspapers and items in any other medium which will maintain as far as possible the comprehensive nature of Stoke-on-Trent’s Pottery and Local Studies Collection
The pandemic has clearly affected all of the above. Therefore there is a strong argument for recording Covid-19 at a local level in the museum and archives collection.
All museums and archives have a responsibility to collect objects, archives and local studies material in an ethical manner. We have to be careful that the recording and collecting of the current pandemic is done carefully and respectfully, especially at a time marked by much tragedy and loss. We need to put the needs of the community first at all times. Our professional Codes of Ethics call for museums and archives to be open about what they are collecting and why – something this blog is designed to explore.
As well as ethics to consider there are other key challenges we need to meet if we collect things related to the pandemic. Firstly, the potentially huge amount of material and experiences that could be included. It would be impractical to try to document everything and where do you draw the line on what constitutes a pandemic artefact, archive or item of local studies material? How do you pre-empt what could be historically important and culturally relevant in the future?
As with our day-to-day collecting we will try to gather a balanced and representative group of objects, archives, local studies material or whilst avoiding too much repetition of material.
Another big challenge is the fact that lots of material, especially photographs, is ‘born digital’. That is to say it was created digitally and probably exists in digital form only. Museums and archives are in the process of adapting to born digital formats. They are still genuine and important reflections of our time and we can’t ignore taking them in just because they don’t have physical form.
Finally, there’s the challenge of the pandemic itself. At all times we need to operate within the best possible guidelines and advice and ensure that we don’t put anyone from the community or our staff at risk during this process. Therefore, it is likely that whilst objects, archives or local studies material might be identified at this stage, physical donations would take place at a later date when safe to do so.
What we are interested in
At the current time we are interested in material from The Potteries including:
- Letters, posters, leaflets etc. from a range of local organisations that outline responses or news regarding the pandemic. The Archives already collects local newspapers, so there is no requirement to collect newspaper cuttings.
- Items made or used for display in windows and homes to show solidarity and support during the crisis
- Photographs and stories documenting lifestyle changes – for example, self-isolation, lock down, or changed working environment
- Longer-term we may also consider items of manufactured or homemade PPE where it is safe and suitable to do so.
If would like to discuss donating an object or record to the City’s heritage collections please get in touch via [email protected], if you are able to attach an image of your item to an email, that would assist our assessment. There may be a delay before we are able physically take any objects, archives or local studies material we accept due to current social distancing measures.
If you have items that don’t relate to Stoke-on-Trent, but elsewhere in Staffordshire, you can contact Staffordshire Archives and Heritage at [email protected].