by Sydney A. Stalnecker 

On the fifth floor of William F. Maag Jr. Library, behind the glass windows, sits the Archives and Special Collections. For the last year, Youngstown State University’s archivists have been collecting information and materials for the COVID-19 YSU Experience Repository. 

Cassie Nespor, curator of the Maag Library Archives, conducts the collection for the repository. 

“A repository is a safe place where you keep things,” Nespor said. “In our work it is a synonym for the archives.”

She divided the repository into two sections: the university’s response to keep the public informed, and the personal experiences of students, faculty and staff.

The materials submitted and collected are kept digitally and are going to be made available for future researchers to get a well-rounded understanding of the pandemic’s impact on campus.

The archives already house records of documents published yearly by YSU.

“We collect the university history regularly,” Nespor said. “We collect things like the news reports from the marketing department, board of trustees minutes, all of The Jambar’s.”

However, she recognized the usual gathering of this information wouldn’t be enough to capture exactly how COVID-19 was affecting the campus and the students attending it. YSU also began to change how it reported COVID-19 related news, which led Nespor to change her means of collecting information.

Lisa Garofali, an assistant archivist at Maag Library, has helped Nespor collect materials since the beginning.

“It started in the spring when everyone was sent home,” Garofali said. “At the time, we all knew this was something unusual, and it was an event that was significantly affecting people and their lives.”

In April 2020 they began collecting the university’s response to the pandemic through websites, emails, documents and posts from social media.

“I save the Dashboard every week in a PDF. I save the COVID website that we have.  I saved information from the Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety Department,” Nespor said.

YSU President Jim Tressel also made an appearance in the repository as well. Nespor saved the videos he posted on social media platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, as well as videos of him at town hall meetings.

The only physical materials Nespor has collected so far are the care-packages given out by the university upon the students’ return to campus. These include YSU-themed face masks and hand sanitizer packaged in a little grey bag with the “Y” logo on the front.

Nespor realized only gathering information on the university’s response was leaving out a major component of the pandemic’s effect on campus. 

“As the summer wore on, I thought it would really be nice to be able to collect how people are responding to that,” Nespor said. “How they feel, how they shifted classes, what kinds of problems that created for teachers and for the students.” 

Some of the first personal experiences she collected were of the video messages sent to spring 2020 graduates from family members. 

“During graduation, they asked families to send video messages to the graduates, so I have those kinds of files,” she said.

The Dana School of Music performed at the 2020 commencement ceremony, which was recorded. The video was sent to Nespor and accompanies the video messages.

She began asking students, faculty and staff to write personalized, first-person accounts related to their COVID-19 experience and submit them using the form located on the homepage of Maag Library’s website. 

“There should be a web link for a form that you fill out, and you type your COVID story,” Garofali said. “If you have any other type of media you would like to send us, whether it be music or a video you could email the archives.”

The document on the website provides suggestions for possible story ideas. Students can write about the shift to remote learning in the spring, studying and working from home, working at an off-campus job – particularly in the service industry – and staying in touch with friends and family.

Nespor knew putting out a news release asking for story submissions wouldn’t draw much attention. She reached out to Shelley Blundell, an assistant professor of journalism and communications and the adviser for YO Magazine, to publicize the collection and create another outlet for student submissions. 

As the magazine adviser, Blundell proposed the idea to Zach Mosca, the Editor-In-Chief of the magazine. He agreed to dedicate the spring 2021 edition of YO Magazine to “COVID Voices.”

“Every story in the magazine is going to be about somebody’s experience with COVID-19 or how COVID-19 has affected campus, has affected the local Youngstown area, etc.,” Mosca said.

The special edition of the magazine highlights the COVID-19 YSU Experience Repository, but it is not included in the repository itself. The archive already has a different collection for all editions of YO Magazine.

“My goal is that 50 years from now, when students wonder about this time and what it was like they can go and read some of the stories that are in this repository and get a good understanding of how our lives changed,” Nespor said.