#NorthVanStories – Living History: A Collaborative Rapid-response Collecting Project
Published: January 10, 2023 by Dr. Jessica Bushey
At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Spring 2020, many archives, libraries, and museums launched rapid-response collecting projects to preserve material culture and documentary by-products of individuals and communities living through this difficult time. The projects varied in scope – from collecting physical records to engaging their communities in creating born-digital media – depending upon the institution’s existing technology infrastructure and staff capacity. In addition to challenges posed by health requirements, such as institutional closures, physical distancing, and quarantine periods for physical materials, project organizers needed to address the ethics of collections of trauma and take steps to protect the participants involved in rapid-response projects, including cultural heritage staff.
I am currently writing an article on the results of a rapid-response collecting project, #NorthVanStories that was launched in May 2020 by the North Vancouver Museum and Archives (NVMA) in British Columbia, Canada. As the lead Archivist on this project, I was involved in its planning and implementation from 2020-22, which included its transformation from a social media-based engagement to a more reflective community-driven video oral history project, #NorthVanStories – Living History. Utilizing a case study methodology, my article discusses the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to the NVMA as a publicly funded municipal/community archives, and provides recommendations based on the research findings. The recommendations will be particularly useful to medium-sized cultural heritage organizations who want to ensure that they remain relevant to, and representative of their communities during a crisis and throughout periods of uncertainty.
One of the key factors that contributed to the success of the NVMA project was the central role of collaboration throughout its development and implementation. In its first stage, collaboration between the archives, museum and communications & marketing departments within the NVMA provided a multidisciplinary approach to creating prompts based on our collections. Utilizing the NVMA website and social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) to disseminate our prompts, online communities responded by uploading their own content and adding our tag #NorthVanStories. By collaborating with social media audiences, we acquired born-digital content specific to the COVID-19 pandemic experience and provided digital access to our existing collections. In its second stage, an opportunity to collaborate with other cultural and social organizations across North Vancouver transformed the social media project into a video oral history project aimed at advancing equity and diversity in the community while supporting individuals to be more connected, build their capacity through meaningful participation and help others during the COVID-19 pandemic. By focusing on capturing and preserving personal accounts of the pandemic by members of underrepresented communities, the NVMA demonstrates its commitment to a process of reflection, healing and resilience. The success of this project would not have been possible without a collaborative approach as it provided the opportunity for a community archives with a limited budget and a small staff to gain access to funding, new perspectives, multimedia resources, and a network of trusted relationships.
 Arizona State University, A Journal of the Plague Year. Accessed January 4, 2023: https://covid-19archive.org/s/archive/page/welcome; Harvard University, COVID-19 Community Archiving Project. Accessed January 4, 2023: https://covid19.archives.harvard.edu/; and New York Public Library, History Now – The Pandemic Diaries Project. Accessed January 4, 2023: https://www.nypl.org/pandemic-diaries.
 The Steering Committee for the second phase of the project included leadership from the North Vancouver Archives, the North Shore Pride Alliance, Impact North Shore (formerly North Shore Multicultural Society), and St. Agnes Anglican Church. This collaboration was made possible through the Mayor’s Healthiest Small City Social Resilience Collective, Accessed January 6, 2023: https://www.cnv.org/City-Hall/Mayor-Council/mayor-linda-buchanan/community-updates.