COVID-19: Collecting so that we don’t forget

by Martine Renaud, Librarian, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec [1]

The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the news for months because of its sheer scale and its impact on our economy and social life as well as our health. How will it be remembered in a few years? The Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-1919 is sometimes described as the forgotten pandemic[2]. This time, how can we make sure nothing is forgotten? Preserving the memory of this turbulent and exceptional time is crucially important for tomorrow’s researchers.

Capturing the Web

The Web and social media are playing a key role in the pandemic. They enable the instant spread of information (as well as fake news), provide a space for exchange and communication in a context of social distancing. BAnQ has been collecting Québec websites on a selective basis since 2009. The result of this harvesting is largely available on the BAnQ portal. Sites for which BAnQ has not gotten permission are preserved, but not made available. They can be accessed for research purposes.

Collaborative Collection

In February 2020, the International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC) called on its members, including BAnQ, to create a collaborative collection of websites dealing with the emerging pandemic.

BAnQ’s contribution to this collection formed the basis of the Québec collection, which we decided to create once the scale of the crisis became apparent. BAnQ  had already created several collections on special events, for example the 375th anniversary of the city of Montreal, the collection on the pandemic is part of this corpus around exceptional events.

The Québec collection includes Québec government websites, and sections of websites, dealing with the pandemic. It also includes the websites of public health authorities (Directions de la santé publique), Québec’s National Public Health Institute (INSPQ), as well as the CISS and CIUSS (Integrated Health and Social Services Centres). Web pages about the pandemic from a number of cities and towns are included, as well as universities, CEGEPs (senior high schools), and school boards. Websites of companies that are particularly affected by the pandemic, such as financial institutions and supermarket chains, are also included.

Articles dealing with COVID-19 from Québec-wide and regional papers are collected, as well as parts of the websites of professional orders and associations. Of course, sites that have emerged or been in the news since mid-March, such as, are also harvested. At the time of writing, over 15,000 URL addresses have been collected, and new ones are added every week.

Capturing social media

As for social media, BAnQ collects the Twitter feeds and Facebook pages of personalities and public bodies involved in front-line management of the crisis, such as Premier François Legault, Québec’s health ministry (Santé Québec), and the City of Montréal’s police department (Service de police de la Ville de Montréal). All over the world, memory institutions are working to preserve traces of the pandemic. Thanks to these efforts, it is our hope that nothing will be forgotten.


[1] This article will appear in the June 2020 issue of À rayons ouverts – Chroniques de Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, No. 106 (Spring/Summer 2020), p. 26.

 [2] Alfred W. Crosby, America’s Forgotten Pandemic – The Influenza of 1918, 2e édition, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003, (consulté le 4 mai 2020).

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