Covid-19 collections

CDC model of coronavirus ultrastructural morphology
This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Credit: CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MSMI; Dan Higgins, MAMS

The British Library is building major collections relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.

About the collection

In March 2020, as Covid-19 hit the UK and the first national lockdown began, many local, regional and national projects began to document the ongoing pandemic. Colleagues across the British Library have worked to archive many of these projects, and also offer advice and insight into these collecting efforts. Due to lockdown, isolation and social distancing, many of these projects used innovative solutions to bring people together and collect material. The Library also recognises that the impact of Covid-19 will be felt for years to come so will continue to archive relevant material as part of its ongoing collecting, including in collections that do not focus specifically on the pandemic.  

This overview gives insight into the collections that are now archived at the Library, or for which there is firm agreement for material to become part of the collections. Some of the material is already available in the Reading Rooms or online, whilst other items are in the process of being catalogued in readiness for public access.  

Websites

The UK Web Archive Coronavirus (Covid-19) Collection has captured over 6,500 websites covering diverse aspects of national and local activity and debate during the pandemic. Many of the archived websites in the Coronavirus (Covid-19) Collection are available online and the full collection can be accessed onsite in the Reading Rooms. The UK Web Archive team based at the Library continue to take a leading role in international networks such as the International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC) Content Development Group. 

Further information is available in the UK Web Archive collection guide

Oral history

The Oral History team were integral to providing practical advice to the oral history sector on interviewing during the pandemic and to thinking through some of the ethics of recording testimony in a pandemic. This information is kindly hosted online by the Oral History Society. In partnership with the University of Manchester, the Library is archiving an extensive collection of recordings from over 1,320 interviewees on the history of the NHS, which includes the NHS Voices of Covid-19 interviews, funded by UKRI. Interviews from the Voices of our National Health Service collection will be available in the Reading Rooms from May 2022 and online later in 2022. The Ming-Ai (London) Institute recorded 50 interview with members of the Chinese communities in the UK, funded by DCMS's Cultural Recovery Fund (managed by the National Lottery Heritage Fund). Life in the Time of Corona: Collective Memory of the Chinese Communities in the UK will be available in the Reading Rooms from May 2022 and online later in 2022.

See our Oral History collection guide for further information on our holdings.

Children's play and radio testimony

The Library is a key partner in Play in the Pandemic: A National Observatory of Children’s Play Experiences During COVID-19, funded by the ESRC. The Library is archive partner for digital sound recordings and, selectively, digital video recordings that document of children’s unique experiences of the pandemic. The material will be received by the Library later in 2022.  

The British Library is the archive for the BBC Listening Project on Radio 4 and regional stations. All of the full ‘conversations’ recorded during the pandemic will be available online on British Library Sounds in summer 2022. The BBC Local Radio Lockdown Upload initiative enabled listeners to upload audio, video and textual content reflecting their experiences of and reactions to the crisis.  A curated selection of this material will arrive at the Library in later 2022.  

See our English accents and dialects collection guide for further information on our holdings.

Radio and television broadcasts

The Sound and Vision team have collected off-air recordings from 17 television channels and around 60 radio stations across the UK, and a sample of broadcasts from overseas. The material can be accessed in the Library’s Reading Rooms. 

See our Television and radio news collection guide for further information on our holdings.

Covid Chronicles

BBC Radio 4’s PM news programme ran a daily Covid Chronicles feature between 18 March 2020 and 31 March 2021. There was an open submission for 400-word pieces of text, of which a selection were then read out loud by the author and then broadcast on PM. The BBC received over 1,800 written submissions, 870 of which are being archived at the Library. The collection is currently being catalogued in the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue and will be available in the Reading Rooms later in 2022. The Chronicles that were recorded and broadcast will be archived and made available as part of ‘Broadcast News’ in the Library’s Reading Rooms.

For further information, contact the Contemporary Archives team on mss@bl.uk with 'Covid Chronicles' in the subject header. 

Popular music

The Library will soon receive the audio from Chris Warburton (a Weekend Breakfast presenter on BBC Radio 5 Live) for the Covid-related feature Now That's What I Call Lockdown.

The Library will archive many commercial music recordings relating to the pandemic from a wide range of artists, including Taylor Swift, Van Morrison, Richard Dawson & Sally Pilkington’s extensive Bulbils albums, Drill artist Psychs’ track 'Spreadin’ (coronavirus)', and Tom Rafferty’s ‘Quarantunes’ project of guitar instrumentals. Takuroku, Café OTO's new label, was set up to release music recorded in lockdown and has sent in 130 albums from major UK & international experimental musicians and lesser known artists.

All will soon be catalogued in the Sound and Moving Image catalogue and available in the Reading Rooms.

See our Pop music recordings collection guide for further information on our holdings. 

Literary and creative recordings

Highlighted contributions to the Library’s literary collections include Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods reading his short stories; Anoushka Shankar’s 100th birthday tribute to Ravi Shankar by his students; theatre company Forced Entertainment’s online Zoom piece End Meeting for All; and Dan Rebellato’s ongoing interview series ‘Playwrights in Lockdown’. The Library will also collect the complete #StayHomeSounds project from Cities and Memory, which contains many examples of the weekly health worker appreciation tributes that were held around the world during lockdowns, and audio recordings of urban environments before and during lockdown restrictions.

The Library has archived Crips without Constraints – eleven monologues written in isolation by deaf and disabled writers commissioned by Graeae Theatre in collaboration with playwright Jack Thorne. Each short monologue is read by a deaf or disabled actor from home accompanied by captions and audio description. All of these items will soon be catalogued in the Sound and Moving Image catalogue and available in the Reading Rooms.

See our Drama and literature recordings collection guide for further information on our holdings. 

What is available online?

Many of the archived websites in the UK Web Archive Coronavirus (Covid-19) Collection can be accessed online. Later in 2022 several of the oral history collections will also be accessible online. You can search all of the British Library’s catalogues online.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

As soon as material is received by the Library and catalogued, it should then be available in the Reading Rooms. Timescales will vary between collections and curatorial departments. To find out more about specific collections, follow the further information links to contact the relevant department.