Archiving the COVID-19 Stories from the Black Community: An Interview with Archivist kYmberly Keeton

Archiving the COVID-19 Stories from the Black Community: An Interview with Archivist kYmberly Keeton

Documenting COVID-19 and its impact on our communities continues to be important work for librarians and archivists. We interviewed academic librarian Gina Murrell last time on her experiences collecting stories from the university’s perspective. What about the communities at large, particularly the Black community? New archiving projects such as BLACK COVID-19 INDEX aim to focus on collecting stories, images, and audio and video files by Black community members in response to the pandemic. In this post, I speak with kYmberly Keeton, African American Community Archivist and Librarian at the Austin History Center in the Austin Public Library to learn more about the BLACK COVID-19 project.

Ray: Can you briefly share how and why you decided to create BLACK COVID-19 Index?

kYmberly: I decided to create the BLACK COVID-19 Index because I did not see any representation in the United States or from a global standpoint where people of a darker hue have a space to share their experiences about what is taking place in their lives right now and going forward. I believe that as a Creative Interdisciplinary Mixologist, I need to always design a medium, tool, or resource when necessary to help for the greater good of mankind. In like manner, I wanted to make sure that African-American individuals have a safe space to be themselves and not forced to write a particular way or have any restrictions pertaining to creativity and their politics. The moniker for the project begins with NOW COLLECTING STORIES! 

ART | library deco, an online African-American digital art library, will document all entries submitted by individuals in its repository and will publish a journal to commemorate selections submitted during 2020. The journal will be published by NOVELLA MEDIA. We are currently using Google Forms to collect stories and multimedia through December 31, 2020. The journal is entitled REDUXX! 

Ray: This project is very timely. As an archivist and librarian, are there any specific findings or areas you’d like to highlight from the contributions so far?

kYmberly: I would hope that individuals that decide to contribute are as honest as possible about their experiences during this time. One of my favorite writers is Lorraine Hansberry. Her words of wisdom are crystal clear, and I offer them to you: “Never be afraid to sit a while and think.” My question to the world at this moment is, Have you thought for a while? Have you written down how you are feeling? Have you taken a picture of your children in real time? Are you creating paintings that you never thought you would have the time to get back to? What happened in the grocery store when folks saw that you were purchasing face masks for the homeless? These are some of ideas that I hope people are thinking about and documenting their experiences. Documentation and genealogy are important during this time based on the number of lives lost in the African-American community and the reasons why it is important to know your history. I encourage you to go back in the past and learn more about your family. Above all, it costs you nothing to tell your truth, your story, your experience!

Ray: What do you hope to achieve with this project, and how might the project help us understand the impact on the lived experiences of people of color?

kYmberly: This project is about African-American people globally and their experiences during a pandemic affecting Black people at an alarming rate. Personally, I hope to achieve what I am seeking—experiences of people of color to document, archive, and share with future generations. I believe that taking the time to read or view archives donated to this project will have a profound effect upon people because the truth will always set you free [and people will be] supporting an African-American women-owned business that has taken a leap of faith to create something of this caliber in spite of daily stresses, news, and unrest…History repeats itself…My question to your audience: Have you documented your truth in this moment?

Submit Stories, Art, and Multimedia to the BLACK COVID-19 INDEX:

Visit & Subscribe to ART | library deco:

Learn More About NOVELLA MEDIA:

kYmberly KeetonkYmberly Keeton is a native Texan, a nationally published writer, an art librarian & archivist, and genealogy curator. By day, the ALA Emerging Leader and Library Journal 2020 Mover & Shaker is the African American Community Archivist & Librarian at the Austin History Center, Austin Public Library. Independently, Keeton is the Chief Artistic Officer of NOVELLA MEDIA, a creative multimedia production company and the founder of ART | library deco. Currently, the writer is pursuing a Ph.D. in Data Science at the University of North Texas. The creative interdisciplinary mixologist can be seen on the regular with her dog, Roxy Blue. And if nothing else, kYmberly is always taking time to read books, write hooks, and design the next…

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