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Documenting life online in Aotearoa during COVID-19

April 7th, 2020, By Valerie Love

An overview of some of the work that the Library’s Digital Collecting and Legal Deposit teams are currently doing to collect and preserve online materials related to COVID-19. Get in touch with questions or ideas, or if we can support your communities.

Aotearoa in the time of COVID-19

The doors closed at Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa National Library of New Zealand with the country’s move to COVID-19 Alert Level 4. Our emphasis in the early days has been making sure that our people and whānau are supported as we all transition to the realities of life under lockdown.

Teams across the National Library are working from home to continue to provide services remotely wherever possible. Our digital specialists are also working to ensure that born-digital and online content relating to this unprecedented period in Aotearoa New Zealand’s history is collected and preserved in perpetuity in order to support future research and study.

We do this as part of the Library’s legislative mandate to collect, preserve, and protect documentary heritage and taonga relating to Aotearoa New Zealand.

Get in touch if you have questions or ideas

This is an overview of some of the work that the Library’s Digital Collecting and Legal Deposit teams are currently doing to collect and preserve online materials.

We are very keen to work with colleagues across the sector, so please get in touch if you have questions or ideas, or if there are ways that we can support your communities. Email us at Information.NationalLibraryofNewZealand@dia.govt.nz

Web Archiving COVID-19

The Alexander Turnbull Library’s digital collecting team has been collecting websites since 1999. Our team of web archivists are currently combing the internet to harvest webpages relating to COVID-19 in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Government information

This includes government information such as the Government’s official site, https://covid19.govt.nz/. Already you can see the changes from when the site was first launched through today.

Screenshot of top of NZ government COVID-19 website. Shows heading "Together we can slow the spread".
Unite against COVID-19 New Zealand Government website, https://covid19.govt.nz/. As harvested on 18 March 2020. Catalogue record.

News stories

Another area of emphasis for our web archivists is news stories about COVID-19 in New Zealand. This ensures that articles from sites like Radio New Zealand, Stuff.co.nz, and The Spinoff are preserved in the National Digital Heritage Archive.

Screenshot of article by Siouxsie Willes and Toby Morris from the Spin Off website.
“What does ‘level two’ mean – and why does it matter? Article by Dr Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris, harvested 24 March 2020. Catalogue record


We’ve also seen a resurgence of New Zealanders blogging and offering insight into their daily lives under lockdown. One such example is writer and artist Sarah Laing and her daily visual diaries.

Screenshot of top of Sarah Laing's blog ‘Let me be Frank’
Sarah Laing’s COVID-19 visual diaries, harvested 25 March 2020. Catalogue record

Archiving Twitter

Twitter is one of the ways in which people immediately document what is occurring in their lives and in the world around them. The Twitter API enables users, including the Library, to collect content from the previous seven days on a specific topic, using either keywords, hashtags, or both. The fact that the Twitter API only allows users to harvest a week’s worth of tweets shows the ephemeral nature of social media content, and why it is necessary to collect it at the time of creation.

The hashtags #Coronavirus and #Covid19 have been trending on Twitter since the start of the outbreak. Web archivists around the world have been working to collect and preserve Twitter commentary relating to the virus.

When #Covid19nz began trending on Twitter, the Library’s Coordinator, Web Archives, started collecting that hashtag along with #coronavirusnz, in order to ensure that the Aotearoa New Zealand-focused COVID-19 Twitter conversation would be captured. Some of the hashtags we’ve been collecting so far include: #Covid19nz, #coronavirusnz, #StayAtHomeNZ, #StayHomeNZ, #nzlockdown, #lockdownnz, #NewZealandlockdown, #FlattenTheCurveNZ, #selfisolationnz, and #rāhui.

The crawls will continue while the COVID-19 situation is trending on Twitter, and the dataset will eventually be ingested into the National Digital Heritage Archive.

Tweet with image of rainblow and text "Minutes after they announced a 48-hr countdown to shutdown here in NZ, this happened. I like to think it's Mother Nature saying, "Don't panic, everyone. If we're sensible we got this" rainbow emoji #COVID19nz
Tweet with the #covid19nz hashtag by writer Isabelle Broom, from 23 March 2020. Tweet screenshot used with permission of the creator.


Memes are images, videos, and/or text that use cultural references to make a point about what is going on in the world around us. These are often posted to social media, and then copied and shared with slight variations by other users. Unsurprisingly, there has been a surge of memes relating to COVID-19, social distancing, working from home, and the lockdown during this time.

Choose your NZ author quarantine house, for exmaple, House #1 Katheirne Mansfield, James K Baxter, Nadia LIm, Charlotte Grimshaw and CK Stead
‘Choose your NZ author quarantine house’ meme posted to Twitter by Newsroom, 8 April 2020. Image used with permission.

We have identified over 150 different Covid-19 memes in the month of March, and 80 in just the first week of April. Many of these are specific to Aotearoa New Zealand; others reference memes making the rounds globally. Memes and other digital ephemera will no doubt be of interest to future researchers to understand both contemporary internet culture and the unique circumstances of the current rāhui.

Online publications, videos, and podcasts

The Legal Deposit Team is continuing to collect and request digital publications during this time, with a particular focus on COVID-19 material. This includes publications from health agencies as well as research and reports that are starting to emerge from academic institutions, NGOs and think tanks.

A lot of helpful information about COVID-19 and the rāhui is being produced in audio-visual formats, such as online videos and podcasts, which are also in scope for Legal Deposit. Kiwis are being entertained as well as informed by this audio-visual content, with many musicians, artists and comedians responding to the lockdown by sharing performances online.

Library staff are looking at ways of collecting this content, and we are keen to work with creators to bring copies of your online responses into the Library’s collections. Contact the Legal Deposit Team for more information at legaldeposit@dia.govt.nz.

Ways you can help us

If you find a website or other online publication that’s not already in our collection that you think should be, let us know!

Nominate websites, blogs for web archiving

You can nominate websites, including blogs, for inclusion in the Library’s web archive by emailing the web archivists or through our online web archive nomination form.

Email web archivists — web.archive@dia.govt.nz

Web archive nomination form

Let us know of New Zealand publications

Notify us of other New Zealand publications by emailing legaldeposit@dia.govt.nz.

Twitter hashtags

If there are Twitter hashtags that we’re not currently collecting that you think we should be, email us web.archive@dia.govt.nz

Find the information in the catalogue

You can search for digital publications (including websites in the New Zealand Web Archive) using the National Library Catalogue.

We’ll stay in touch

We’ll continue to share the Library’s work to document COVID-19 in Aotearoa New Zealand via this blog over the coming months.

We also continue to provide research and reference services remotely. As always if you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with using our Ask a Librarian service.

Kia kaha to all, from our bubbles to yours.

Co-written by Valerie Love, Kaipupuri Pūranga Matihiko Matua, Senior Digital Archivist, Gillian Lee, Kaiwhakarite Ngā Pūranga Tukutuku, Coordinator Web Archive, and Amy Joseph, Kaiārahi Rōpū Team Leader Legal Deposit.

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