Davis Family Library’s Special Collections archive is about to get a whole lot crunchier. Beginning this semester, Special Collections will save the contents of a favorite student Facebook meme group, Middlebury Memes for Crunchy Teens, to its catalog of digital student life artifacts.
The Facebook group, which was founded two years ago by Katie Corrigan ’19, features memes created and shared by students that poke fun at administrative decisions, joke about dining hall preferences and otherwise reflect on quirks of campus life. Special Collections will begin to “sweep” memes posted to the group once or twice per semester, according to Digital Projects & Archives Librarian Patrick Wallace, and memes will become available in the archive five years after they are collected.
Crunchy Teens came to Special Collections’ attention after a digital archivist at Williams College told Wallace about a meme group there. Preserving artifacts that document trends in student life is one of the cornerstones of Special Collections’ work, according to Wallace, and internet memes — captioned photos of TV characters, distracted boyfriends, grumpy cats and other recognizable personalities — have become a staple of online expression for young people at Middlebury and beyond. It therefore seemed an obvious step to add Crunchy Teens’ memes to the archive.
“The Internet meme is a new type of information container with rules and implications I am not sure we, as a society or as scholars, have fully sorted out,” Wallace wrote in an email to The Campus. “I could be wrong, but I suspect that future scholars will be far more interested in how, sometime in the 2010s, people across the world shared, criticized, and affirmed their ideas by captioning pictures of cats or Simpsons characters than we might presume. If so, Middlebury Memes could be an invaluable resource for students and faculty in the 22nd Century.”
To collect and catalog memes posted to the group Special Collections will use a service called Archive-It, a software run by the Internet Archive that “crawls” the site and captures the page as it loads, according to Wallace. The software will only capture content visible to normal internet users looking at the page in a browser, and is almost entirely automated. Wallace said he will conduct periodic check-ups on Archive-It’s progress in preserving the site.
When Special Collections approached current group administrator Torre Davy ’21 about archiving the group’s contents, student privacy concerns emerged as a priority for the group administrators and Special Collections staff alike.
“I had concerns about anonymity and how quickly posts were going to be archived, because I do have to remove a fair number of posts that don’t follow the group’s rules,” Davy said. “But I really liked that they were so willing to meet with us and discuss these apprehensions and they really listened to them.”
Documenting student voices in ways that do not punish dissent or criticism of the administration is a process that Special Collections is familiar with, and Wallace was intent on heeding those concerns in cataloging Crunchy Teens.
“I think there is a knee-jerk reaction that includes this notion of Special Collections as a ‘Big Brother’ figure watching what students do so we can report it to Old Chapel or something,” Wallace said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We are focused on preserving student voices with as much of their original context as possible in part because it provides a measure of accountability to administration. If criticisms are being leveled against college administration in Middlebury Memes and that goes into our collection, those criticisms become much harder to sweep under the rug.”
Wallace said that Special Collections also takes privacy concerns into account when planning out the “harvesting” process, as he calls it. The process is automated and will occur infrequently, so people have plenty of time to delete “regrettable” posts. Additionally, access to the material collected from the page will be closed until five years after the time of collection, meaning that any material that could potentially reflect poorly on a student would not be visible outside of the Facebook group until that time.
EARLY DAYS, GROWING SUCCESS
Corrigan founded Middlebury Memes for Crunchy Teens in February 2017 in the weeks following the Charles Murray protest, when she began to feel that political discourse among students had become stilted. Meme groups at other colleges had become popular in recent years, and a visit to a friend at the University of Pennsylvania, where students posted homemade memes in the group “Official Unofficial Penn Squirrel Catching Club,” made Corrigan think that a similar group might benefit Middlebury students looking to engage in dialogue about contentious issues with a lighthearted bent.
“My friend at UPenn showed me their Facebook meme group where students critique their administration, fellow students, and bonded over the funny little things about living in an institution that controls a whole bunch of your life,” Corrigan said. “I was put out that Midd didn’t have one until I realized it was very, very easy for me to make one.”
The group took off the following semester while Corrigan was studying abroad. Now, it has more than 2,100 members and usually features several student posts per day. The group’s most popular memes include takes on walking across muddy Battell Beach in the fall, the add/drop process, divestment, Feb culture, changes to the college bookstore, the blender in Crossroads Café and the recent renaming of the building now officially known as the MAC.
“I feel like this space is unique in its ability to facilitate discussion, because everything is covered with a layer of satire, no matter how thin,” said Torre Davy ‘21, one of the group’s current administrators. “It, to me, feels like a space where people aren’t really worried to voice their opinions and the democracy of Facebook reactions shows agreement or disagreement.”
Corrigan was amused and grateful when she heard that Special Collections was interested in preserving the group she created.
“I received the email during a dance rehearsal and honestly just laughed,” Corrigan said. “I am often overcome with how ridiculous it is that the meme page is probably my biggest contribution to the college during my time here, and now it’s being recognized by an official body.”
Ultimately, Corrigan was appreciative that Special Collections recognized the group as a valuable representation of student life over the past two years.
“When you think about it, the group is this little capsule of what we cared about from tiny moments in time,” Corrigan said of the group. “Given how quickly internet platforms rise and fall, I thought it’d be nice to preserve it so that maybe someday, some Midd kid 60 years from now writing a paper on meme culture of the 2010s would be able to use it and learn something about what it was like to be us.”
Middlebury Memes for Crunchy Teens is one of many student media outlets that Special Collections archives with the goal of preserving student voices, and students who wish to submit a publication, Facebook page or other online media outlets to Special Collections can do so by visiting go/submiturl.