We’re living through historic times—and libraries are working to make sure stories of life during the pandemic are collected and preserved for future generations. Through oral history and archive projects, librarians are encouraging community members to contribute text, images, and other mementos to serve as a collective record of COVID-19.
At Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL), staff are encouraging Angelenos across the city to participate in their Safer at Home Archive Project; locals can submit journal entries, drawings, poetry, and more through their online system. So far, they’ve collected a number of photographs reflecting the changes big and small that society has gone through during the pandemic. Images range from a snapshot of a café menu listing rubber gloves alongside almond milk to a haunting photo of a masked pregnant woman attending a doctor’s appointment alone.
Academic libraries like the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) Library have also been documenting how their communities have experienced the COVID-19 crisis. UNO’s submissions have been from university students, faculty, and staff (from class projects about the pandemic to documents from a virtual commencement ceremony), but all Omaha residents have been encouraged to participate. Some contributors have found particularly creative ways to express themselves: the submissions include stage plays and musical compositions.
While not every library has an initiative like these, anyone can make a point to document life during COVID-19. It might feel daunting at first, but archivists emphasize that there’s no right or wrong way to get started. UNO archivist Lori Schwartz has advice for people new to journaling: “Every so often, jot down a couple paragraphs about how you're doing, what your days are like, and the things that have happened to you recently. A few months from now, you'll have written down more than you thought possible.”
Adding as much detail as possible will help future generations to learn from what you write. “It is helpful to include specific details that demonstrate how you fit into the world and the pandemic itself,” Suzanne Im, acting senior librarian at LAPL, told I Love Libraries. “Names, locations, demographic information, professions, and event details (such as birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, etc.) all provide context for future researchers to draw from.”
Archivists emphasize that collecting these memories can help both present and future generations. “It is our hope that people can use this collection to help them heal or come to terms with the trauma of COVID-19 as well as provide researchers materials in the future,” Claire Du Laney, outreach archivist at UNO, told I Love Libraries. “If we are diverse, inclusive, and equitable in our collecting practices, then we can help ensure that research and scholarship about the pandemic reflects that diversity and inclusivity.”
While our everyday experiences may not always feel newsworthy compared to the lives of public figures, all of our stories are worth collecting. “Famous people are not the only ones who make history,” Suzanne Im from LAPL shared. “We are all eyewitnesses to history; the COVID-19 pandemic affects us all.”
Photo credit: Credit: Larry Salazar, Safer at Home Archive, Los Angeles Public Library Special Collections.
Subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter to stay informed about all the amazing ways libraries are serving their communities throughout the COVID-19 crisis. And for more resources for collecting memories from life during the pandemic, check out the StoryCorps Connect project.