The poem you wrote about protecting and caring for your family.
That video showing stay-at-home orders through the eyes of a 6-year-old.
A photo of Grandma and Grandpa watching via video chat as your toddler smashed fists into their first birthday cake.
These moments may seem mundane now, but decades down the road they could be critical to helping reconstruct life during the historic COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re going through an unprecedented time here,” said Brett Lobello, director of regional history and genealogy for the Pikes Peak Library District. “When was the last time you had to shelter in place, you couldn’t go to work unless you were an essential employee, there were no schools?”
That’s why the library is asking the community for stories, memories, images, videos and journal entries — to name just a few — that put faces on and voices to the world as we now know it.
“We know this is historic, so we’re trying to capture people’s perspectives on what it’s like to shelter in place, what it’s like to work remotely,” Lobello said. “What had typically been our sanctuary or our release [became] the only place we have.
“That’s the kind of thing we want to collect, those stories of how people are dealing with the historic event on a personal level.”
Across the globe, as the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has spread, so too have efforts to gather and curate the very human stories of those impacted by the disease. Smithsonian Magazine reported on April 7 that: “Over the past several weeks, archivists at universities, museums, libraries and other institutions have begun to put out calls for oral histories from people weathering the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. These contributions … add depth and context to the accounts that will inevitably end up in history books — and for their creators, may provide some solace from the chaos.”
Historical documentation from the last pandemic of this magnitude, the Spanish influenza of 1918, tends to offer just one type of voice, Lobello said: that of the wealthy elite in political and social control. But when an estimated 500 million — roughly a third of the global population — were infected, it’s no secret that now-ancient flu ravaged more than one population.
So this time around, historians everywhere are taking a more democratic approach.
They want to hear from the teachers who were forced to lead classes via video conference, the entrepreneurs who struggled to meet payroll, the caregivers who split time between telecommuting and family, the front-line healthcare professionals, the survivors and those who are at high risk.
“What we’re really trying to do is make sure this is not just [one elite voice] but everybody,” Lobello said. “It encompasses people like me, people like you. Everybody who has a story has an opportunity to share their story, and it really gives us a more accurate portrayal of what this time was like.”
The library launched a digital portal that offers guidelines and some questions that can help focus your thoughts. The questions, located at ppld.librariesshare.com/ppldmemories, include:
How has your life changed?
What activities are you doing now that you did not do before?
How are you staying connected to friends and family?
What do you miss most?
What moments will you never forget?
The process is free and takes about 10 minutes to complete. Contributors are welcome to submit as many written stories, photos and videos as they wish; a list of appropriate formats is located, along with the submission form, at the bottom of the project home page.
Lobello asked that any images or videos include a description of what is happening. That can be as simple as an explanation that family members are attending a birthday party via video conference or a more complex caption that identifies every masked face in a group selfie.
“What we think is just normal, what we don’t think of as very valuable, probably is, we just don’t know it,” Lobello said.
“We’re really getting a very local snapshot to a national and global event,” he said. “We’re assembling this for future historians so they can really take a deep dive. ... Your stories contribute to the history of our region. They influence the future us.”