For the past year, the LA Public Library has been collecting submissions to help document the lives of Angelenos during the pandemic. Through photographs, journal entries, social media posts, and letters, the COVID-19 Community Archive seeks to help tell the story, and eventually the history, of this time.
“We have grown to more than 3,000 submissions thus far,” says Suzanne Im, the digitization and special collections librarian at the LAPL. “It’s been quite an unexpected response.”
They’ve received a lot of photographs of people in masks, empty store shelves, selfies, and artistic depictions of how people are dealing with boredom and isolation.
But for all the images of emptiness and isolation, there’s plenty of joy too. “Since this is self-curated, we see submissions that are trying to look at the brighter side of things,” says Im. “People are documenting celebratory moments like birthdays, graduations, weddings, dogs, recipe sharing, or even drive-thrus.”
Here’s an excerpt of a eulogy for Salim Malik, who died during the pandemic (the cause of death was something other than COVID-19), written by his daughter:
My father had many friends and a fair amount of family members in different countries. Everyone wants to see my mother and they want to know the date for the funeral. No one can come! They keep calling and we keep repeating ourselves. The day to bury him comes and only two of us can stand 10 feet away as they lower him to the ground. Two at a time we walk up to the grave with a home-made wooden cross we placed at the site because no stones can be made right now. The silence tortures my mother. She cries and cries looking for answers, but we only have old words. There are no friends to comfort her. No gathering and group prayers that my parents loved so much. Covid 19 has put a whole new shadow on a cloudy day for our family. The silence that my mother loved so much is now haunting and we all just go home after the funeral and try to tell each other that his suffering has stopped, and he is with Jesus. Couple of days ago, I went to visit his grave and someone stole the cross we made and vandalized the grave next to my fathers. His grave has no marking as if he does not matter. Covid-19 will not erase his story. His art, his love for poetry, his love for song, lives on through us.
— Asha Masters, LA COVID-19 Community Archive, Los Angeles Public Library Special Collections.
Im says they have not received many submissions about those who have died from COVID-19. “It’s a very personal experience,” she says.
“I think [COVID-19] will be remembered for upending people's everyday social interactions, for the social unrest that occurred during this time, the economic effect, and how people rose to the occasion to support other community members.”
The library is taking submissions through May 1, 2021. Im say she’d love to see more letters, diaries and other textual first hand accounts, as well as entries related to recent anti-Asian violence.