How will history remember COVID-19? Browse and contribute to LA Public Library’s archive

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A man sitting on a bed, facing toward a window at dusk. The photographer wrote, "This is a photo of my own isolation from my family, friends, and the world around me. [It was] taken near the end of the day as I reflect on the monotonous routine that I've been repeating for weeks." Photo by Nikolai Sebastian and Shaikh Walczuk/Los Angeles COVID-19 Community Archive.

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.


Illustrator Vivian Lam wrote, "[This illustration depicts] work life balance from home. Everyone who has not lost their job is navigating the blurred lines between work and home, while cooking and cleaning, and feeling the pressure to do more with their supposed free time during a stressful pandemic." Illustrated with India ink and brush in Los Angeles, CA. Art by Vivian Lam/Los Angeles COVID-19 Community Archive.

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.”


Photographer Bipasha Shom wrote, "This [photograph] was taken in our backyard. It was my daughter's 14th birthday and to make it special we decided to do a campout with our tents and a makeshift fire pit." Pictured are Devan Manley and Priya Manley. Photo by Bipasha Shom/Los Angeles COVID-19 Community Archive.


A street vendor selling masks on Hollywood Boulevard on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The photographer wrote, "A basketball coach, Shawn Charles, found a way to support himself during the COVID-19 lockdown. He performs basketball shows in between sales. Shawn said he is selling around 40-45 masks every day." Photo by Irina Logra/Los Angeles COVID-19 Community Archive.


A young boy hits a pan with a spoon to cheer on health care workers. Photo by Ericka Kreutz/Los Angeles COVID-19 Community Archive.


A rainbow drawing and many sticky note messages on a wooden fence. The sign reads, "Take 1 please!" Photographer Martin Turnbull wrote, "It was a display made of post-it notes of various colors, each one of which had a different message like 'Think Positive,' 'Do the laundry,' 'Feed the pets without being asked to,' and 'Pick up groceries for someone.'" Photograph taken in Studio City, CA. Photo by Martin Turnbull/Los Angeles COVID-19 Community Archive.

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.

Credits

Guest:
Suzanne Im - Los Angeles Public Library

Host:
Steve Chiotakis

Producers:
Christian Bordal, Jenna Kagel, Kathryn Barnes