The COVID-19 pandemic that erupted on a global scale almost four years ago left a long trail of loss and grief. It also showcased the unity, resilience and humanity of Americans.
Now the Library, in collaboration with the nonprofit organization StoryCorps, has launched the COVID-19 Archive Activation website to encourage everyone share their COVID-19 stories.
Stories will be deposited into the American Folklife Center and made accessible at archive.StoryCorps.org. The new website will contribute to a deeper and more complete understanding of how Americans faced this public health crisis.
The outbreak was first declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization in March 2020 after tens of thousands of cases were reported in 114 countries. The pandemic claimed the lives of more than 1.1 million people in the United States alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also triggered the lockdown of schools and the shutdown of businesses and forced Americans to adapt to an unwelcomed new normal.
By creating a tool to collect and preserve Americans’ pandemic experiences, the Library is honoring those who lost loved ones to COVID-19, those who worked on the frontlines and those who were, and continue to be, impacted during this time in American history.
“Curators and specialists at the Library are skilled at documenting history as it happens,” said Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress. “Recording the voices and stories of Americans’ experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic for our national collections will honor this history and ensure these stories will not be forgotten.”
The new website is part of the COVID-19 American History Project — a congressionally mandated initiative to document and archive Americans’ experiences with the pandemic. In addition, the AFC has contracted oral historians to document the stories of frontline workers and created a research guide to COVID-19 collections.
One person interviewed is Benjamin Ezra Ciereszynski, a student at Louisiana State University, who worked in the service and hospitality sector in New Orleans when COVID hit.
Cierenszynksi remembers “the hushed rumors” and the anxiety creeping in about the virus while other colleagues in the mom-and-pop restaurant hoped it would “blow over in two or three weeks.”
“It made the work environment a little tense; everyone was on edge because they thought they might lose their jobs for a good bit, which they did,” said Cierenszynksi. “At first (staying home) was fantastic … no work, no school, no obligations at all except for household chores, so it was just me locked in my room playing video games with my friends for about six months.”
When the novelty of the lockdown wore off and the new reality set in, “things started to get depressing. It felt like I was in a zoo enclosure … looking for any excuse to get out of the house.”
For some, COVID-19 remains part of their everyday experience. Some still are battling long-haul symptoms and sharing one’s story can be a way to heal, to commemorate and to honor others affected by the pandemic.
“Our goal for the COVID-19 Archive Activation page is to honor those who experienced this tumultuous moment in our nation’s history, commemorate those who were lost to the pandemic and to educate future generations about what life was like during COVID-19,” said Nicole Saylor, AFC director.
The website Key to the COVID-19 Archive Activation page is the AFC’s partnership with StoryCorps.
Both StoryCorps and the AFC share a mission to collect and preserve personal-experience stories that portray the everyday, often-undocumented moments of Americans’ lives, so documenting oral narratives from the pandemic came as a natural fit.
“This partnership will build on over 20 years of collaboration between the American Folklife Center and StoryCorps and serve to further the mission of each institution to capture, describe and preserve the cultural heritage of the United States,” said Virginia Millington, managing director of program operations at StoryCorps.
To share how you experienced the pandemic, enter the COVID-19 Archive Activation website and follow the instructions to record your story or to interview someone else. The page includes tips and considerations for recording your story and a list of questions to prepare for interviews. Once finished, you can find your story, or that of others, on the StoryCorps Archive.
Subscribe to the blog— it’s free!