Notes on the Pandemic, Take #1

Posted: June 18, 2020 in Archives
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We live in an extraordinary time to archive, the present day.

Already a few months old, a wonderful article from Library Journal on libraries that have launched COVID-19 archival projects in efforts to document the pandemic.

In the midst of the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, many library workers and archivists have carried on with what they do best—gathering and preserving information for future researchers. Numerous digital archives are already capturing life during lockdown, represented through images, journals, videos, and other formats.

For my part, every week I am going to try my best to highlight one of these institutions. And document my own experience, as I serve low-income children and their families in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

From Library Journal:

Beginning with an effort at Arizona State University (ASU), the digital crowdsourcing archive “A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19” has grown into an expansive project, with curators and contributors from across the United States and from Australia. While the internet has made it possible for people from geographically different communities to contribute photos, text, videos, and other content, “human connection is still a vital part of this effort,” said Mark Tebeau, associate professor of public history at ASU, who pointed to the value of friends and colleagues reaching out to one another, collecting stories, and collaborating on the curation of the archive. Tebeau also noted that this and other COVID-19 archives are following the best practices and lessons of other real-time archives of major crises. Participants from the University of New Orleans and the Hurricane Katrina Digital Memory Project have played a significant role in development of this archive, including sharing the lesson that “you need humans to curate” a project like this, and “need to reach out in deeply personal ways,” said Tebeau.

Arizona State University’s, “A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19” welcomes us to document “our uncertain moment.” As of today, a click on the Browse the Stories tab yields (gulp) 5318 entries with an Advanced Search function that among other things, lets you search by hashtag. Episode 1 of Podcasting the Pandemic is up, too. And a section called, “Calls” – is a special outreach for stories in the areas of: #LostSeasons (losing the sports season), #CovidMuseum (impact on institutions), #LostGraduations (commencement stories), #PandemicSummer (summer plans) and #RuralVoices (giving voice to special challenges).

And on my (promised) personal archiving note:


If you have no idea what this is a picture of, understood. I really didn’t until just a few days ago, despite a long work relationship with San Francisco’s Chinatown. We were thrilled when we learned that our low-income, preschool aged kids could come back to school earlier this month – albeit in small numbers and with many restrictions. San Francisco public parks have been closed and our kids have been indoors for months. It’s been lovely to see them run around in our own play yard, which we are allowed to have open. They sleep like logs during naps!

You see, many of our children (and seniors for that matter) live in SROs – Single Room Occupancy hotels which are notoriously small (and small, and small) living quarters for families, with shared cooking and bathroom facilities. Built to breed disease. We all know about them. Even if we don’t know exactly where they are.

The picture above is a reminder a particular type of isolation felt in my work neighborhood. No visitors allowed at SROs. Not a surprise of course; none of us have had many visitors. But a stark reminder, of a public statement of isolation. A stark statement of controlled (and patrolled), isolation.

And if I didn’t know before, where these SROs were located, I do now. A sign on the door of each and every one of them.

Too many signs.

Too many doors.


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