18 September 2020
Written by Marjorie Howard
UPDATED, Sept. 18: Years from now, when the pandemic is a distant memory (and yes, it will be one day), Robbins Library wants to tell people what life was like when this worldwide event was happening here.
“Libraries have a place in the community as a repository of information,” said Anna Litten, the library’s assistant director. “This seemed like such a unique moment that I wondered what role the library could play in terms of understanding what life was like in Arlington during this time.”
Since July, the Covid-19 Archives sought photographs, documents, diaries, signs and anything else that shows day-to-day life in town. “We’ll start by collecting town notices, making sure all the information is there in one place,” said Litten. “Then we’ll take videos, snapshots, and everything we collect will be in a digital file.” Send submissions here >>
There could be photos of businesses that say “closed” or pictures of Arlington’s car caravan for the Arlington High School graduation or a drive-by birthday celebration. “I personally have a file of my own of signs I’ve seen from local businesses,” said Litten.
The effort is now live.
The library is working with BiblioBoard, a company that has created a tool to support similar projects so that community members can upload information. Having a platform already in existence, said Litten, will make it easier for people to find and easy to access.
“When you walk down the street now, you’ll see houses where people made signs saying, ‘Thank you Grocery Store Workers,'” Litten said. “I want to save photos of them before this is over.
“Six months ago we wouldn’t have said our grocery store workers are essential, but now we are celebrating them. I want to make sure we don’t lose all those beautiful signs of support for people going to work every day — the health-care workers, the people in the post office. This is truly a historic time.”
The effort to document the pandemic and its effects is going on in museums and libraries throughout the country. Among the museums collecting artifacts are the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. A group of libraries in Maine is coordinating similar efforts and a library in Michigan has posted photos, including face masks, a patron who needs a haircut, a home office and a cake recipe.
Introducing Arlington’s Covid-19 Community Archive
Six months after Arlington’s first diagnosed cases of Covid-19 in early March, Arlington’s Covid-19 Community Archive is available and accepting contributions on the “Local History Resources” page at robbinslibrary.org. The archive presents a snapshot of life in Arlington during the pandemic and includes a growing array of images, videos, and documents for future students of local history.
Any document that reflects life in Arlington during the Covid period is considered for submission. Library staff encourages a diverse range of material, including diaries, journals, essays, art work, amateur photos captured on cell phones, videos and other documents. Arlington residents who would like to submit files to the archive can do so via the online submission tool robbinslibrary.librariesshare.com/arlingtonscovid-19/.
Last March, as schools and workplaces closed because of the pandemic, staff at the Robbins Library recognized a need to begin documenting life during the Covid period. During the first few months of the pandemic library, staff set up the necessary technology tools to create the backbone of the archive and a submission tool for community members to share digital files. In July, staff began reaching out to community leaders to solicit contributions to Arlington’s Covid-19 Community Archive.
So far, the earliest image in the collection is a photo of a March 9 press conference with national and regional news media interviewing Christine Bongiorno, health and human services director. Litten’s favorite image is a photo titled “Arlington Service Station Raises Sign of Hope and Thanks.” Litten says in a Sept. 17 news release: “The color and composition would make it a great photo under any circumstances, but the image captures a public art project featuring mask-like flags and a ‘Thank You Caregivers’ banner that really captures the spirit of Arlington.”
“We hope that seeing the archive as it is now will inspire community members to find their own images and other documents to contribute to the collection,” says Litten. “It’s a great time to look through your camera roll or diaries to find pieces that would work well in the collection.” Litten adds, “I’m hoping that community members will add photos of the bare grocery store shelves and signs limiting the purchase of cleaning supplies that we saw back in April as well as other documents that capture the early days of the pandemic.”
Joan Roman, Arlington’s public information officer, was one of the first contributors to the project. Roman suggests including detailed description of any file uploaded to the archive. “Since this is an archive, it is important to include details of the image on hand. Think of someone looking at this image in 20 or even 50 years. The pandemic might be a mere memory, or even forgotten. This is your opportunity to share your experiences during this historic moment in time and answer the question ‘what was it like” says Roman. “Don’t forget to include details like dates and places on photos, answer basic who, what, where, why, and when for each file,” Roman adds.
To access the archive, visit robbinslibrary.org and select Local History Resources. Find Arlington’s Covid-19 Community Archive under Robbins Library Digitized Historical Materials. Visitors who click into the archive can choose to follow the simple prompts to create a profile and download content, save favorites, see their recent searches. Or, select Robbins Library from the drop-down menu to move straight to viewing the archive.
This news feature by YourArlington co-publisher Marjorie Howard was published Wednesday, July 29, 2020. It was updated Sept. 18 with information provided by Anna Litten.
YourArlington.com has provided news and opinion about Arlington, Mass., since 2006. Publisher Bob Sprague is a former editor at The Boston Globe, Boston Herald and Arlington Advocate. Read more at https://www.yourarlington.com/about.