The University of Utah library wants you! to share coronavirus history being made at your house – Salt Lake Tribune

Youre a part of history.

That might be hard for people observing stay-at-home orders, taking care of kids and trying to work remotely to comprehend. But its true.

Really, when anybodys going through anything, do they feel like theyre making history? Generally not, said Jeremy Myntti, head of digital library services at the University of Utahs J. Willard Marriott Library. Think about during World War II. People may have been standing in line to get groceries, to make their potato soup for the week. Did they feel like they were making history? No. But now when we look back on that, yes, they were.

So even though we might just be sitting at home right now feeling like we're doing nothing, this is going to be a big part of history.

And the Marriott Librarys Utah COVID-19 Digital Collection wants to document whats happening to people across the state. Utahns are encouraged to share their photos and stories.

It will help to explain what happened during this time, Myntti said. What happened to the economy. What happened in terms of illness and deaths. So even though this doesn't feel like a very historic time it feels mundane and boring we are definitely making history.

People today might want to forget about all of this, but in the future people will want to know.

Submissions become part of a public record that will be open to researchers in the decades, even centuries, to come. They will be raw data for historians to draw on.

The function of a library is to capture, preserve, archive and make accessible. Its a historians job to put that in context, said Digital Initiatives librarian Anna Neatrour. Were really building research materials for future historians.

You dont have to go out of your way to create anything new for the project. Your social media posts words and pictures will be of interest to future generations.

Thats the kind of thing that were wanting to capture the way peoples lives have changed during this time, Neatrour said. Everybody has phones and can take pictures.

Historians dont have much of this kind of material from the 1918-20 Spanish flu pandemic, so we dont know as much about how that affected daily life, Neatrour said. But this is something different that we can do right now.

And those wont necessarily last unless we archive them, Neatrour said.

As of midweek, the library had received about 200 submissions.

It really ranges from more commonly occurring experiences like social distancing at grocery stores, empty shelves in the supermarket because people are panic buying to some really humorous ways that people deal with the pandemic, said Rachel Wittman, digital curation librarian at the Marriott Library. For example, people receiving gifts of toilet paper for their wedding anniversary.

A woman submitted multiple photos of her social distancing with a mannequin, Neatrour said. Its kind of funny, but its also commentary and art, in a way. I think itll be interesting to see what kind of creative expression comes out of this period.

Not all the submissions are lighthearted. One submitter who tested positive for COVID-19 has been quarantined in his basement. Others sent in photos of themselves getting tested at drive-thru facilities.

One submission came from a woman who went to Spain to visit her boyfriend at the end of February and was stuck there when COVID-19 hit that country hard. Its about how they were dealing with that, Myntti said. How they were trying to get back to the States. As of yesterday, she had made it back to Utah but her boyfriend is still stuck in Spain.

But documenting the little things like empty spaces where the toilet paper was supposed to be at the store are also part of the story. And thats already going away, Wittman said.

To date, a large majority of submissions have come from the more urban areas of Utah Salt Lake, Utah and Davis counties.

But we want this collection to be more representative of the whole state, Myntti said. So, hopefully, we can get people in some of the more rural areas to submit some content on how theyre dealing with this.

Were hoping to be able to represent all types of people, all ages of people.

Theyre looking for stories from children as well as adults. Theyve reached out to public school teachers whove assigned their students to tell their stories, but were always looking for more, Neatrour said. And wed like stories of people who are running small businesses. Thats something that we dont really have in the collection yet.

And theyd like to hear more stories from the front lines, Myntti said. What are the doctors and nurses going through?

Utahns in the Salt Lake Valley have a unique pandemic experience. Like tens of millions of Americans, theyve been staying at home and those homes shook during the 5.7 earthquake centered near Magna on March 18, and in multiple aftershocks since then.

We want to be able to document how that has affected the pandemic as well, Myntti said. We havent really had too much content, if any, related to the earthquakes. And that was certainly part of whats been happening here.

Thats made easier by the explosion of technology. Those suffering through the flu pandemic from 1918-20 didnt have cellphones equipped with cameras or social media to share their thoughts.

Theres so much digital information being shared through different social media sites. So many people are taking so many photographs, Myntti said. Whats going to happen to them in five or 10 years? If were not preserving that now, were going to lose all of this history relatively soon.

Utahs COVID-19 Digital Collection is one of many across the nation.

This is part of a national movement to collect historical materials during this time, Neatrour said. There are multiple libraries and museums across the country that are pursuing similar projects. Were reaching out to the community to collect materials while the current state of things is fresh on everyones mind.

To date, Utahs project has received far more photos than stories, which doesnt come as a surprise. The easiest thing for people to do is snap a picture and then upload it, Myntti said. With a story, you kind of have to think more about that think about what you really want to say.

But no one should feel like they have to write the next Great American Novel. People are encouraged to share their social media posts from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram whatever.

Well take whatever we can get, Myntti said. Theres some people that have submitted two sentences. There are a couple of people that have submitted four-page-long documents talking about everything that theyve been going through.

Theres no form to fill out, no pattern to follow. People have asked if they can submit their daily journals yes, of course. And they want to know when daily? Weekly? When the pandemic is over? And the answer is yes.

Were giving people the option, Myntti said. Whenever they feel its appropriate, they can submit their story. ... Every story is important, no matter what youre going through. We want to hear from you and see how this is affecting you.

And your stories just might end up affecting others. Neatrour was struck by photos of a Hello out there sign in the window of someones home.

I think that kind of brings home what its like to be quarantined and kind of reaching out to people, she said.

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The University of Utah library wants you! to share coronavirus history being made at your house - Salt Lake Tribune

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