January 23, 2022

Library collecting stories of COVID experience

Metro Creative Graphics

Laurie Seamans of Cortland found COVID-19 brought about feelings of constant waiting: waiting for doctors to return phone calls; waiting for updated guidelines; waiting for news of how many more people were sick.

As part of her contribution to Stories from Behind the Mask, Seamans shared writings on her feelings, photos of local businesses’ handmade signs and 75 cartoon drawings, she said.

The project by Phillips Free Library in Homer features an online collection of stories, poems, journal entries, photos and interviews describing the experiences of Central New York residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

Shared stories

What: Shared COVID stories
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: Via Zoom, email office@phillipsfreelibrary.org to receive the link.
To tell your story: Visit covidstories.phillipsfreelibrary.org.

The first COVID-19 death in America was Jan. 11, 2020, reports the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since then, 602,740 people have died and 33.6 million people have contracted the disease, reports the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Tracker. Worldwide, 3.9 million people have died.

In Cortland County, 64 people have died as 4,588 were infected, the Cortland County Health Department

“I always appreciate when people are trying to document things, it’s like living history,” Seamans said. “It’s important for us to document this so we can learn from it and look back and think, ‘Wow, this is a horrible thing we lived through.’”

But for some, like Meghan Aagaard of McGraw, the experience was bittersweet.

“I wrote a short piece about my day-to-day life during the pandemic, especially the time I spent with my little boy,” Aagaard said. “That made COVID really bittersweet for me — to be able to spend so much time at home with my kids was wonderful, but my worries about the outside world obviously increased.”

Library Director Priscilla Berggren-Thomas after she saw a display in Indiana featuring 50 years of diary entries, Berggren-Thomas said. Around the same time, a $3,000 grant was advertised through the American Library Association and Berggren-Thomas felt it was fate.

“It dawned on me that here we are, in the middle of this COVID pandemic, and we really need to record these experiences both as a historical document but also as a conversation — how it’s impacting us and how we are getting through it together,” Berggren-Thomas said.

So far, the library has received around 75 submissions and Berggren-Thomas said she will continue to collect submissions until the end of the year.

“I am finding if you wrote a story from what happened when things shut down last spring, it’s different than what’s happening right now with things opening back up,” Berggren-Thomas said. “But we didn’t get as many kids as we are hoping for and we’re looking for stories from young people.”

The collection of stories helps encapsulate what people are truly going through, as opposed to a formal record of data, policies and guidelines, said SUNY Cortland Archivist Jeremy Pekarek.

“The important part is making sure we are documenting something that really affected literally everybody,” Pekarek said. “It’s about how the world adjusted to get through this pandemic over the last year but making sure we document what Cortland has done and how we are preserved.”