Waltham Public Library seeks pandemic stories for archival project

September 18, 2020

The Waltham Public Library is looking to collect stories from the Waltham community on how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their daily lives through a new survey. If you’ve ever wondered how everyday people dealt with the 1918 influenza pandemic, you might be interested in sharing your own pandemic story. By getting community members to contribute their experiences, the Waltham Public Library is adding important information to the permanent record.

“I remember looking into our records to see if the library had closed for the 1918 flu and finding a few newspaper clippings and stuff, but wanting to know more like, what was it like in Waltham when this happened?” Waltham archivist Dana Hamlin for the Waltham Public Library told The Brandeis Hoot in an interview. 

While Hamlin was able to find official documents, she found herself “wishing that there was just more” about residents’ everyday lives at the time. Inspired by the desire to know more about life in a historic pandemic, Hamlin decided to create an archival project documenting Waltham community members’ experiences with the current pandemic. 

The project is collecting stories with a Google form survey, which is open to all members of the Waltham community. The survey invites people to share their pandemic experiences with questions like, “How has your daily life changed during the pandemic?” “What are you most concerned about during this time?” and “What gives you hope?” The form is accessible to anyone with Internet access and does not require use of a Gmail account. 

Once the survey garners enough responses, Hamlin is planning to archive the material in both physical and digital form. This will allow more people to access the archival material. This duality also serves different learning styles: some people prefer to physically see the archival material in-person, while others may prefer to see it on a screen. 

“People learn through different mediums and experience ideas through different mediums,” Hamlin explained, and having the material in a dual digital and physical format will allow the information to be accessible to as many people as possible. 

Hamlin was initially successful in getting the survey off the ground, but it garnered a humble amount of responses at first. Emory Peng ’23 and Claire West ’21, members of Waltham Group on campus, assisted Hamlin in bringing the project to a larger audience by providing administrative and outreach support. Peng and West have specifically been trying to get the word out about the survey at Brandeis in the hopes of getting more responses from the greater Brandeis community.

“It’s been really cool working with them [Peng and West],” Hamlin told The Hoot. “They’ll take a suggestion and they will just run with it and make something constructive from that feedback. And I really appreciate that.” Currently straddling work as an archivist and caring for a toddler at home, Hamlin admits that the Brandeis partnership has been a great help and that “their can-do attitude is just amazing.” Peng and West have been able to spread the word about the survey to various faculty and organizations on-campus and have helped in making the survey more user-friendly.

Because there was such a dearth of stories in Waltham’s records of the 1918 pandemic, Hamlin emphasized that the aim of the 2020 project is to record as many voices as possible. With the project, Hamlin wants to “get the point across that everyone’s voice matters and that everyone who wants to speak out can be heard during this time. That their voice will be recorded for perpetuity.”

The project will be the Waltham Library’s first digital archival collection. Hamlin has received digital videos, audio recordings and photos along with written stories, and seems excited and optimistic about the project’s direction.

The Library is still collecting stories, photos, artwork and other entries that show how the people of Waltham are living life during a pandemic and how daily lives have changed during these times. If you’d like to share your experience, submit yours here or email Hamlin at dhamlin@minlib.net. 

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