DC-area libraries, museums gather artifacts, ephemera to document coronavirus crisis

Eventually stay-at-home orders will be lifted and life will get back in gear to whatever the next normal is — meanwhile, museums and other entities are working on coronavirus-related artifact wishlists to document the current pandemic.

History will determine how long-lasting effects of the coronavirus crisis will impact society, but museums, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, are gathering items to help future generations envision how people were affected by — and coped with — the potentially deadly disease.

Artifacts will include bottles of hand sanitizer, rubber gloves, homemade face masks and photos of Zoom conversations.

Though they’ve been missing from grocery store shelves for more than a month, museums will somehow secure a container of disinfectant wipes.

At some point — when they aren’t a crucial part of dealing with the ongoing crisis — ventilators and testing kits will become part of museum collections.

Area jurisdictions — including Arlington County’s Center for Local History — are seeking submissions of everyday items for their coronavirus archives projects.

“It has been said that ‘all history is local’ and your experiences and the material you are creating in the present will help inform how our history is told and remembered in the future.” according to a project news release.

Items that would help paint a picture of a community’s moment in time include photographs of neighborhoods, personal papers including diaries, journals, notes and lists.

Also sought are school lesson plans, as teachers developed and executed online learning.

Meeting notes from civic associations could help describe local volunteer efforts.


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Health care providers’ notes on strategies and guidance to patients, including the use of telemedicine, will depict aspects of the massive public health effort to deal with the novel coronavirus.

Revised menus, including takeout and delivery options prompted by the closure of sit-down restaurants, can portray how life was quickly altered, after mid-March 2020’s local arrival of coronavirus.

If you are interesting in donating, the Arlington Public Library spells out exactly how to do so and has a Frequently Asked Questions page to answer additional questions.

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