Public library project chronicles how Sonoma County has responded to pandemic
Our pandemic stories, much like ourselves, all are different.
Many of us have passed the time by baking or creating art. Others scribbled daily musings into journals. A handful of us separated from our spouses. Some of us lost our jobs. Some of us lost loved ones.
A disparate sampling of stories is part of Sonoma Responds, a pandemic-oriented living history project sponsored by the Sonoma County Library. The project, which started this past spring, bills itself as a “community memory archive” and to this point comprises more than 100 text, art and video submissions from county residents and anyone who has a connection to Sonoma County, including people who once lived here.
According to Project Coordinator Joanna Kolosov, the goal is simple: to document, share and preserve the record of living through a year that has included a pandemic, a social justice movement and wildfires.
“One of the things I like about this is that it’s not static; it’s a snapshot of where we are and really of where we’ve been at every point in this pandemic,” said Kolosov, who is a special collections librarian and archivist at the Sonoma County History and Genealogy Library, part of the Sonoma County Library system. “There’s a different flavor to the reminiscing at the beginning than there is to submissions that came in this fall. Taken as a whole, these stories from today will be sources for researchers tomorrow.”
Sonoma Responds was the brainchild of Connie Williams, a librarian in the history room at the Petaluma Regional Library.
According to Kolosov, Williams at first suggested that the library collect physical, not digital, submissions from library patrons, with the belief that library staff wouldn’t be out of the office for more than a month. But as the pandemic stretched into another month, then another, library staff switched to collecting digital submissions, including art and photography. By May, they decided to put the project online.
“We chose the name Sonoma Responds because we wanted it to be open-ended,” Kolosov remembered. “With all that happened over the course of the year, we had no idea how wise that would be.”
Today, Sonoma Responds works like a living time capsule; through an online submission portal, participants send the library digital copies of the essays, artwork, poetry and more that they’ve created, which become part of a static archive of musings from this defining moment in history.
For now, the public can see the digital versions of these materials on the library’s website. Eventually, when libraries reopen, some of the physical submissions, such as artwork, will be available in person, too.
Down the road, the materials likely will be available through partners such as the Online Archive of California, Calisphere, the county’s Internet Archive and the Digital Public Library of America. Some materials also may be accessible through Sonoma State University. The school’s Center for Community Engagement developed its own initiative (dubbed the Covid Community Diary Project) and partnered with the library this summer.
As Kolosov explained it, Sonoma Responds submissions can include Tweets, protest signs, photos, videos, recipes, writings, drawings, paintings and even shopping lists for quarantine cooking.
Cecelia Sullivan, a 38-year-old artist in Monte Rio, went so far as to create an entire zine.
The zine, “2020: A Reflection from the Month of November,” plays out like a graphic novel and details Sullivan’s experiences over the course of the entire pandemic to date. One panel depicts how she made face coverings to give to local health care workers. Another explains how she used the social media site Twitch to connect with the outside world.
At another point in the zine, Sullivan references how she had to evacuate from the Walbridge fire.
“There have been so many different aspects of (this experience) in Sonoma County,” she said. “I hope my work gives people a better sense of what it was like to be here during this time.”
Year in review
Other submissions have wrapped up the pandemic experience through different media.
Liat Goldman Douglas, a mother and elementary school teacher in Sebastopol, found herself baking and cooking as coping mechanisms and created a website around the hobbies, the Covid Kitchen Chronicle.
The site organizes content by month. Most months include photos with headlines and captions referencing our broader experiences, such as watching briefings from Dr. Anthony Fauci or hearing about health care workers risking everything to treat sick patients. Elsewhere on her site, Douglas included a checklist of frustrations and everyday happenings that prompted her to head to the kitchen. On this list are a drive-by school picture day, DIY haircuts and ash on the car windshield.