When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone’s got a story to tell.

For more than three years, the U.S. endured unrelenting pain and confusion. Since March 2020, more than 1.2 million Americans have died from COVID, though the crisis has largely abated in recent years.

Still, emerging variants continue to infect and hospitalize people to this day. Additionally, most public health experts believe the widespread trauma that resulted from COVID will take years, if not decades, to fully unpack.

The Library of Congress wants to make sure the firsthand accounts of this critical time won’t be lost. That’s why it recently launched a website through which Americans can share their COVID recollections. 

The Library of Congress is collaborating with the nonprofit StoryCorps to collect the oral histories of Americans’ pandemic experiences. It will span the early days of quarantine lockdown to the rollout of lifesaving vaccines to the stop-and-go nature of returning to work.

The website offers prompts for participants, including, “When did you first realize the pandemic would radically change the world and/your way of life?” and, “Describe the ways in which your life now is different than before the pandemic.” It also features a conversation between two frontline physicians.

All stories will be saved in the COVID-19 American History Project Collection, which was established via congressional mandate in 2023 to document and preserve Americans’ experiences during the pandemic. To that end, the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center is deploying professional oral historians to document the stories of frontline workers and create a research guide to its COVID collections.

Nicole Saylor, director of the American Folklife Center, said that the effort doesn’t attempt to identify a single source of truth about the pandemic. Rather, its goal is to solicit unique narratives, particularly those from frontline workers and individuals who experienced loss.

“This storytelling personalizes the historic record,” she said. “It gives you something to hang on to. These personal stories are powerful.”

According to Saylor, the COVID Archive takes part of its inspiration from previous Library of Congress oral histories. These include the Veterans History Project, the September 11, 2001 Web Archive and the Pearl Harbor collection.

Also influencing this project is the organization’s collection of historical items from the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. Saylor noted that since the pandemic is still ongoing — and thus similar in its evolution to the evolution of AIDS from an acute crisis to endemicity — the collection can take a longer view and document the changes in societal attitudes towards public health.

The COVID Archive hopes to keep its mission clear of political debate and focused on personal stories. Saylor said the project is in its early stages, so the primary objective is soliciting participation and allowing people to share their experiences in a flexible and open manner. 

“There are certain points in history where we want to document the experiences of a broader public,” she explained. “We know what the lawmakers did and we know what happened on the official record, but we want to hear the personal narratives as told by the people who lived through them.”

For a March 2024 article on remembering the COVID-19 pandemic four years later, click here.