BATH — The Patten Free Library in Bath is building an archive in hopes of telling the story of how COVID-19 affected Sagadahoc County. The library is encouraging anyone who lives, works or feels at home in Sagadahoc County to send written statements, photos, videos or audio clips showing what life is like during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jill Piekut Roy, archivist and special collections librarian in the library’s Sagadahoc History and Genealogy Room, pitched the idea for the archive because she wanted to give Sagadahoc County residents “the opportunity to tell their stories in their own way.”

Piekut said building the archive is a gift to future generations because it will allow them to step into the shoes of someone living through the pandemic. She said having daily musings or things we might find meaningless today, like a grocery shopping list, can be invaluable in telling the story.

“If I found a grocery list from 1850, I’d be delighted,” said Piekut. “Even a paragraph that tells us how you celebrated your birthday while social distancing says so much about what’s going on in the world today.”

Various archives across the county have small collections of diary entries written by nurses during the Spanish Flu of 1918, a pandemic that infected an estimated 500 million people, or one-third of the world’s population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Piekut said those diary entries inspired her to begin an archive documenting what it’s like to live through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Those few diary entries are great, but we wish we had more,” said Piekut. “You never know what the historians of the future are going to want.”

So far the library has received eight submissions, most of which are written statements, but Piekut has received a few photos and poems as well.

Allison Hepler, a state representative and Woolwich selectwoman, submitted three photos and a written statement detailing how her duties as a state representative have changed since COVID-19 reached Maine in March.

“Ever since (the Legislature) adjourned March 17, I’ve been on the phone non-stop, and if not on the phone, answering emails,” Hepler wrote.

Helper outlined the concerns constituents shared with her, whether they were laid off from work, need help finding a food bank or they suddenly became their children’s teacher after schools closed for months on end.

“Each drastic new change in our lives seems disorienting — things that once seemed unbelievable like schools closing, stores closing, shelter-in-place — and yet each new practice brings us closer to being on the other end of this,” she wrote.

Hepler, who also teaches Maine history at the University of Maine at Farmington, said she decided to add to the library’s archive because she knows it will be useful to future historians.

“Presumably, in 30 years, we’ll know how this ends up, so this is a snapshot of what’s happening right now,” she said. “Years from now, people will look at these things and it will tell a story about who we were.”

B. A. Wellman of Bath has been writing poetry since he was 8-years-old and decided to submit a poem to the archive.

“I always wrote for fun, but this is the first time someone besides my sister will read them,” he said.

Wellman said he writes about music, jukeboxes, which he collects, and “the way things used to be.” But, he said he also uses poetry as an outlet for any anger or frustration he may feel as well, so it felt natural to write a poem about how COVID-19 has impacted him and his community.

“We’ll get through this, and with our peers / Give help you can and share fate’s tears / Hold on tight until a better time nears,” Wellman wrote in his submitted poem.

The archive is an ongoing process and people are welcome to submit more than once.

“This is just the beginning,” said Piekut. “I want to make sure we capture what’s happening now, but maybe six months from now or a year from now we’re going to be looking at this differently. “We’re going to keep this running for as long as we need to.”

Archive materials can be submitted on the library’s website, sent to [email protected] or mailed to Sagadahoc History and Genealogy Room, Patten Free Library, 33 Summer St., Bath, ME 04530. Submissions via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are also encouraged.

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