The pandemic has been an unprecedented time for the Fordham community. Linda LoSchiavo, director of Fordham Libraries, wants to make sure it is not forgotten.
Thanks to a new grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the library will be able to keep adding to the COVID-19 archive that it began assembling in April 2020. The archive is currently made up of items that are reminiscent of the many stages of the pandemic, including “Do Not Sit Here” signage and floor arrow decals, Fordham’s COVID-19 “Five Things” e-mails, photos of testing tents, and press coverage from the Observer newspaper. LoSchiavo said there are currently roughly 400 items in the collection, and she’d like to get to 1,000 by the end of the year.
It’s an ambitious goal, but LoSchiavo is optimistic it can be done. The federal grant of $30,299 will allow the library to purchase heavy-duty, high-end scanners to catalogue printed material and camera equipment to conduct interviews with as many members of the community as possible. From the shutdown in March 2020, to the transition to remote learning, to connecting with colleagues from home, to deep cleaning building interiors, LoSchiavo wants to hear from the people who lived it.
“I really thought this was a way to show future historians how lives changed under the duress of a pandemic. If enough schools do this, it’ll be a way to compare and contrast how public institutions handled it, how private institutions handled it, and how as a large Catholic, Jesuit university in the middle of New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic, it affected our students’ lives,” she said.
The hope is to get everyone on record, from vice presidents and deans to administrators, faculty, and staff. LoSchiavo said the library is still working on a formal way to reach out to everyone in the University community and let them sign up for interviews; she plans to share updates via the library’s blog. Interviews will be conducted in person, over the phone, through Zoom, and via e-mail.
She’s especially interested in highlighting the can-do spirit that the community embraced during the pandemic.
“We shut the doors at the library on Friday, March 20, but we never stopped. On March 21, we were still at it, virtually. I had teams of people who just knew what they had to do, and they just kept getting it done,” she said, noting that this was a pattern that was repeated across the University.
“I look at what the facilities people had to do in the spring and summer to get us open for August 2020. The maintenance people were certainly in this building every day and night, cleaning. These are people we want to talk to.”
Above all, LoSchiavo is cognizant that as months and the years pass, people tend to forget how quickly things changed. But hopefully, everyone will be able to look back at that time with pride.
“When we got back, I can’t tell you how many people said, ‘Well, no one was laid off,’” she said.
“For the most part, I felt like it was a really a spirit of optimism, and hopefully that’s what will come through.”