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Whitman College, Dayton Memorial Library seek to capture COVID memories

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COVID-19 stories

A submission to Whitman College’s Coronavirus Stories Project shows sewing materials to make masks.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected life for people all over the world. Here in Eastern Washington, two organizations are recording the effects in real time so they can be remembered later and shared with future generations.

At Whitman College, the idea started in a library class taught by Ben Murphy, archivist and head of digital services for the Penrose Library. When the pandemic foraced his archiving class to move online in March, Murphy saw an opportunity for his students to document the virus’s influence by archiving the present.

“Typically, people think of archives as just being about the past, but we’re also about the present,” Murphy said. “History is always happening in the moment.”

Students submitted photos, voice recordings and other reflections on how the pandemic was affecting people’s lives.

That in-class exercise turned into the Coronavirus Stories Project, and Murphy is seeking contributions of people from the Walla Walla Valley.

He hopes people will contribute diary and journal entries, as well as emails and other forms of communication that show how COVID-19 is touching life in the Valley.

In Columbia County, the staff at Dayton Memorial Library had a similar idea.

“We are starting a community memories project just to capture what is happening in our community, “ Dayton library Director Dusty Waltner said. “We want to encourage people to blog about it, write about it, journal about it and submit that to our history record.”

Waltner said the library is always looking to add to its collection of local history.

“We have quite a few boxes of local history files,” Waltner said. “There is genealogy stuff here. There are people’s experiences from when they were settling the area. It’s all very localized history. So we are kind of trying to expand that by offering this. Because, in a hundred years, people might want to look and see how their ancestors dealt with COVID-19.”

Waltner says while the library has a website up to collect submissions, staff is still deciding how best to encourage submissions in other ways, and what to do with those submissions once they are collected.

“We launched (the website) fairly quickly just to get it out there, but we are still trying to process how we are actually doing it,” Waltner said. “As far as getting out into the community and getting those stories, that’s not quite happening yet because of the limitations. It’s something we want to develop into a bigger project, but it’s still in the early stages.

For more information or to contribute to Whitman College’s project, visit

For more information or to contribute to the Dayton Memorial Library’s project, visit

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Jeremy Burnham can be reached at or 509-551-8896.


Jeremy Burnham covers education and Columbia County for the Union-Bulletin. He is a recent graduate of Eastern Washington University, where he studied journalism, and is an Eastern Eagle fanatic.