NYS Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections: COVID-19 Personal History Initiative

We are living through a momentous time.


Updates will be posted to this website every Friday, as well as when new information becomes available or we begin other phases of the project.

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Although we are all being asked to do the same things - maintain social distance, stay in our homes, support essential workers, etc. - each of us feels the effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic in unique ways.

The experiences of all New Yorkers, from Long Island to Plattsburgh and from Albany to Buffalo, make up the foundation of our state's history. To record and preserve the unprecedented, historical events unfolding around us currently, Manuscripts and Special Collections (MSC) encourages all New Yorkers to keep a journal documenting what their daily lives are like during the pandemic. The challenges you’re facing; the obstacles you’re having to overcome; and the creative ways you’ve found to connect with family, friends, and your community are all experiences to think on and write down.

MSC asks that you consider donating your journal at a future date to the New York State Library. We'll preserve the journals for future generations to study and learn from.

MSC also plans to record interviews with New Yorkers interested in sharing their story this way. Interviews will be conducted by phone until the crisis has passed and public meetings are once again safe. These oral histories will be preserved in the New York State Library's collection and will also prove to be a valuable resource for future study.


journal, open to a blank page, with a pen atop it

Journaling Prompts

Does journaling mean writing in a blank diary? Not necessarily! You can use adiary like the one pictured if that's your style, but that's by no means the only way to capture your thoughts, feelings, and experiences about COVID-19.

  • Print: If you want to stick with paper as a medium, you can write in a notebook or on loose paper or, if you prefer to type your thoughts or reflections, you might consider typing on a typewriter if you happen to own one.
  • Digital: You could keep a digital journal, using Microsoft Word or another text program and saving it on your computer, tablet, or mobile phone; alternatively, you could consider keeping an online journal, which can be done on your device with a connection to the internet. This 2013 article has advice about keeping a secure online journal, and its recommendations are still relevant today.
  • Audio: You can also keep an audio journal, recording your thoughts rather than writing them down. For advice on that practice, visit this site, Guide to Keeping an Online Journal, or check out this article on The Art of Audio Journaling.
porch with homemade 518 Rainbow Hunt banner hanging on the railing

Journaling for Kids

May 22, 202

Children's voices are underrepresented in the historical record but children live through and experience the same events adults do. Hearing their voices will add to the future understanding of life in 2020.

If your child is old enough to write on their own you can encourage them to create their own journal. Adults can assist younger children by asking them questions and recording their answers. All children might want to create drawings or other artwork to add to their journals.

Some questions to help get children started on a journal:

  • How did you feel today?
  • What has been your favorite/least favorite thing about staying home?
  • What questions do you have?
  • What would you like to change? What would you like to stay the same?

Photo Journaling

May 15, 2020

black-and-white phot fg gloved hands holding a Nikon camera

Photographs can capture the world around you and help tell the story of your experiences. For some people it may even be the best way for them to express themselves. A photo journal would be an excellent way to document your life during the pandemic, showing how things have changed for you, how you have been able to meet everyday challenges, or what you do as you go through the day.

Photo journals can be physical or digital. To help keep the record of your photographs in either format, try to label each one with the date it was taken, the location, who or what is in the photograph, and other pertinent information. Looking back at your journal years from now, that kind of information will be extremely valuable.

Some ideas to help get you started photo journaling:

  • Choose a theme or mood to help tell a consistent story.
  • Take photographs of a person or item over a certain time period.
  • Take pictures of changes in your community.

As an example, the NYS Library has begun its own photo journal with pictures that staff members have taken during this time.

Whatever kind of journal you keep, the important thing is to document what is happening in your life right now. As time passes, our memories tend to soften. Days and events blend together; recollections change. It's important to record this history now so future generations have a clear picture of what New Yorkers are going through today.

Last Updated: June 5, 2020