Welsh Archivist Documents Ordinary People In Extraordinary Times
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Might be a moment years from now when we try to remember how it felt day by day to live through a pandemic, and we want to be able to tell our children or grandchildren. One archivist is trying to make certain that when the time comes, the future will have a record. Lisa Heledd Jones is collecting the voices of ordinary people living in extraordinary times. She's archiving photos, videos, journals and voice memos from around the world. She joins us now from Glyndyfrdwy, Wales. Thanks so much for being with us.
LISA HELEDD JONES: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
SIMON: You know, we have more ways than ever for people to think they're chronicling everyday life - all the platforms on social media. I bet probably nobody's seen that more than you. But how is what you're doing different?
JONES: So rather than react, which a lot of what social media ends up being, there's something about actually taking a few moments or minutes, just like writing a diary or recording an entry, where you think to yourself, what do I actually think and feel about this right now? And that is different.
SIMON: What do you say to people who say, look; I'm - you know, I'm just trying to get by day to day? I'm not doing anything remarkable. I'm not a hospital worker. I'm not a food service worker.
JONES: Yeah. Well, I mean, that's very true. And we have had contributions already from hospital workers and nurses and teachers. But also, we're having contributions from moms at home who are trying to establish a new normal, teaching their children 'cause the schools are closed.
But there really, really isn't any story too small for an archive. In fact, what we've learned from archives over the years is that, unfortunately, often, they are filled with people who thought they had something interesting to say and not enough people who had something about their every day. So women's diaries for generations have been destroyed because people didn't think there was anything relevant in them.
And right now, what we're going through, it's - there's been nothing like it.
SIMON: You got permission for us to run a section of a voice memo that was sent to you, a mother, I gather, in Exeter who is waiting for her child to arrive at any moment. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DEBBIE: I was struggling to describe how I feel right now because I don't really know. I am waiting every day. Every day, baby could arrive - or not. And every day, I don't really know what he's going to ride into.
SIMON: Boy, makes you shudder and reflect, doesn't it?
JONES: Absolutely. And what's so beautiful about that as well, I think, is that very private moment. I mean, Debbie (ph), who's voice that is - she is in a bath. She starts her voice memo saying, I'm in the bath. It's the only time I get on my own, because she's also got a 3 1/2-year-old.
The people who are contributing are generally contributing more than once. So some people are keeping - using it almost like a diary. And I think that's really important because it's too easy for those same thoughts that we had a week ago to just disappear unless we keep ahold of them.
SIMON: Yeah. You're hearing from people around the world, right?
JONES: So we've had, so far, contributions from Australia, Germany, Italy, Norway, France. And I had my first one from the U.S. today from New York. And I really do want this to be more global because this virus doesn't know anything about borders.
JONES: That's not important to this virus. And I'm inviting people to send their voice, note, photograph, video, anything else that they want to, really, image or sound, to email@example.com.
SIMON: Miss Jones, you've been hearing from people all over the world. I wonder what common threads you may have noticed in their stories and narratives.
JONES: Something that has really struck me and something I really enjoyed is humor and how people will, within one message, sort of - they might be in tears, but they'll also then say something really quite funny. In Debbie's one, she talks about having not worn a bra for six days and sort of laughing at herself for that. And as we go through these moments, we don't want people to just remember that everything was awful, because within every dark moment there are bits of light. And so that really has come across very vividly.
SIMON: Lisa Heledd Jones is an archivist in Wales. Thanks so much for being with us.
JONES: Thank you so much.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.