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Letters from the Homefront: A New Library Job

The following “Letters from the Homefront” account is part of our new initiative, Collecting in Quarantine. Inspired by the poignant letters in the Maryland Historical Society collection documenting past adversities from the Spanish flu of 1918, to the Annapolis yellow fever epidemics of 1793 and 1800, MdHS is calling on Marylanders to send their personal stories of how the pandemic is impacting their lives.

Books Wanted For Our Men In Camp and ‘Over There'
Today’s contributor graduated in December with a Master of Library and Information Science and would have begun his new job in March if not for Covid-19. “Books Wanted For Our Men In Camp and ‘Over There’ – Take Your Gifts To The Public Library,” unidentified artist, circa 1917-1918, Oversize Poster Collection, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Historical Society.

March 30, 2020 – On this day, Burkely from Towson writes:

Dear Marylander,

The coronavirus continues to spread across this country and is spreading from county to county across this Old Line State. When I first heard about COVID-19 in the early days of January, I thought it would be confined to East Asia and perceived the media coverage as generally blaming China for the spread of the virus. As the days passed, I realized the extent of the virus, reading about it every day. It soon became the only story focused on local and national TV stations, newspapers and websites.

In March, everything changed. The virus spread from Washington State across the country, eventually concentrating in New York State, especially New York City. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines encouraging social distancing, asking people not congregate in groups of more than 250, 50, or 10 depending on the age of the individual. State governments and municipalities acted, shutting down businesses, closing public spaces, locking down much of the country, although each state had their own approach. There was no national lockdown like that in other countries such as United Kingdom, China, and South Korea, to give a few examples. James Corden, Seth Myers, and Stephen Colbert cancelled their late-night TV shows indefinitely, while Jimmy Fallon brought together celebrities, mostly musicians, and broadcast his show from his house, asking people to follow the government’s guidelines.

Public transit systems limited their number of riders, with the number of people using the services drastically declining. Metro transit stations in the Washington, D.C. area were closed, while Maryland transportation authorities did the same thing across the state and near the city of Baltimore. The number of cases increased, hospitals became overcrowded with patients, and medical supplies were severely lacking, especially in personal protective equipment and ventilators. Education was placed on hold, with schools closed in almost every one of the 50 states, millions of children trying to do distance learning from home, leading to deleterious effects on their learning. Colleges and universities postponed their graduation ceremonies or cancelled them all together for the semester. Students, like those at University of Maryland (UMD), had to leave their dorms and return home, only allowed to stay with specific permission, not allowed to return to retrieve their belongings.

More than the virus itself, millions of people lost their jobs as small and medium businesses closed their doors and big corporations laid off thousands. All restaurants shifted to pick-up and take-out only. I was lucky, as I had recently graduated the previous December with a Master of Library and Information Science from UMD. My months of applying to jobs in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. areas paid off, as I interviewed, and accepted a job offer from George Washington University (GWU). However, because of COVID-19, the GWU shuttered its doors. Originally, the job was postponed two weeks, so I rescheduled my housing arrangement on Airbnb, but this changed when my future supervisor told me that the university would not be reopening, with my job starting remotely later that month. While I cancelled my Airbnb reservation, I was forced to remain at home for an undefined period until the crisis subsided. My room, with its reams of books and hardy wooden desk would become my “office” with a window looking out the street in the secluded suburb. The future was uncertain, but I remained optimistic, even after the stay-at-home order was issued by Governor Hogan on March 30.

My friends, some of which were still in graduate school, had their graduations at UMD cancelled, moving to an online ceremony, and classes which were completely virtual. This, undoubtedly, led some to slack in their studies, no longer motivated to learn as they had other concerns on their mind, like employment, food, shelter, and all the other necessities. A group chat I had created for my friends when I was a student, focused more, every day, on COVID-19, as it became all everyone talked about.

COVID-19 had changed my life and those of many others, with me and my dad often going on walks across town to the library or food market, trying to not stay cooped up in the house 24/7. Others had the same idea, with the number of people going to local, county, and state parks increasing, as the locations were open despite the fact some restrictions were put in place. As the days passed, I was impressed to see the efforts of archivists working to ensure their records could be preserved remotely, even joining a Google Group to help those in my profession who were struggling, and librarians who created resources for those who were unemployed.

The first day of my job, remotely, was strange, having to talk with my supervisor on WebEx, which felt awkward, different from having to talk to someone face-to-face. I recorded my own hours and did work on my computer, listening to some songs on Soundcloud, but it was nothing like working in an actual office behind a computer screen, with an office.

While I can’t predict what comes ahead in this years remaining weeks and months, I remain hopeful for the future, knowing this virus will pass like all other pandemics, whether the one which began in 1918, the Swine Flu, or H1N1, to name a few.

Please note: The views, information, and opinions expressed and shared on the underbelly through the Collecting in Quarantine project do not necessarily represent those of the Maryland Historical Society. Our staff does not verify for accuracy the information contained within these submissions. We also do not edit the content beyond minor modifications for formatting or to remove personally identifying information, if applicable. Just like the historic letters in our collection, each letter presents the writer’s own perspective. The primary purpose of this series, with the permission of contributors, is to share and collect the experiences of Marylanders living through the COVID-19 crisis at this moment in time.

To learn more about the Collecting in Quarantine project and how to share a story of your own, click here.