When Natalie Snoyman combed through the archives for information about the 1918 flu pandemic at the Mill Valley Public Library’s Lucretia Little History Room, she noticed something was missing. Although there were plenty of newspaper articles about that time in history, there weren’t personal stories from the people in the community who lived through it and how it impacted their daily lives.
Snoyman, the room’s supervising librarian and archivist, knew that when she started the job last May in the midst of a pandemic, she wanted to make sure the public had a voice this time. And from that idea came the COVID-19 Archive, the library’s ongoing collection of submitted photos, poems, artwork, video and other media that capture today’s world from local residents — just one of the projects the Berkeley resident has been a part of.
Before landing at the library, Snoyman worked as an archivist for Pixar Animation Studios, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and Swedish experimental filmmaker Gunvor Nelson.
Q How did you get into archival work?
A I have always appreciated and recognized the importance of history and I love that there’s always more history to uncover and more history to be made. I had some experience working at my university’s library as an undergrad, and I was fortunate to be hired by the San Diego History Center right out of college, and it instilled this lifelong love of archival material and history.
Q Besides the COVID archive, what’s a project you’re working on?
A When I started, it was immediately clear to me the connection between Marin City and Mill Valley, and the city is more diverse than what our collection represents. People of color work here and they may not be able to afford to live here, but they are still part of the city’s makeup. I was thinking we ought to be telling those stories. I had an idea to reach out the Marin City Library and ask if they’d be interested in collaborating on developing oral history workshops for teens. These workshops will be hopefully starting in the fall.
Q What drives you to do the work that you do?
A To work with the public and engage with them, and get them interested in their past as well and working with them in the present so that the future will have these stories to look back on.
Q In your line of work, how does it feel to be documenting this unprecedented time?
A When you are living through a historic event, something that people are so viscerally aware of, this is an important moment. People are more interested in the past, and there have been research questions that have come up from patrons about how was this handled in the past. There’s a picture we have that’s been making its rounds on the internet, taken by East Bay photographer Raymond Coyne, a great photo of them all with their masks on during the flu pandemic. It’s been crazy seeing the trajectory of this image and how relevant it still is.
Q What are some interesting things you’ve learned about Mill Valley’s history?
A I have been working on launching a podcast for the History Room, and each episode will cover a different topic in Mill Valley’s history. The first episode I am working on is about groups that formed in the past. It’s been really interesting to research this topic in light of the DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) Task Force that formed in Mill Valley. I saw a group that formed in the ’40s that was about racism and Marin County, so it’s interesting to look at. It’s not a new issue, and efforts have been made in the past to talk about these really important issues and bring connections between the communities.
Q What do you enjoy about your work?
A History is always a connection to the past. I love those little moments; it’s like putting together a puzzle. You are always looking for a small piece of that puzzle and we all know how satisfying it is to find that last piece and it comes together.