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Community Conversations : cc recap Culture history 02232016

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Community Conversations Recap: Seattle Culture and History – Feb. 23, 2016

What are we hearing at the Chief Librarian's Community Conversations?

Background: Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner has invited Library patrons to join him at informal meetings at locations across the city to talk about the Library's five service priorities. This second Community Conversation was focused on the Seattle Culture and History Service Priority and was held at the Central Library from 11 a.m. to noon Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. The meeting was co-sponsored by the Association of King County Historical Organizations (AKCHO). About 52 people attended and were offered a tour of the Hugh and Jane Ferguson Seattle Room and its historical archives, which are open to the public and include books, newspapers, yearbooks, maps and atlases, Seattle city documents, oral histories and thousands of photographs.

Recap: Alice Winship, president of AKCHO, welcomed attendees, briefly commented on the historical group's monthly news and business and talked about the role and value of libraries in historical research.

Turner shared information about increased Library hours, staff, collections, technology and building maintenance made possible by the 2012 voter-approved Library levy. He listed the Library's service priorities: youth and early learning, technology and access, community engagement, and "re-imagined spaces,” before more fully explaining the fifth priority, the Library’s commitment to curating Seattle culture and history.

He said the levy enabled the Library to hire Seattle Room staff and add new digital collections, which include the Pike Place Market, Seattle Municipal News and Seattle Historical Photo Collection. Turner briefly explained that 11 community members who were appointed to the Seattle Culture and History advisory committee conducted extensive community research, talked to local organizations and determined this purpose statement for the service priority: “To connect our community with its diverse local culture and history in exciting, relevant, personal ways.”

Next, Jodee Fenton, managing librarian for the Library's Special Collections, noted the Library is widely considered to be "neutral ground," where the community can come together for research and discussion. She mentioned the Library is planning for a large 2017 regional celebration of the birth of photographer Edward S. Curtis with the hope the Library will be a neutral ground for representatives of Native American tribal sovereignty. The Library also hopes to hold an international symposium that would interest both Native American and European scholars.

Fenton explained the Library is interested in creating collections that will be of interest to historians (and people in general) in the future. She noted the Library proactively collects Seattle history and culture, citing the Seattle Waterfront and Seattle Jazz Archives collections as examples. Both involve oral history recordings, photography and other current-day creations. Fenton also talked about a recent exhibit of Frank Kunishige’s photography, the first in an exhibit series called Discover Special Collections that will highlight important Library resources, and the upcoming First Folio – The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare exhibit on tour from the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Fenton spoke about the Library's digital collection and how it is being used to bolster the Seattle Neighborhood History project, where historical items and information are arranged by neighborhood. She mentioned that 100 years of the Seattle Municipal League's news is now scanned, and that over 5,000 new digital materials were added in 2015.

In closing, Fenton mentioned usage of the digital collection increased 24% in 2015, with a 73% increase in access by mobile phones.

Turner and Fenton spent the rest of the meeting asking the audience questions, listening to suggestions, and answering inquiries. Outlined below is the Q&A in brief, followed by patron suggestions.

Questions and Answers:


Turner: Where do you go to get Seattle or Washington history?


Group Answer
King County Archives
History Link
University of Washington Library
My dad's house
Assessor's archive
Estate sales
9th floor of the Central Library
Magnolia Branch and local historical societies
King County Road Services Division – Maps & Records
Seattle Times & Post-Intelligencer


Turner: What do you think of when you hear "Seattle culture and history"?


Group Answer
Duwamish History of Seattle and development
The peoples of the area
Streams and plants
Coffeehouse culture
School district
The Seattle I grew up with is gone
Buildings, monuments and landmarks
Oral histories and personal accounts
Waves of immigration


Fenton briefly responded to the waves of immigration point, noting the difficulty in gathering the whole picture of a community. She cited the Jazz Archives collection to shine a light on the origins of jazz in Seattle, which so far includes interviews with three people.


The question period was then opened to the audience.

How much history will the Library cover – within the Seattle city limits, greater Seattle area, Washington state?


The Library will develop topics like the environment, and make sure the scope and boundaries of the historical collections reflect the topic. For example, Thornton Creek goes outside Seattle city limits, so that collection would reflect the creek's surrounding area. The Library won't do a history of King County, but it will pursue a history collection that has related materials outside the city limits.


How will the Library collaborate with local partners and repositories so it isn't duplicating efforts or collections?


The Library won't replicate the University of Washington's work on collections and instead will work to provide access to other partners' primary resources. A committee will be convened with Miguel Llanos at AKCHO to address accessibility.


If I find someone who knows a piece of local history that nobody else does, where should I send them?


Tell people to bring their stories to the Library! This isn't a very well-known service, and the Library needs to better communicate its status as a repository for local history. Another member of the audience suggested people also should contact AKCHO because it is a county-wide resource.


How can I access local and neighborhood history?


The Library will be focusing on interlacing the smaller neighborhood histories into a regional narrative. Visit the Library's website to view the Neighborhood History Project.



Suggestions from patrons


  • I'm glad that the Library is working with schools, and I hope that the organization will do more in the future. "Lies My Teacher Told Me" is a great history book that everyone should read.
  • I would like to see the Library accommodating Seattle's aging and transgender populations.
  • Make sure the younger generations know where they come from. If they don't know where they come from, they won't know where they're going.
  • Capture Seattle's LGBT history. Remake SPL bathrooms to be comfortable spaces for transgender people.
  • Continue the work of bringing books to parks. Connect children to nature. Encourage hands-on learning with boxes for exploration – access to books as primary resources.
  • Get into schools in as many ways as possible and offer programs for school children.
  • Teach students and teachers how to access materials, collections and research.
  • In-person connections and tangible collections.
  • More copies of the Financial Times available at branch libraries (including the Magnolia Branch.)