Sunday, March 24, 2013

National Archives at Seattle

The students in the chapter of the Special Libraries Association at the University of Washington (SLA-UW) were kind enough to share another report from their visit to the National Archives at Seattle. This archive is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and is a regional repository for records. Thanks again to Violet Fox for the pictures and summary of the visit!


Co-sponsored by the UW chapter of the Society of American Archivists and SLA-UW, our tour to the National Archives and Records Administration(NARA) Seattle facility was a huge success with 19 participants!
NARA front door
Archivist Ken House and student assistant Jill Anderson graciously showed us around and thoroughly answered our many questions.

The NARA building on Sand Point was originally built in 1945 as an aviation storehouse. When World War II came to an end shortly after, it was repurposed for federal record keeping. The Seattle facility is responsible for storing records from federal agencies and courts in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. It also contains a wide variety of historical records, including military, census, naturalization, and immigration records.

The facility is one of the largest repositories of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; those records are used frequently for genealogy and land border questions. There are many documents that have information about effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Other records such as plat maps and building plans help researchers identify environmental pollution that may have occurred. NARA’s records on the McNeil Island Penitentiary are also well-used. Nearly all their files are paper documents; collections of photographs and other media are sent to the National Archives facilities in College Park, Maryland. With about 38,000 cubic feet of records, the Seattle facility serves over 100 different governmental agencies. They struggle frequently with insufficient space, shredding unneeded documents when they run out of room.
NARA stacks
NARA stacks
NARA stacks
The staff at NARA includes four archivists, two technicians, and a number of students and volunteers that help run the day-to-day activities of the archive. There are also a number of record management staff (who establish policy and train on proper records information management), additional record staff, and a regional manager. The archives staff are kept busy retrieving records, answering questions and requests, and preserving items. They get about ten to fifteen requests a day by phone and email, along with in-person visitors who can bring in their own scanners or digital cameras. Unfortunately they simply don’t have the time or staffing to scan items or catalog them with item-level or often even box-level descriptions. Visitors are welcome for whatever reason they want to see the materials–there’s no requirement to prove a research need.

NARA is an extraordinary resource conveniently located just three miles from the UW campus. They’re often looking for volunteers–if you’re looking to get experience in archives, check their website for more information!