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!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Library and Washington Talking Book and Braille Library

The student chapter of the Special Libraries Association at the University of Washington (SLA-UW) shared their report of a library crawl in January. The group started at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Arnold Library and then continued on to the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library (WTBL). Thanks to SLA-UW officer Violet Fox for the pictures and distance representative Ann Pool for the great report about the experience.


SLA-UW kicked off winter quarter with a South Lake Union library crawl. We started at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Arnold Library.
Fred Hutchinson library
Doug Shane, the acquisitions librarian, was our tour guide. Ann Marie Clark is the library’s director and spoke to us before the tour. The library is very supportive of the iSchool. Most of the librarians are UW graduates and they regularly offer internship and student work opportunities. Fred Hutch is very innovative and provides great support for the library so that the librarians can support the researchers effectively.

Arnold Library is similar in many ways to an academic library as the majority of their work involves supporting federally funded, grant based research. Fred Hutch used to include a hospital but no longer does. Instead they partner with the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for patient treatment. The library does get some questions from patients, usually quite technical as they come from people who have already done a good amount of research.

Like other libraries we have visited, Arnold Library has seen changes and continues to adapt to researchers’ needs. They canceled all print journal subscriptions in 2008 and get them all online now. The library is embedded in the center’s shared resources group and contains the group’s computer center, partially located in the former reference room. Upstairs, a room that used to hold print journals is now being converted into video production use. Next to that room is a quiet study area.

The librarians do a lot of “house calls” to assist and train researchers. They train on citation management software and help researchers get their papers into PubMed Central. They handle many interlibrary loan requests and do outreach especially as major changes happen. Providing and communicating the library’s value is always important, just as it is for all libraries today.

Most of the staff came in with little or no medical or scientific background, but expertise in finding information and using reference tools. Many have worked their way up from office roles and built domain knowledge along the way. When asked what MLIS courses would have helped him in his career, Doug mentioned archives as particularly useful since they are getting into digitizing and organizing an archive. He also would have taken more technical classes.
Fred Hutchinson library

We rode the streetcar to the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library and arrived as Mandy Gonnsen, the youth services librarian and iSchool class of 2012, was setting up a poetry slam for teens with an anti-Valentine’s theme.
Her outreach activities focus on getting kids to come in and feel comfortable, and providing a community space. Mandy is taking a Braille class and demonstrated for us on a vintage-looking Brailler. She showed us some of the different ways books can be adapted for the visually impaired. They can add Braille to picture books, which generally already have large print. For blind parents to read to their sighted children they can also make transparent Braille overlays and bind them between book pages.

Mandy works with schools, generally via telephone and email, to get them the types of books they need for their visually impaired students. She does outreach both at the library and in schools. The summer reading program lasts eight weeks and the library mails out packets with book lists, vocabulary words, and activity and craft supplies.

After spending time with Mandy we toured the library with David Junius, the volunteer services and outreach coordinator.
WTBBL braille books
WTBBL serves people who are visually impaired or unable to hold books. Services are free and supported by the Free Matter for the Blind program of the NLS. The library has a large print collection on site similar to what might be found at a public library, but is now focusing more on Braille and audio materials. Readers’ advisors work is done via phone and email, looking at what books people have read and taking their interests into account. Readers can get books automatically by mail with a service that resembles Netflix or on request.

The shipping area is filled with books in Braille and two audio formats. The majority of the audio collection is still on cassettes, but digital cartridges are gradually replacing them. Some Braille and audio books are produced locally, with a focus on Northwest authors and subjects.
WTBBL talking book playback equipment
David keeps the Evergreen Radio Reading Service running and showed us the audio production equipment and software he uses. The library also has a computer lab with screen readers and Braille displays as well as an OCR scanner. The children’s room, visible through large picture windows, is open to the community.

Thank you to the folks at Fred Hutchinson's Arnold Library and the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library for sharing their knowledge and time!