Illuminating Tacoma’s History in the Northwest Room with Anna Trammell

hosted by
marguerite martin

Subscribe

About This Episode

In this episode of the Move to Tacoma podcast, Marguerite Martin interviews Local History Librarian Anna Trammell. Anne is a librarian at the Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room. The Northwest Room features archives of Tacoma’s local history, genealogy, and special collections, and this treasure trove of information is constantly evolving. 

Get Personal Guidance

Site creator, Marguerite, knows Tacoma as well as she knows local real estate agents. She can connect you to agents who are your perfect fit, at no cost to you!

Get Help

Episode Transcript


Move to Tacoma Podcast

This is Channel 253. On this episode of Move to Tacoma.

It’s always helpful, especially when you’re talking to people about local history. Sometimes it can be difficult for people to see how maybe it’s relevant today. So I’m always trying to find those stories that will kind of make those connections between what’s happening now and what’s happened in the past.

Channel 253 is a member-supported Podcast Network. I’m producer Doug Mackey, and I’m asking you to become a member and show your support. Go to channel 253.com/membership to join. Thank you. Practicing physical distance, not social.

Marguerite Martin 

Hi, I’m Marguerite and this is Move to Tacoma and I’m here with Anna Trammell from the Northwest room at the Tacoma Public Library. You are the new Northwest room historian. Welcome.

Anna Trammell 

Thank you. I am so excited to be here. I’m kind of having a fangirl moment because before I had my own moved to Tacoma, I relied very heavily on the Move to Tacoma website and certainly knew the name Marguerite Martin before I made my way out here, so it’s so nice to meet you.

Marguerite Martin 

Oh, it’s so nice to meet you too. That’s so exciting to hear. So okay, where did you move from? When did you move to Tacoma? Did you move here for this job? What’s the story?

Anna Trammell 

So I am originally from South Carolina so I am a long way from home, but I moved to Tacoma from Illinois. So I’ve been kind of gradually making my way further and further west. So I was living in Illinois, working as an archivist for the University of Illinois. I started to look for jobs, I wanted to try something new. I wanted to move to a different area. I had visited the Pacific Northwest a couple of times, I really love hiking and being outdoors. So I really had my heart set on kind of this part of the country. I had never visited Tacoma, but a position came open at Pacific Lutheran University to manage their Archives and Special Collections. So I moved out to Tacoma for that position about three years ago. So I’m still fairly new to Tacoma.

I moved to the south end neighborhood and I absolutely love that area and love my house. It was kind of intimidating because I was a first-time homebuyer and I skyped you know, a Skype call or a Zoom call with a local realtor who ended up helping us find our house and he let us know right away. It’s a super competitive market. The houses are gone within 24 hours of being on the market. Their bids and their way over the asking price so we were a little terrified, coming into the situation, and we actually got an Airbnb, when we first came here. It’s kind of a temporary housing solution just so we could be here and explore the area we had never really been to Tacoma and even though we have looked at MovetoTacoma.com, we really wanted to make sure to or explore different neighborhoods in person and just kind of get a feel for the city. So we stayed in an Airbnb for a little while, and thankfully, we were able to find a house right away, and it all worked out.

Marguerite Martin 

Oh, that’s awesome. I love hearing that relocating and buying a house is that’s an advanced maneuver that you executed there.

Anna Trammell 

Yes, and it’s so difficult. Oh, sorry. Go ahead.

Marguerite Martin 

I was just going to say what do you love about living in your neighborhood like, what’s been your favorite part?

Anna Trammell 

Yeah, so it’s just a really nice neighborhood. It’s really diverse and very intergenerational. You know, some families have been there for decades, and then on a lot of older couples in the area, but then more and more they’re younger families that are maybe moving from Seattle or other areas or other states. So there’s just eclectic mix and all the houses are very unique and look really different and we’re built in different time periods. It was an easy drive from the south end to PLU. It’s an easy drive to TPL where I am now walking distance to Wapato Park and Alling Park and just a great neighborhood. It’s really worked out well for us.

Marguerite Martin 

Oh, that’s wonderful. I love hearing that. So how did the gig at Tacoma Public Library come about? How did you make that connection?

Anna Trammell 

Yeah, so when I first moved to Tacoma whenever I talk to anyone, and they found out that I was working an archive at PLU and working in local history, everybody started singing the praises of the Northwest room. It was one of the first things that I started hearing about, you have to go visit the Northwest room. So I did it pretty early in my time in Tacoma and was one of my first stops, I showed up and said, I’m an archivist, can I have a tour, I’ve heard such great things about the Northwest room.

So Alena Perry, who’s now my colleague here in the Northwest room, dropped everything she was doing and gave me kind of a behind-the-scenes tour pointed out some of the highlights of the collection. I was just really blown away by the collection. I mean, many public libraries have some sort of local history collections, but these were just so extensive, and the staff was so knowledgeable about local history and about the collections. So it was just really exciting to learn about the Northwest room.

And then I started referring students who I was working with PLU, when I would teach classes that intersected with local history topics, I would always point them to the Northwest room’s resources, so I became pretty familiar with the Northwest room just as a user. So because of retirement, then this position opened up and it was sort of reconfigured and the position opened up shortly before everything shut down with COVID. So I applied for it and then had this very long, unusual, protracted interview process over the course of COVID. So that’s how it opened up and I was in the right place at the right time. I’m really excited about this position because it allows me to work more closely with the community and the scope of the collections isn’t focused on just one institution, it’s all of Tacoma. And that’s so exciting, especially as I continue to fall more and more in love with the city.

Marguerite Martin 

So I’ve only been to the Northwest room once. It’s a really unusual place. It’s like you go into the library, but then there’s this part of the library that’s got columns, and it’s very fancy. I see stuff from the northwestern collection. It’s usually in photographs, like really unusual or surprising historic photographs but then also, like, my neighbor was really into house history and family genealogies, like I moved into the Lincoln district and he showed up at my house with a pile of paperwork. He’s like, here’s everything we know about your house. He just did that for everybody in the neighborhood and I was like, Where’s this from? He’s like, Northwest room. And I was like, What?

So I’m very curious about how you would describe the collection and how people are accessing it. When I went in, I was curious about the history of real estate in Tacoma, in particular, my association, because I know, we opposed fair housing, we opposed open housing, like we were basically anti-integration in the 50s and 60s in Tacoma. I wanted to know, who was it? Who are the beneficiaries of this? And I got a little bit confused. So I would love to know how are other people using it? How could I use the Northwest room to continue my mission of understanding our history? Like the biggest open question, I’ll just take a class now.

Anna Trammell

Yes, so it is a kind of unusual setup that we have here in the main library branch. If you just stand out on the sidewalk and look at the building, it looks like two completely different buildings that have just been smashed together which is basically what it is. So the Northwest room was the original library, so it was a Carnegie Library. It was the first Carnegie Library in the state of Washington, and I think the 85th in the United States. So the whole library used to be that Carnegie building built in 1903 and that is now the home of the Northwest room. And then this additional building as the library grew and as Tacoma grew it pretty quickly outgrew this one little space. So this additional building was constructed in 1952 and they were sort of linked together. I think that the plan was they were supposed to look a little more cohesive, but due to budget constraints that couldn’t really happen.

So I feel very lucky to work in the original Carnegie building because it’s a beautiful building. It’s got this beautiful decorative kind of dome ceiling and the columns that you mentioned. So right now we are still closed to the public, but we are hoping to begin offering appointments soon. So look for more details coming up about that, so people come to us in person, but also call us, email us with a question and we serve people living in the city of Tacoma, but we get questions from all over the world from researchers who are interested in a topic that happens to intersect with our collections.

I like to think of the Northwest room as the home of the library’s rare and unique collections. So in the branch libraries or elsewhere in the main library, where the Northwest room is located, often the materials that we have will be held by other libraries, their books that can be checked out and taken home or DVDs or some of our other materials. But they’re things that can be found in other libraries in the world, or bookstores but the Northwest room houses the library’s rare and unique collections. So these are materials that often we have the only copy that exists in the world potentially.

So these include things like our extensive photograph collections, maps, architectural drawings, rare books, and increasingly, we are working on making some of our manuscript collections more discoverable. So these are things like personal papers from Tacoma residents or various organizations that have existed in Tacoma papers of former mayors and labor unions and things like that. So it’s really a wide variety of materials. And when I say personal papers, I’m talking about things like correspondence and journals and scrapbooks and things like that.

So really, we’re focused on anything that can help us tell the story of the history of the city of Tacoma, and part of my job in this role is to begin to think about how we can move the Northwest room into the 21st century. So we’re very focused on preserving those physical materials. When people think about the Northwest room, they’re thinking about those old newspapers and journals and things like that, but we also need to be thinking about what is being created now that people researching our history, 50 years from now will need access to, and that’s mostly born-digital content. So these are things like websites and social media records and digital photographs. So this is what we’re moving into collecting more of so we can make sure we’re preserving that content as it’s happening so that it’s available for future generations.

Marguerite Martin

What is the criteria for present-day like capturing the record of the moment like how would you know what’s worthy of archiving like, who decide that?

Anna Trammell 

So one of the things that we’re doing is trying to identify the gaps and our holdings. So we’re trying to look at what we have, and try to identify whose stories are missing, and whose stories have been insufficiently acknowledged when telling the story of Tacoma’s history. And of course, we can try to go back and fill in some of those gaps that exist in our holdings up to the present day but another thing that we can do is start partnering with the communities who are underrepresented in local history and in our collections and try to partner with them to make sure we’re not perpetuating some of those silences and moving forward. So thinking about, you know, various activist organizations, can we help them preserve some of the digital content that they’re creating?

So much of that communication is through social media and online so what can we do to support their work and preserve that content in a way that makes it into account. Their concerns about privacy, for example, or making these materials accessible? So it’s really about, not going in and saying, we’re the Northwest, we’re the archivist, we’re going to start taking care of these materials, but having this partnership that’s ongoing, and collaborative, so we can make sure that some of those gaps don’t exist in the future.

Marguerite Martin 

So I feel like there’s so much to talk about when it comes to Northwest room. There are so many opportunities to kind of dive in and access it like a normal person that lives in Tacoma. So I’m thinking there are maybe two ways to go this conversation. There’s one like, how do I access what you have? What are the reasons I might be accessing what you have and what can be illuminating from that? And then how would I know if I was someone who maybe had something to share with you that you might want to see?  What would you tell me?

Anna Trammell 

Yeah, so right now, our digital collections have been increasingly useful as people haven’t been able to come in person. So we have very extensive digital collections. These include digitized photographs, some digitized artwork, oral histories, and our indexes that I think you alluded to earlier, our buildings index, and our obituaries index. So these collections are available anytime anywhere, totally publicly accessible for you to browse and use these images.

Marguerite Martin 

How can I use images, like I could take a historic picture from the Northwest room, and turn it into an Instagram post, that’s not breaking the law or anything?

Anna Trammell 

Yeah, so oftentimes, our images are in the public domain as they’re old enough and it’s totally acceptable to use them, reuse them, remix them. And then some of our images, the creator of that photograph will have given us permission to make them available. So each item on our digital collections will have some sort of copyright statement which will give you more information about how it can be used but we definitely encourage people to use our images. We appreciate it when the Northwest room is credited just so people know where to go to find more images like that.

Marguerite Martin 

That’s awesome. Images like my former neighbor Chad, and look at the history of houses and the families that have lived in them. How did he do that?

Anna Trammell 

So we have something called the Pierce County Tacoma buildings index and this is a huge, very unique database. This is available if you just Google Tacoma Public Library buildings index, it’ll be like the first result that will come up. We have over 75,000 entries in this database for various addresses in Tacoma and in Pierce County. So you can do a search for your address and what you’ll see is if we have any images of that property that have been digitized, those will be available there. You’ll also see a list of any references to that property that have been found in things like the city of Tacoma directories, or various newspapers.

So you’ll see a description of the newspaper, a little bit of information about the headline, or what was mentioned there about the address and the date. So it won’t provide access to the full article, but it gives you some basic information for you to get started on your research. So if you search for a particular address, then you may see a reference to a News Tribune article from 1960 and then you can look up that article by coming in or contacting us about that.

Marguerite Martin 

So why do we have this?

Anna Trammell 

So this was just an incredible undertaking by the person who retired from the Northwestern Brian Kamens, who is kind of a name to come to our residents will certainly remember. He retired in 2019 and he spent just decades working in the Northwest room. He just had this incredible knowledge of Tacoma history, just an irreplaceable knowledge of all things Tacoma. He actually went through all of the Tacoma newspapers, the News Tribune, the Tacoma ledger, all of these newspapers and scanned them for references to any address, and then created an actual like catalog card for that address.

Now we’ve kind of converted this to a digital format but my other colleague here in the Northwest room, Spencer Bowman, continues that practice so every day when the News Tribune or other local publications come out, then he will look for those addresses to make sure that the building’s index stays up to date, and we’ll have a record of that.

Marguerite Martin 

So we have the images. We have the Pierce County Tacoma buildings index. And then what is the genealogy aspect of this? Is this something that the Northwest room is involved in as well?

Anna Trammell 

Yeah, we have some extensive genealogical resources, and you don’t have to be from Tacoma necessarily to utilize these. So we have a collection of genealogical books and published family histories and some things like that, but the library as a whole subscribes to things like ancestry.com, heritage quest, other resources, and like that.

Marguerite Martin 

I don’t have to ancestry and I can come to you and be like, so…

Anna Trammell 

Yeah, so we certainly can get people started on researching their family history and doing genealogical research. So we have databases that help support that but also some of our print publications and materials can help inform that research as well.

Marguerite Martin 

Oh, that’s so cool. If I want to get started first three that you’re talking about, like in the COVID time, before we all get our second shots and figure out how to save the kids and all that stuff. Do I just call you and say, I’m looking for images like this, or I’m looking for information on my family history around this specific line or how do people use it?

Anna Trammell 

Yeah, so a lot of people will just use our online collections but that’s really just kind of the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we actually have in our holdings. But that’s a good place to start, particularly if you’re wanting to research your particular address or the history of your house, going there and taking a look at that. And if you contact us, that’s usually the first place that will point us so you can kind of see what’s here, what am I interested in, and where you want to take your research from there.

So some of these entries in the buildings index are more extensive than others but that’s a good place to start and then you can always start online. And then you can follow up with us by email or phone. We can help you with kind of that next step or point you in the right direction.

When we begin reopening and offering appointments, then you can come in and take a look at things like the print versions or the microfilm versions of some of our newspapers, or look at our city directories, which date back to 1885. You can begin kind of tracing the history of a particular address or tracing the history of a particular person who may have lived in Tacoma.

Marguerite Martin 

So just to be very selfish, one of the things I’ve been very curious about, there was recently like a big kerfuffle in Bellevue, historically, as the Japanese farmers in that community were sent to internment camps and their land was taken from them by a real estate developer that ended up developing Bellevue square. Some local artists told that story and it was all kind of squashed. It wasn’t all that well squashed because it ended up in the newspaper. I think it wasn’t cross-cut but the descendant of that development is a very wealthy developer in Bellevue right now and he didn’t want his name associated with basically the origin of his wealth. I think those kinds of stories that I know there are more of those stories and here in Tacoma, we had our Japanese community also was entered and like it never recovered. Michael Sullivan has talked about that on the podcast before other local historians have spoken about that.

I’m curious when I think about situations that are just one example that I know of, just because it’s come up on the podcast. But we also have, like I said, my association, they were real people for whatever reason in their lives, you know, opposed certain kinds of progress and like, who were those people? How do you find out? Who was the president of the association? Who was on the board? Who was quoted in the paper saying integration is a bad idea? And like, what happened to them? Are they really rich down? Do they own all the real estate companies in Tacoma? These are questions I have. They might not have answers, but I feel like I wandered into the Northwest room and the guy was so nice. He gave me this big stack of newspaper articles. And I was like they were fascinating, but I was like, how do I figure this out? Like, I’m not a librarian.

Anna Trammell 

Yeah, and it’s difficult because archival research is very hard to do. It requires a lot of time because we have millions and millions of pages worth of information. And there’s no way we’ll ever be able to digitize all of it and make an all searchable. So it’s a really difficult process and it does require kind of gathering pieces of information from multiple sources and putting it together to tell a story or to create an argument. But some of the examples that you mentioned are really interesting because I think one of the most important things about special collections and about archives is their ability to hold people and hold institutions accountable.

So these are records of what people were thinking and doing things like meeting and, deliberations over city council resolutions and things like this. So they can be used to take power into account and kind of reckon with our history and the impact it’s had on specific communities in Tacoma. So I think that some topics have been researched more than others like the Tacoma method and the expulsion of the Chinese community here in Tacoma. You know, that’s a topic that many listeners may have heard of, and something that’s been looked into, but there are so many more stories.

Marguerite Martin 

Would you be willing to just summarize quickly for anyone who wants to know about the Tacoma method?

Anna Trammell 

I show like about the best expert in this topic, certainly not as well versed as someone like Michael Sullivan but the Tacoma method: basically, there was a Chinese community in Tacoma. You know, that included a number of Chinese immigrants who owned local businesses and had families here under the leadership of a former Tacoma mayor, Mayor Weisbach, I believe was his name.

A group of people basically a mob came into the community and demanded that the Chinese residents leave Tacoma. They were forced to leave their homes. So they were given some sort of notice saying that I think it was on November 5, you will be escorted out of Tacoma and so many left by that date, but many didn’t. And they, you know, look to the state government to intervene and to help them but no one intervened, and they were forcefully removed, and in some cases weren’t even able to pack their things and their personal belongings. They were just forcefully removed from the city and it became known as the Tacoma method.

So certainly a dark point in our past. I think that there are many other stories like that, that have just been insufficiently explored and it’s because if those materials weren’t saved, or they’re not being utilized to tell these stories, then those stories aren’t told. I think that the way that we tell history, whether it’s some local history or national history, we tend to tell the stories from a top-down approach. So kind of who are the big names, who are the really important people, and that way of telling history just reinforces existing power structures so one of the great things about collections like ours at the Northwest room is we do have materials that kind of tell those big stories from a kind of a top-down approach. We have papers of former mayors and the City Council and people like that, but we also have papers and materials from just everyday Tacoma residents who can tell us some of their perspectives. So I think with any of these stories that we try to tell or whenever we’re helping a user with their historical research, we try to talk about the ways that we can kind of combine multiple perspectives to tell the story so that we can avoid the trap of kind of this top-down historical approach.

Advertisement 

Hello, this is Eric Hamburg, host of the channel 253 podcast citizen Tacoma, and a proud Alaska Airlines frequent flyer. Everything in our day-to-day life seems to involve more hassle these days. So it feels good that Alaska Airlines is making something easier. Alaska has made air travel virtually touch-free. Here’s the rundown. When you check your bags at the airport, you won’t have to touch the kiosk to print your bag tags. They’ll print when you scan your boarding passes, or you can even print them from home, and you board your flight they can scan your boarding pass from as much as six feet away. Now the lawyers want me to say that this might not work if the lighting in the terminal is low or if the print quality of your boarding pass isn’t great. But still, kudos to Alaska for trying to keep physical distancing at every point of the trip, and don’t forget, you can pre-order your meal from your phone or from your computer. You can even put your card on file in case you decide mid-flight to splurge on local wine or beer. Get your drink without pulling out your card. That’s the perfect blend of convenience, safety, and temptation. Those are the thoughtful details that make me choose Alaska Airlines every time I fly domestically. When you’re ready to travel rest easy because Alaska has got this. Skip the travel sites and visit Alaskaair.com to book your next flight. Thank you Alaska Airlines for making travel smoother and thank you for your support to the channel 253.

Marguerite Martin 

Can you think of any examples of other stories like the Tacoma method which are sort of well known because now we have Chinese reconciliation Park which was partially intended to begin atoning for that but is there stories that you know from our history where you see parallels between things that are happening now? I imagine in my mind; I think finding out the answers to some of these questions will be so illuminating for the decisions that we have to make now. I think about Chris Karnes, tweeting all of the public comments about at home in Tacoma. They’re trying to increase the density in every neighborhood in Tacoma and build more housing and the people that object versus the people that really want this. And there are reasons why? To me, that would be a great thing to preserve, but also what were the comments 50 or 60 years ago about these things. Do they align? Do you see things like you see a river running through it all?

Anna Trammell 

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s always helpful, especially when you’re talking to people about local history. Sometimes it can be difficult for people to see how maybe it’s relevant today. So I’m always trying to find those stories that will kind of make those connections between what’s happening now and what’s happened in the past. I think that you can certainly see that and when I’ve worked with students in the past, including PLU that was always a way to sort of get them engaged in thinking about history and thinking about how history is preserved, but also how it’s created.

So one entry point to a kind of having that discussion is thinking about the Northwest detention center that’s here in Tacoma. And that’s a topic that many students that I worked with PLU were involved in kind of activism around that center and the presence of that center in Tacoma. And that’s a good way to bring a topic, that’s relevant that they’re familiar with and trying to connect that to something like the Tacoma method or to something about the history of immigration in Tacoma and think about how it’s changed how it stayed the same, how immigrant communities have been treated in Tacoma’s past.

So any time that we can kind of make those connections, and I think we can see it with any topic that’s being discussed now. We can look at climate change and connect that to the Sarco smelter plant in Tacoma. We can connect it to various activities that some of the local indigenous tribes are engaged in to try to protect our environment and looking at the history of how those groups have been involved in climate activism. So I think that is a very good way to think about it is, how we can connect the past to the present.

When COVID was starting, a lot of people were thinking about connections between COVID and the 1917 flu pandemic. So thinking about things like the mask and social distancing, and what was the messaging around that in 1917? And how has it changed? How is it the same, and then looking back even further in Tacoma’s history to a smallpox outbreak in 1885, where they actually had sort of a floating hospital that they established on a boat for people who had smallpox so that they could be quarantined out on the water and kind of removed from the rest of the population. So thinking about how these things come in cycles, and how sometimes they’re examining the similarities and the differences between these events can be very illuminating.

Marguerite Martin 

It just feels like there’s so much that we don’t know. There’s not an easy way to, I mean,  I’m just imagining like, how cool would it be if you guys had like a full-time person whose job was to like turn it into great blog posts and Instagram posts for us explaining like, here’s what people said about masks in Tacoma. Here’s what people said about closing businesses during the Spanish flu. I imagine probably similar things to just like they joke, and they don’t joke. It’s a real thing and content marketing they say news jack, create content that’s based on today’s news in order to get people to click on it, like how do we library jack? How do we history jack like what’s going on because I feel like if we were in a bigger city, like Tacoma or Portland has like a whole Wikipedia entry that’s just like things people said during the Spanish Flu in Portland itself, all that exactly what happened. I don’t think Tacoma has that and that’s I know that the Spanish flu is just one example or the flu of 1918. How do we begin to find out how to make something like that happen, or I don’t mean to do more work, I mean, how do we value that as a community?

Anna Trammell 

Yeah, even though my title is Northwest room historian. The main part of my job is kind of doing less of the actual interpretation of these materials, and instead focusing more on providing access. So I want to make the materials that we have discoverable and usable so that I can encourage other people, whether they are local historians or just people who have a blog and are interested in a particular topic, I want them to be able to see, okay, this is what they have, this is how I can use it, and then I can help them tell that story.

So that’s really what I’ve been putting most of my energy and since I started just a couple of months ago, as I mentioned that our digital collections are really just kind of the tip of the iceberg. So even though we have 1000s, and 1000s of entries and photographs in our digital collections, that’s what most people think of when they think of the Northwest shrooms collections. They think of those materials, or some of our things like local yearbooks, and materials that you can find by searching the library’s catalog. But we have huge amounts of content that have never been accessible to the public because we just haven’t had the dedicated staff time to apply to actually make those discoverable.

So I’ve been spending a lot of my time down in our basement here, finding all kinds of amazing, one of a kind materials and these really take a lot of time to make discoverable because you can’t just say, Oh, we have this person’s papers, and it’s 100 boxes, and here you go, good luck. That’s not going to help anyone. So what we’re trying to do is create very discoverable descriptions that are publicly available online. So people have a real understanding of what we have, and a description of what’s in every box, what’s in every folder, who created these materials, what are the dates associated with them? So one of the projects that we’re working on right now is we’re going to launch a new collections database.

So we have our digital collections that are searchable, but this will be distinct from that. It will be a very user-friendly place where people can go search for a topic. They can limit by dates. They can limit by materials in copyright, or if it’s free to reuse, and that will lead them to descriptions of these materials that we have. So people can contact us about a particular folder in these papers that they want to see, or they can have an understanding of where are the gaps, maybe I can donate my personal papers to the Northwest room, or the papers of my family that could help tell this story that’s not currently represented. So what we’d like to do is have a very detailed description of everything that we have in our collection, not just the digitized materials so that people are empowered to use our collections and do their own research.

So I’ve been having a lot of fun working on these materials, making sure they properly house so that they are preserved long term so that they’re in the proper types of storage containers. If it’s a piece of obsolete media, like a laserdisc or a floppy disk, that we’re extracting that so we can have that actual information and make sure it’s preserved long term. So these are things like City Council Resolutions going back to 1887, for example, or I just finished processing the papers of a former Tacoma mayor who was mayor when the Tacoma dome was constructed. and over his term as mayor, he just touched on all of these topics.

So in the letters that people were writing, or in the legislation that he was preparing, or that was being debated, all of these topics are revealed that you may be surprised to find in these papers. So if we have that level of description. You know, people may not think, Oh, I want to go in and research the history of this particular mayor and his story, but some of that correspondence and those meeting minutes that appear in his papers may inform a variety of topics.

Marguerite Martin 

All right, so you’ve been digging in the basement for two and a half months what you have found so far?

Anna Trammell 

Oh, I should have been prepared for this because I feel like this is a question that archivists always get so I’ve been really surprised by the number of keys to the city I found. So the first one I found, you know, it was this bright golden key mounted on a plaque and it said the key to the city of Tacoma, and I thought, I have found the key to the city. This is amazing. This is the only one that was ever created and then I started seeing pictures of other people getting keys to the city or climb up to the top of the ladder and open a box and it would be full of keys.

Marguerite Martin 

When last time somebody got the key to the city?

Anna Trammell 

And that would be a good thing to look into because I have we have several of them. So I’m sure that we don’t have a comprehensive collection of all keys to the city.

Marguerite Martin 

So I know from the Twitter’s this year and conversations, I’ve seen that funding for the library is tight. I think for my understanding, it’s diminishing, and I know that this is delicate territory for you as someone who works there, but for people who are listening, who want to support funding, the library, and possibly even increasing funding for the library in Tacoma, how do you get money to support your work and how can individuals advocate to support your work?

Anna Trammell 

Yeah, so we have had some significant budget challenges that have emerged as a result of COVID and even prior to COVID. You know, I think public libraries in general, are just underfunded. There’s just kind of a general atmosphere of austerity that impacts services like public libraries, and all staff that comes up Public Library, have agreed to take an unpaid furlough both this year and next year to help.

So everybody is taking two weeks, we already had one, and then ones coming up later this year. So two unpaid weeks off, and then we’ll have another unpaid furlough next year. So I really appreciate that agreement was reached so that we didn’t have to lay off staff, but certainly, that is a significant reduction for the people who work here. So we recently had a library Giving Day and that was really exciting. It just happened a couple of weeks ago. We were raising money for our digital media lab. It was just so exciting to see kind of the outpouring of support, people saying things like I’m giving you my stimulus check to help fund the library. So there’s really giving community, a very devoted community around the Northwest room and around the library as a whole.

And certainly when there were discussions about the budget deficit for the library, and the potential of staff being laid off, there was really just an outpouring of very vocal support. I just want listeners to know that it makes a different kind of having people reach out to the board, people reach out to city council just to tell them about the importance of the library, to describe certain library services that they use, whether it’s the Northwest room, or children’s programs, or our digital media lab. Those stories really make a difference so I would certainly encourage people to continue reaching out and sharing their stories about how the library has positively impacted them.

Marguerite Martin 

I’ve been to Northwest room, but I don’t know that I’ve been to the library for a while. I know a lot of my friends go to the library regularly with their kids the way that I went with my mom when I was a kid, but why do libraries matter and why do funding libraries matter especially now?

Anna Trammell 

Yeah, so libraries exist for the public good, and there are not many areas or communities, there are not any systems that you can say that about now. So they exist for the people, are funded by the people, and publicly accessible. So there is no, obviously, some barriers to entry exist anywhere, but we’re trying to reduce some of those barriers to entry through making more of our materials available online, investing in digital resources. So these are publicly available materials. We don’t ask for you to purchase a membership, like Netflix or something like that. These are here for the people of the city of Tacoma. I think that that is really unique.

I also think that now more than ever, there’s just not a lot of public spaces. You have maybe your work or your home. And now for many people, those are the same locations, as many people are working from home and there’s not just kind of a public place for people to go kind of this third location a place for people to when it’s not COVID times for people to gather and attend programs and utilize resources and sort of gather in one place. So I like to think of the library as that type of physical space that just doesn’t really exist anymore.

And then for places like the Northwest room, in particular, the special collections. We hold materials that in some cases don’t exist. In many cases, they don’t exist anywhere else. If they’re not here, then they won’t be accessible to people. So we are a unique resource and there are certainly other places in Tacoma that are focused on preserving local history that come to Historical Society and the Washington State History Museum but our scope is religious, we are devoted to preserving the history of Tacoma and that can mean a lot of different things, it can mean preserving and providing access to and exhibiting artifacts like you’d see in a museum but it can also mean preserving these ones of kind paper items, the photographs and the documents that help tell the story and providing access to them.

So oftentimes, archives and Special Collections libraries can be difficult places to access some of these very unique materials are held by universities that may be difficult to gain access to or private rare book libraries where you actually have to go through an application process and have letters of recommendation to even get in the door. We are open and we want to provide access. So everything that we’re doing is trying to move a step closer to dismantling those barriers to access.

I recognize that it can be an intimidating experience to think, I’m going to the Northwest room, and I’m going to do archival research, and I’m going to dig into the boxes and read the cursive handwriting all of that can be a very intimidating process. So anything we can do to sort of break down the barriers to that work, and just empower people to do their own research and let them know, yes, this is something you can do. You don’t need to be a credentialed historian to create and think about local history and discover local history.

Marguerite Martin 

That’s so great. Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you really want to make sure that we understand about the Northwest room?

Anna Trammell 

Yeah, we’ve kind of touched on this topic but one thing that we are really spending a lot of time thinking about now is whose stories are missing, and how we can fill in some of the gaps in local history, fill in some of the gaps in our collections. I mentioned that that process will involve partnering with the community to try to fill in those gaps. So we’ve started talking about community archives projects that we can begin working on that will involve us kind of going out into the community when it’s possible to do so to capture some of that content.

In some cases, traditionally we have physically acquired these materials and we catalog them and preserve them. They’re held in our space but that’s not always an appropriate thing to do when you’re trying to build a partnership with a community. So we’re trying to think of ways we can go into the community kind of get out from the Northwest room. It’s a beautiful building, of course, but we need to be going beyond our four walls and finding ways to just get outside of those barriers and bring in new materials. So this may be something where we’re going out and recording histories at various festivals or community centers are events that are taking place in Tacoma, photographing people’s family recipe books, and scrapbooks and things like that, even if it’s something that you know, they’re going to hang on to, and maybe it’s not going to come and live at the Northwest room, we’ll have at least a part of that, that capture heard and represented.

So we’re trying to think outside the box in terms of what can the Northwest room be that it hasn’t been in the past, and maybe that is going to look very untraditional for us. But I think there are some really exciting things we can do and another thing that we’ve been thinking about is how we can best connect our existing collections to communities that aren’t necessarily our traditional users. So we shouldn’t expect everyone to come into the Northwest room ready to dive into 100 boxes of somebody’s papers. We should be meeting people where they are and we can do some of that through things like social media, but we’re also thinking about traveling exhibits, and how we can just go out and bring the sampling of the collections to people. So we can hopefully spark their interest and they’ll want to connect with us and learn more or possibly donate their own materials to the northwest room for us to preserve.

Marguerite Martin 

So if there’s someone listening right now, who may be is from a community that historically has been underrepresented or not represented at all in the story about Tacoma history, what would you say to them? If they’re like, Oh, I think in my house has some stuff, but I don’t know about sharing it with these guys. So what would you say?

Anna Trammell 

Yeah, so I would say if they feel comfortable reaching out to us by email, our email address is nwr@Tacomalibrary.org and if they want to talk to me directly, they can just email that address and I will get back to them personally, but just kind of give us an idea of what materials you’re thinking about, and what maybe some of your concerns are. We can talk through that and maybe it’s a situation where if the Northwest room isn’t the best home for the materials, or maybe we can’t address all of the concerns, then maybe it’s a situation where we can either give you support for preserving your own personal papers and keeping them in a way that’s going to ensure long term preservation, or we can connect you to another repository.

This was something that that I’ve done pretty frequently in my previous work. I used to work at the University of Illinois, and I worked with a number of student activist organizations, and they did not want to donate their materials for understandable reasons to the university and even though I saw a distinction, when I was talking to these students, between myself and kind of the rest of the university bureaucracy. I had to acknowledge that I am a part of the institution that in many cases, these students were protesting. So in that situation, it made more sense for me to either give them the training for this is the best way to preserve your social media records or your website to make sure it’s available for future members, or that you can pass on after you graduate or let me connect you to the State Historical Society or this national archives that are dealing with this particular topic. So I think there are lots of conversations to be had and certainly, I’m available to help talk you through some of that.

Marguerite Martin 

That’s wonderful. Well, thank you so much for coming on today and answering all of my questions. I’ve spoken about the Northwest room with people before and I think so many of us know just enough about it to be a little dangerous and kind of dive deep and find out exactly how many keys of the city are in the library. So thank you. Thank you for sharing that and I’m excited. I know I’ve made tons of notes while we’ve been talking, and I will dig around in there and see what fun stuff I can find.

Anna Trammell 

Absolutely and certainly feel free to reach out to us. I really look forward to some of these projects that we’re working on, some of these coming to fruition so hopefully people will have more access to our collections.

Marguerite Martin 

Thank you so much.

Anna Trammell 

Thank you.

Want to learn more about life in Tacoma visit movetotacoma.com.

Did you know channel 253 is member-supported? I’m producer Don Mackey and I hope you will show your support by going to channel253.com/membership and join. Thank you.

Show Notes

In this episode of the Move to Tacoma podcast, Marguerite Martin interviews Local History Librarian Anna Trammell. Anne is a librarian at the Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room. The Northwest Room features archives of Tacoma’s local history, genealogy, and special collections, and this treasure trove of information is constantly evolving.    Marguerite and Anne dive into a wide range of topics in this interview, including:    - What Anna loves about living in Tacoma’s South End (she originally moved to Tacoma from Illinois just 3 years ago)  - The history of the physical location of the Northwest Room (it’s housed in the original Carnegie library that was built in 1903)  - What exactly you might expect to find in the Northwest Room (including its unique collections, meaning they have the only copy in the world. This might include rare books, maps, architectural drawings, etc.  - How they go above determining what to archive about present day history (this is not just about looking at the past—this is also about creating documentation about what is happening today so people 50 years from now can look back) - How the Northwest Room determines what is included, and how they are partnering with communities to avoid gaps in coverage  - You can search for your address and see if there are any digitized images of your home, references to your property in newspapers, etc.  - What connections we can make between local current events and the past, including the similarities and differences between the COVID-19 pandemic and the 1917 flu pandemic.  - What the strangest thing Anna has ever found in the Northwest Room is    … and sooooo much more!  If you’ve ever looked at the Northwest Room’s online collections, you’ve only explored the tip of the iceberg! There is so much more to see in person, and Anna is happy to help you. You can reach out here: nwr@tacomalibrary.org