What’s New in the ‘Hood–UW Special Collections

This is the second in a series of tours of repositories in the Seattle area sponsored by Historic Seattle.  I have signed up for the series and am blogging about each.  You can see the first blog posting here: What’s New in the ‘Hood–House History Style.

Historic Seattle hosted another great tour of a local repository.  This rainy Saturday, thirty of us met before opening hours and toured the University of Washington’s Special Collections.  It was a rare opportunity to tour behind the locked doors and enter the stacks.  Lisa Oberg, a genealogist and head of Public Service/History of Science and Medicine Curat, for the Libraries Special Collections was our tour leader ably supported by three other members of her staff.

There were really three tours in this one opportunity:

  • Digital tour of the Special Collections web presence within the UW Library website
  • “Back of the house” tour of the stacks
  • the use of the Special Collections Reading Room, including an informal display of ephemeral related to house, architect’s and regional history.

2014 0308 UW Spec Coll screenDigital Tour:

Start with the UW website (http://www.lib.washington.edu/) => Libraries at the top bar, scroll to the bottom => Collections and Archives, => Special Collections and you will be in the segment of this large library system which is devoted to the rarest papers, books, manuscripts and ephemeral in the university’s collection.  The library does not have a significant holding of Medieval manuscripts due to the young age of the state, but what it does have has been donated by collectors to the university.  The rarest items are the photographic folio of Edward S. Curtis’s “The North American Indian.”  These images have sold, by plate, for a significant amount of money on the open market.

Lisa showed us how to access the finding aids and get to the inventory list of the item of interest.  When I was researching the parcel of property on which my house sits, I discovered that the Washington Land Commission headed by Daniel Bagley, a Seattle pioneer of the late 1800’s, and commission head in charge of selling the property to raise funds for the University of Washington, at one time owned my parcel as part of the larger holdings.

BagleyI went to Special Collections, and retrieved Daniel Bagley’s record of the sale to William White in 1873.  (left) Bagley’s entry is about 8 lines down and has noted that White purchased a parcel of property (about 25% of Queen Anne) for $262.  for those of you who know Seattle, that’s a significant chunk of real estate in today’s market.  The $262 won’t buy you a latte every week for a year today!


2014 0308 UW SC stacks“Back of the House” Tour

The Special Collections Department operates like an archive, rather than a library.  Items are densely packed on the shelves and while some things are assigned “catalog numbers” more of the items are in groups stored in boxes.  As a researcher you request the item and the collection staff retrieves the materials for you.  These materials are used within the reading room under strict guidelines for use which are outlined on the website.  (note: the department also has very restricted hours and recommends you check to make sure they are open as they often keep “university hours,” closing during breaks etc.) The collection is one of the largest in the Puget Sound region and for researchers researching Seattle history, papers of early pioneers etc. UW Library system is a stop they must make.

2014 0308 UW SC reading 2Reading Room

Lisa pulled some items she thought we would find of interest which included architect’s plans, period plan books and miscellaneous business papers.  It was fascinating to look at the architect plans (real “blueprints”), business documents, and architecture books and magazines of the period.


Did you know…

  • UW library is in the process now of renovating a floor of the library to be devoted to preservation of materials.  Lisa promised us a tour when that is ready.
  • to prevent the spread of mold, a serious problem in old materials, the preservationists freeze the book and then brush the mold off.
  • the library has a special display “Civil Disobedience! The Life and Legacy of Gordon K. Hirabayashi” housed in the Special Collections reading room now.  “During World War II, 24-year-old University of Washington student Gordon Hirabayashi defied the United States order for Americans of Japanese ancestry  to leave the West Coast for concentration camps. He turned himself in to the FBI and was tried and convicted in the Federal District Court of Seattle.” –from the UW Special Collections website.  I would not have been as brave at age 24 as this young man.  Courage in action.
  • Special Collections has one of the turtle costumes from the WTO riots in Seattle.

A very interesting tour, led by a very engaging speaker. Thanks to Lisa for so ably showing us around and a special thanks to Luci Baker Johnson and Historic Seattle for organizing such a great series of tours of repositories and libraries, “Digging Deeper: our Built Heritage”.  Great fun.

Next up is the Sophie Frye Bass Library, MOHAI Resource Center, Georgetown.  I have never been there so I am looking forward to this one!  If you are interested just call Historic Seattle at 206-622-6952.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: finished up my presentation on source citations for the Seattle Genealogical Society. including a syllabus, worsheet and evaluation!

2 comments on “What’s New in the ‘Hood–UW Special Collections

  1. […] Morelli, one of the participants, blogged about her participation in the series on February 8, March 8, June 19, and September […]

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