Puget Sound Regional Archives

One of the more rarely frequented buildings on campus is the Puget Sound Regional Archives, located north of the N building entrance, close to the Eastgate Park and Ride. The archives is a branch of the Office of the Secretary of State and carries documents and records for King, Pierce and Kitsap counties dating back to the 19th century.

The archives serve the public, anybody can submit a request and make an appointment to view the array of available material. The archives have a capacity of 35,000 cubic feet, of which 29,350 is filled by the current collection.  It is free to make an appointment and view records, but there are fees for services such as printing. Those not requiring high quality detailed images can take pictures with digital cameras or smartphones, so much of the research costs nothing to the public.

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Touring the archives facility.

The archives staff was cut by 40 percent during the 2008 recession, and the archives “are not likely to get them back,” shared managing archivist Mike Saunders. Due to staffing, archivists work five days a week, handling the 350 to 500 requests per week that come in, but the archives are only open to the public on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

The archives carry a diverse amount of information, from criminal records to tax and real estate records, genealogy information to records of government and historical photographs, a huge amount of Seattle’s past can be accessed by anybody.

There are records of transportation in Seattle all the way back to the first horse-drawn carriages and streetcars, to modern public transportation organizations like Metro Transit. Of particular interest to the public are New Deal era real estate records, a project of the Works Progress Administration that went through the area and cataloged and photographed basically every structure standing at the time. Over 1.6 million of these records exist and many people come to get information of what properties looked like nearly 80 years ago.

Also stored at the archives are material from the establishment of the Port of Seattle as a port district, the first in the state. A collection of yearbooks detail past events and accomplishments at the port, acting as commemorative and promotional material.

One of the most influential events in getting Seattle noticed on the world stage was the Century 21 Exposition, and the archives contain a wealth of material from the fair, including promotional material handed out to those tasked with creating buzz.

With diverse kinds of records come the diverse types of people who come to view them. From people looking for interesting historical data on their property to those researching some aspect of local government, to lawyers searching through tax records and architects looking for plans, a wide cross-section of the public comes to view records held at the archives.

Not many students generally visit the archives, Saunders shared that sometimes instructors assign research projects to students but “The use of any archives is driven by need.  If students aren’t being assigned research projects that our collections support, there is no reason for them to use us.  However, if they are doing research on local or regional issues, it will be worth their while to contact us at PSBranchArchives@sos.wa.gov and ask us about what we have related to their research topic.”

Being an archivist requires a master’s degree, and two in-state universities, UW and WSU both have graduate programs for those wishing to be archivists. Undergraduate students don’t need to have a particular major, but many study history, English or information science.

Although the staff of the archives itself has been cut, jobs for archivists exist in the private sector too. Companies keep their own records and qualified candidates to manage those records are in demand. The archives serve a role in the private sector by training people in records management.