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Weeding the Library Garden

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 Posted in Articles, For the Public, News, Public Services | 1 Comment »

admin_WeedImages_commontansy5Fall might seem an odd time to think about weeding, but in the world of libraries weeding happens all the time. Weeding is the term libraries use to describe removing books from a collection. And contrary to what one might assume about the State Library’s collections, books don’t just come here to gather dust in perpetuity. We weed like other research libraries weed, and a book might find its way out the door or moved into another collection for a variety of reasons.

1)      The book no longer fits within our collection development guidelines or library mission

2)      The book contains outdated or inaccurate information

3)      We have more copies than we need

4)      The information contained in the book can be more easily be found online

5)      The collection is out of shelving space

6)      The book has not been used in many years

7)      The book is too damaged to be useful any longer and new copies can be found to purchase

Currently our librarians are weeding our Reference Collection and Northwest Collection and finding new homes for books that no longer meet our needs. What happens to books that are weeded out of these central library collections? The State Library’s branches, including prison and hospital libraries, have first dibs on the central library’s discards, followed by other Olympia-area state government branches. If a book can’t find a home in any of those places, we dispose of the items through the Washington State Surplus program. Materials that are officially surplussed can be donated to other locations, including officially designated rehabilitation workshops such as Goodwill. A significant portion of weeded materials are destroyed when none of the surplus qualifications are met.

Other Washington State Library collections like the State and Federal Depository programs have different rules for weeding materials based on the rules that govern their operation. Weeded copies from these State Library collections may find their way to local state or federal depository libraries near you.

For an amusing look at the world of library weeding, including the importance of keeping library collections relevant and up-to-date, check out Awful Library Books.

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

Friday, October 31st, 2014 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public, Public Services, State Library Collections, Washington Reads | No Comments »


Washington Reads – A Sudden Light by Garth Stein (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. 416 pp.)

Recommendation by Mary Paynton Schaff, Reference Librarian, Washington State Library

Fall means ghosts, creepy old houses, and stories about families scarred by tragedy. So now’s the perfect opportunity to gather up your afghan, sit by the fire with a cup of hot cider, and dive into Garth Stein’s newest book, “A Sudden Light.”

Fourteen-year-old narrator Trevor is brought to crumbling Riddell House in north Seattle by his father in the summer of 1990. Trevor’s father Jones has a lot on his plate: settle the Riddell family estate, get his father into a nursing home, make amends to his sister Serena who has spent the better part of her life nursing their father, and make his peace with the untimely death of their mother. Last but not least, Trevor is hoping his father can find a way to repair his marriage to Trevor’s mother, despite the fact they are currently separated by thousands of miles. As Jones begins to wrestle with these issues, Trevor is drawn into the history of the storied Riddell family and the monumentally fascinating but literally decomposing Riddell House. Trevor is aided in his exploration of the house, and his family history, by an unlikely guide who reveals to him further betrayals, tragedies, and opportunities.

The Washington setting of “A Sudden Light” plays a crucial role in Trevor’s coming of age story. The Riddells make their fortune in logging, as many Northwest pioneers did. Each of Trevor’s ancestors has a relationship to the trees; cutting them, climbing them, or building something out of the wood. As the profits from the trees roll in, the Riddells became the fashionable aristocracy of Seattle society. Lumber barons make deals with railroad magnates. And when Trevor’s guide steers him to John Muir’s “The Mountains of California,” Trevor begins to wonder what costs might have incurred as the family chopped and bargained its way to the top.

There’s an enjoyable gothic overtone to “A Sudden Light.” Exploring an old haunted house has been a favorite literary device from Jane Eyre to Rebecca to Scooby Doo. The library, ballroom, locked trunks, and secret stairways you hope Trevor will find are all there. Adding to this reading satisfaction, Stein further layers in a generational family saga, lost journals in leather bindings, the relationship between fathers and sons, pairs of doomed lovers, conflicting promises, and the sublime joy that can be found in nature. (This librarian experienced such joy simply reading Stein’s description of historical research undertaken in a pre-internet public library, using microfilm no less!)

So rest your bones and dig into this satisfying Northwest work of fiction.

ISBN-10: 1439187037

Available at the Washington State Library
Audio book available through the publisher.

Your State Library – Providing Live Help to Government Information Seekers

Friday, June 27th, 2014 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public, Library 21 Initiative, Technology and Resources | No Comments »

Statistics-snipThe expertise of the reference librarians at the Washington State Library has enabled even more people to find the government information they’re looking for. During the first quarter of 2014, librarians answered 449 questions regarding Washington State government, including referring individuals to the correct state agency, locating information on agency websites, and providing access to thousands of Washington state publications. Additional referrals were made to the appropriate federal or local government agency. The majority of the questions received came from users of Access Washington, the state’s centralized website for government information.

Through a partnership with the Department of Enterprise Services, the Washington State Library provides assistance to website visitors struggling to find the information they need. The Pew Research Center’s Search Engine 2012 report indicates that 41% of online searchers retrieved conflicting information during a search and weren’t able to tell what was correct, and 38% of searchers have gotten so many results that they felt overwhelmed. Add these facts to the layered nature of government information, and informed help becomes a vital link in creating an engaged, well-informed populace.

During January-April of 2014, staff at the State Library answered 353 questions through its online chat service, which enables an information searcher to chat in real time with a librarian who can walk them through the process of locating the government information they need. Live chat is accessible through a customizable widget that can be placed on any website to allow a seamless transition, or by linking the Washington State Library’s Ask page .

The Washington State Library’s customer surveys for the first quarter of 2014 indicate that 89% received an answer better than they could find on their own, 96% would use the State Library’s Ask service again, and 96% would recommend the service to a friend.

The Washington State Library is eager to expand this vital service to additional governmental and quasi-governmental agencies. If you are interested in placing an Ask a Librarian chat widget on your website, or want to find out how to leverage the knowledge of the librarians at the State Library to assist your customers, contact Crystal Lentz at crystal.lentz@sos.wa.gov.

Natural Disasters in Washington State

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 Posted in Articles, For the Public, State Library Collections | No Comments »

From the desk of Kim Smeenk

Fires, volcanoes, and floods, oh my!

The Pacific Northwest has seen its share of natural disasters over the years. Forest fires, windstorms like the Columbus Day Storm in 1962, and the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980.    The Washington State Library has books, magazine articles, government reports and documentaries about these events.

If you want to read what the newspapers were reporting as the disasters were unfolding, you can find those articles in the State Library’s microfilm newspaper collection.  If you can’t make it to our library, don’t worry, we lend out many of our books, and all of our microfilmed newspapers, to people all over the world through interlibrary loan.
Contact us if you have questions.
blogpost big blow cover image2


In 1963 Ellis Lucia published The big blow; the story of the Pacific Northwest’s Columbus Day storm, about the Pacific Northwest windstorm that killed over  40 people, and caused millions of dollars in damages.

The following year, Dorothy Franklin published West Coast Disaster, Columbus Day, 1962


The great Forks fire, by Mavis Amundson, describes the fast moving forest fire
on the Olympic Peninsula in September 1951 that threatened to destroy the town of  Forks, WA.


blogpost newspaper article 1910 fire2

Olympia Daily Recorder August 13 1910


1910 was another year of massive forest fires in the Pacific NorthwestThere were more than 1,700 fires that burned three million acres, and killed over 80 people.

Year of Fires by Stephen J. Pyne, and The Big Burn by Don Miller are just a few of the books we have about these fires.

For official state reports from that time, you can come to the State Library to read the 100+ year old annual Report(s) of the State Forester and Fire Warden





The most famous natural disaster in Washington State was the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980.  These are just a few of the titles the State Library has about this event.

mt st helens

Citizen response to volcanic eruptions: the case of Mt. St. Helens by Ronald W. Perry and Marjorie R. Greene.

Echoes of fury : the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens and the lives it changed forever / Frank Parchman

Mt. St. Helens : surviving the stone wind by Catherine Hickson

Portrait of Mount St. Helens : a changing landscape / essays by Chuck Williams and Stuart Warren

The eruption of Mount St. Helens [videorecording] DVD

Mt. St. Helens [videorecording] : back from the dead DVD

You can find all of these items and more in our online catalog.

If you have questions about how to borrow any of our books or newspaper microfilm, contact us at askalibrarian@sos.wa.gov.


Go Huskies! The Boys in the Boat

Friday, February 14th, 2014 Posted in For the Public, Washington Reads | No Comments »


The Boys in the Boat.  By Daniel James Brown. (New York : Viking Adult, 2013. 416pp.)

Recommendation by Mary Paynton Schaff, Reference Librarian at the Washington State Library.

Once again the world’s best athletes have gathered to compete in the Olympic games, and television viewers can’t get enough.  Standout personalities shine in the individual competitions like speed skating, skiing, and snowboarding.  American broadcasts indulge in extended biographical features about our favorite competitors and their hometowns.  It’s clear our society loves to celebrate individual accomplishment, and no wonder.  To stand on the gold medal podium in triumph is no small feat.

But despite the celebrity of our individual winners, it’s the Olympic team sports that have the capacity to draw us in and capture the nationalistic pride like nothing else.  For every Michelle Kwan, there’s a “Miracle on Ice.”  For every Jesse Owens, there a University of Washington’s Eight Man Rowing Team.

You might be forgiven if in contemplating the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, your thoughts immediately go to Hitler’s Germany and the accomplishments of Owens.  But after reading Daniel Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat,” your view will be considerably widened.  1936 was more than the dawn of the Third Reich and slide toward world war.  It was the slogging end of the Great Depression, where thousands of young American men struggled to find work, put themselves through school, and hold their desperate families together.  The Olympics were more than the city of Berlin, with its systematic white washing of Germany’s anti-Semitic laws.  The Olympic story included rough and tumble logging towns like Sequim and Montesano, Depression-era boom towns like Grand Coulee, and gritty Northwest cities coming of age like Seattle.  And Olympic athletes were more than solitary figures standing on a podium.  They were teams of boys in boats.

Part of what makes Brown’s book so compelling is the exploration of what it means to be part of a rowing team.  Who creates the team?  Husky coaching icon Al Ulbrickson.  Who makes the team? Joe Rantz, for one.  Who inspires the team? Legendary boat builder George Pocock.  What does it take to make a successful team?  A comingling of found talent, hours of practice on Lake Washington in the pouring rain, healthy competition from your rival school the Cal Bears, and inspired leadership from your coach and brilliant coxswain Bobby Moch.  And what does it feel like to be part of a winning team?  The perfectly described notion of “swing,” which, when once accomplished with your fellow oarsman, allows you to fly across the water in perfect synchronicity.

“The Boys in the Boat” captures more than a moment in time.  It paints the picture of the Northwest on the brink, balancing between the old-fashioned notion of the Wild West and the boom times of the 1940s.  It depicts the ambition of the US Olympic committee members, who were determined to participate in the Olympics whether Jews were being persecuted in Germany or not (an attitude that may seem familiar even today).  But more than anything, Brown’s book emphasizes the importance of teams and teamwork.  For while all the boys felt like only a set of random circumstances landed them in that boat on the Langer See, their efforts not only defined them as adults, but also defined the Northwest as a center for athleticism, culture, and all-American can-do attitude.

Watch the 1936 Gold Medal Rowing race here.

ISBN: 978-0670025817

Available at the Washington State Library NW 979.123 Brown 2013
Audio book available through the publisher.

State Library Assists WSJ Journalist

Thursday, December 26th, 2013 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public, Library 21 Initiative, News | No Comments »

Photo of lobotomy patient Melbert Peters, courtesy of the Washington State Digital Archives.

It is not an uncommon occurrence for the reference librarians at the Washington State Library to be called upon for assistance by journalists.  Questions come in regularly from newspaper reporters, bloggers, and radio contributors.  So when Wall Street Journal reporter Michael M. Phillips contacted the Library about tracking down relatives of some Washington World War II veterans, librarian Kathryn Devine stepped up to provide information on the fates of these servicemen.  The results of Kathryn’s collaboration with him can be seen in Phillips’s monumental report for the WSJ, “Lobotomy Files.” Kathryn assisted Phillips with records, obituaries, and surviving family members for five Washington veterans profiled in “Lobotomy Files,” including Leonard Kingcade whose story is profiled in detail as a case study called, “A Descent into Madness.” 

Phillips’s work with primary sources, newspaper accounts, and oral history packs an emotional wallop, especially when one draws parallels between the current psychiatric treatment of our many returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with PTSD.  The impact of “Lobotomy Files” can be seen in this blog post where Phillips discusses what went in to creating the report with his readers.  As for Kathryn, she says, “I’m happy the library could help Michael tell this important story.”

For all the staff at the Washington State Library, “Lobotomy Files” is a clear reminder of the importance of our historical collections.  The dry, long dead facts of one person’s life, recorded and preserved only in musty boxes and reels of microfilm, can, with diligent and compassionate research, be translated into a document that shines a powerful light on the 21st Century condition.  To find your own powerful moment in Washington history, check out the Washington State Library’s many print and digital resources.

State Library participates in State History Day

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013 Posted in Articles, For the Public, News, State Library Collections | No Comments »

Senior Group Exhibit 2nd Place Winner "The Boldt Decision: Turning Point for Native American Treaty Rights" by Taylor Mamaril and Britt McCracken

Senior Group Exhibit 2nd Place Winner “The Boldt Decision: Turning Point for Native American Treaty Rights” by Taylor Mamaril and Britt McCracken

This past Saturday, Washington State Library staff, along with staff from the Office of the Secretary of State’s Washington State Archives, served as judges at the state contest for History Day.  History Day is a nationwide program that challenges young people to become expert historians and tell the story of an historical event using primary sources.  History Day is sponsored by the Washington State Historical Society, which has grown the Washington contest into one of the strongest programs in the country.  Last year, Washington State sent 36 projects to the national contest and of those, 24 went on to final there.  Based on the papers, websites, exhibits, documentaries, and performances we saw this weekend, Washington will have another strong showing at nationals in 2013.  Presented here are just several of the exhibits that are off to nationals this year.  Congratulations to all the winners, and remember that the State Library is a great place to hunt down those primary sources that will make next year’s projects shine!


Senior Group Exhibit Winner "Turning Points for Women in Journalism" by Helen Lee and Erin Lee.

Senior Group Exhibit 1st Place Winner “Turning Points for Women in Journalism” by Helen Lee and Erin Lee.

Junior Group Exhibit 1stPlace Winner "1962: When Seattle Invented the Future" by Jordan Albrecht and Sierra Noble

Junior Group Exhibit 1st Place Winner “1962: When Seattle Invented the Future” by Jordan Albrecht and Sierra Noble

Junior Individual Exhibit 1st Place Winner "The Lacey Acts: the Birth of Conservation Legislation" by JoHanna Flahiff

Junior Individual Exhibit 1st Place Winner “The Lacey Acts: the Birth of Conservation Legislation” by JoHanna Flahiff

Letters About Literature Winners Announced

Thursday, April 4th, 2013 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public, Letters About Literature | No Comments »


Washington’s 2013 Letters About Literature Champions have been announced by the Washington State Library!

Cora Tessaro, a fifth grader at Daniel Bagley Elementary School in Seattle, is the Level 1 champion.  Julia Batson, a seventh grader at Woodward Middle School on Bainbridge Island, is the Level 2 champion.  Jordyn Tonkinson, a ninth grader at Hockinson High School in Brush Prairie, is the Level 3 champion.  Click here to see their letters and learn more about the 2013 contest.

There were approximately 3,400 Washington students whose letters made it to round 1 judging in the 2013 contest.  325 semifinalists advanced to round 3 state judging.  All state semifinalists will receive an award certificate in the mail. 

From the 325 Washington semifinalists, the state judges selected three champions, three second place runners up, and twenty-one honorable mentions.  The three champions’ letters have been sent to the Library of Congress for the national competition.  The results of the national judging will be released in late April.

There will be a ceremony in the Columbia Room at the State Capitol in Olympia on May 24th at 1:30 in the afternoon to recognize the state champions, second place runners up, and honorable mentions.

Thank you to all the students, teachers, librarians, and families who participate in Washington’s Letters About Literature program.  Keep reading and writing!

Washington’s 2012 Letters About Literature Champions Announced!

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012 Posted in Articles, For the Public, Letters About Literature, News | No Comments »

Clare Doran, a sixth grader at The Bush School in Seattle, is the Level 1 champion.  Samantha Smith, an eighth grader at Blue Heron Middle School in Port Townsend, is the Level 2 champion. Oliver Reed, a tenth grader at North Central High School in Spokane, is the Level 3 champion.  Read the winning letters here!

There were approximately 5,500 Washington students who entered the 2012 contest. There are 98 semifinalists who advanced to round 3 state judging. All state semi-finalists will receive an award certificate in the mail.   There will also be a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in Olympia on May 11 at 11:00 in the morning during which the semi-finalists will be acknowledged for their achievement.

From the 98 Washington semi-finalists, the state judges selected the three aforementioned champions, three second place runners up, and ten honorable mentions.  The three champions’ letters have been sent to the Library of Congress for the national competition.  The results of the national judging will be released in early May.

Click here to learn more about the 2012 competition, judging, and to see a list of the participating schools.   Thank you to all the students, teachers, librarians, and families who participate in Washington’s Letters About Literature program.  Keep reading and writing!

African Americans in the Washington State Legislature

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public | 1 Comment »

February 29 is not only Leap Day, but a day that marks the close of African American History Month.  In honor of this, the Washington State Library has put together a list of the African Americans who have served in the Washington State Legislature.  The accomplishments of thirteen individuals are described, from William Owen Bush who represented Thurston County in the very first legislature in 1889, to Eric Pettigrew who currently represents his constituents in the 37th District.

It’s a fascinating cast of characters, and our list only just scratches the surface of the historical significance of these individuals.  Did you know that John Ryan legally changed his first name to “Senator”?  George Fleming served in both the House and Senate, and was a Rose Bowl MVP.  John Lovick served in the legislature for eight years, then went on to be elected as Washington’s first African American county sheriff in 2007.  And Rosa Franklin was not only the first African American woman elected to the Washington State Senate, she went on to serve as Pro Tempore (the officer who presides over the chamber in the absence of the Lieutenant Governor).

Thanks to the folks at the Washington State Archives and the Washington State Historical Society, we are able to provide pictures for each legislator – which is no small feat!  We hope that this list is both an informative resource, as well as inspiration for further individual research and scholarship into the accomplishments of these hardworking lawmakers.

African Americans in the Washington State Legislature