Those of us in the archives profession are often surprised (shocked!) to discover that there are people in the world who don’t know what an archives is or what archivists do.

So, to help demystify archives in general, and to let everyone see what a friendly and approachable bunch we really are, in this post we share a series of brief interviews with us, the staff of the King County Archives.

And now, we invite you to meet the Archives team…in alphabetical order!

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Jill Anderson, Assistant Archivist

What do you do at the Archives?
Much of my time is spent on reference and facilitating the work of the reference team. I create web and social media content, and I research and design exhibits. I process, describe, and scan records for public access, and I coordinate volunteer projects.

How long have you been with the King County Archives, and what did you do before joining the Archives?
I’ve been with the Archives for just over two years. Before I joined the Archives, I was at King County Road Services in a hybrid records management/archives position. Prior to joining King County, I worked at the Densho history project, Yellowstone National Park, and the National Archives and Records Administration in Seattle.

What is one of your favorite records or record series in the Archives collection?
One of my favorite series is Series 1067, the timber cruise reports, which were originally created for the narrow purpose of documenting timber growth, its value, and the resources needed to extract it, but in the process, the cruisers also reported settlement and the built environment in the early days of King County. The reports show early roads, railroad lines, the buildings that made up town centers, and the structures residents erected on their property. Geographic information, like topography and historical river courses, also make these a really fantastic series.

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What is something you have enjoyed at the Archives?
This summer, we participated for the second time in 206 Zulu’s Boogie Up the Block street arts event, where we had a booth, set up exhibits, and spoke with residents while artists covered the outside of our building in murals. One of the most memorable conversations I had was with a man who lived a block away, who had been unaware of the Archives or what services we provide. He told me about his teenaged son and the resources that were available (and not available) to his son at school, and I talked about our collections and what kind of research his son could do. It emphasized for me how much time and dedication outreach requires, even for people who live practically next door to an archival facility.

Agnes Castronuevo, Archives Reference Specialist / Administrative Specialist

What do you do at the Archives?
I’m one of two reference specialists at the Archives. I help the public access information and records, in large part property and legal documents that were recorded with King County, but also related records such as historical maps and land use files.

How long have you been with the King County Archives, and what did you do before joining the Archives?
I came to the King County Archives in May 2017. Prior to returning to King County, I served with various agencies throughout the Western United States as an anthropologist and archaeologist: Zone Archaeologist and Tribal Liaison, Inyo National Forest; the first appointed Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw; Cultural Heritage Director, Burns Paiute Tribe; Supervisory archaeologist for Terracon Consultants and Adapt Engineering.

As an archaeologist, I conducted and supervised fieldwork which included pedestrian surveys, archaeological testing of soils, and other archaeological excavation projects, as well as developing historical and environmental contexts for preparation of professional reports submitted to the State Historical Preservation Officer describing my archaeological findings and effects determinations. One of the most interesting projects I have been involved in was the Camp Castaway Field School during which, a team of archaeologists, students, and members of three Native American tribes on the Oregon coast worked together to find the previously unknown location of a shipwreck in 1855, which became a turning point in the history of Euro-American settlement of the Coos Bay area.

What is one of your favorite records or record series in the collection?
I don’t know the collections well enough yet, but if I were to have a favorite, it likely would be anything documenting the history of the communities east of Lake Washington, including early Native American history of the Snoqualmie and Sammamish people.

What’s something you like about working at the Archives?
I think that each and every day, arriving at the Archives and doing my best to serve the people of King County gives me a great deal of job satisfaction. Each person I meet has a unique story to share, and I take pride in my ability to listen empathetically, and assisting them with finding the documents and recordings they seek from the Archives. After all, the constituents of King County are part of the Archives story, and in turn we have the opportunity to become part of their stories.

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Danielle Coyle, Archives Administrative Specialist

What do you do at the Archives?
I’m administrative support for the rest of the King County Archives staff. I make sure the records vault and self-service research area are organized and clean. I also assist with processing and indexing materials for the Archives. I’m happy to pitch in whenever some help is needed, whether it’s scanning records for a reference request or purchasing needed supplies.

How long have you been with the King County Archives, and what did you do before joining the Archives?
I’ve been with the Archives just over eight months. Previously, I’ve worked as a textbook sales associate with the University Book Store and have interned with historical and cultural institutions such as the Museum of History and Industry and the Center for Wooden Boats, supporting collections work and outreach programming. I also currently work part-time as circulation staff with the Seattle Public Library.

What is one of your favorite records or record series in the collection?
I really like the Parks Department photograph files. As someone who’s not a Seattle native, they’re a really interesting slice of life and everyday history of the region.

Girls’ Pigtail Days, Hamlin Park (Shoreline); circa 1950-1959. Series 467, Park System Photograph Files, King County Archives.

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Idylwood Beach [Gateway] Park (Redmond); circa 1971-1982. Series 467, Park System Photograph Files, King County Archives.

What’s something you’ve enjoyed since you’ve been with KCA?
Bringing an open house out the Chinook Building. It was great to meet some other King County employees and generate some interest in the work we do here.

Amanda Demeter, Assistant Archivist

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What do you do at the Archives?
My role is a mix of public service assisting clients with reference requests, archival processing, and description to make sure our collections are easy to find and use, and outreach. Currently I’m learning as much as I can about county government, operations, and history as well as our different collections and research tools in order to help serve our users.

How long have you been with the King County Archives, and what did you do before joining the Archives?
I started just two months ago, in late December 2017, but I’m looking forward to much longer. Prior to joining King County, I was an archivist at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. I’ve worked primarily in academic and museum archives and special collections libraries, performing a range of duties including reference service, archival processing and preservation, and outreach. Some of my most memorable archives experiences relate to my short-term work as an archivist for a local museum in Nome, Alaska. I participated in a number of outreach events to a community that is very engaged in its history, including speaking to the Rotary Club, presenting to a city committee, and telling junior high students why archives are cool. Climbing into a B-17 aircraft for a reference request at the Museum of Flight was pretty memorable too!

What is one of your favorite records or record series in the Archives collection?
Having only seen a fraction of the collection so far, I’m sure my favorites will continue to change, but one is the 1853 marriage certificate of Louisa Boren and David Denny, the first marriage recorded by King County government.
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Marriage Certificate of David Denny and Louisa Boren, January 23, 1853, Series 95, King County Superior Court Clerk record of marriage certificates, King County Archives.

What is something you have enjoyed at the Archives?
What really stands out to me is how essential our work is here at the Archives. While I love helping people with historical research and I believe that scholarly work is also deeply important, many of the records we provide for people here are necessary for their daily lives – to support their family relationships, to maintain their homes, to be aware of and active in their local government. I’m really proud to be surrounded by colleagues who are conscious of their responsibility to the public and dedicated to making records as accessible as possible.

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Greg Lange, Archives Reference Specialist / Administrative Specialist

What do you do at the Archives?
My main responsibility is to respond to queries for government documents or information. I provide assistance to members of the public to obtain requested documents or refer them to the agency that will likely have the information they are seeking. Most document requests to the Archives are for recorded real property records which is what I spend most of my time on.

How long have you been with the King County Archives, and what did you do before joining the Archives?
I am a life-long resident of Seattle and vicinity. For a number of years I worked in new, used and antiquarian bookstores, all of which had significant sections on local and northwest history. I changed careers and brought my local history interest to the Washington State Archives Puget Sound Regional Branch where I remained for fourteen years. PSRA has has local government agency records from King, Kitsap, and Pierce counties. I’ve been a staff member at the King County Archives since 2012.

What is one of your favorite records or record series in the collection?
My favorite King County Archives records are the 1907 Timber Cruise volumes which include detailed maps covering one square mile sections. In addition to forest coverage, the maps and supplemental information document skid roads, rail lines, public right of ways, farms (often including information on crops, orchards, and livestock), mines, etc. These records are especially valuable documenting early settlement and development of east King County. These records were recently scanned and are available online.

Another favorite are the Commissioners’ Road Books, created from the 1850s through 1900. The map volumes provide information on early settlement patterns, and associated volumes of road survey field notes provide details on the natural environment along the route.
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Plat of Salmon Bay Road, Road Book 4, Series 320, Commissioners’ Road Books, King County Archives.

What’s something you enjoy about the Archives?
I enjoy responding to the wide variety of queries the Archives receives and figuring out and suggesting the most efficient way to research the query and locate documents.

Karisa O’Hara, Archives Technical Specialist / Administrative Specialist

What do you do at the Archives?
I process incoming accessions, fill orders for marriage certificates that come in through the Washington State Digital Archives, do the daily deposit and accounting, and help anywhere else I am needed.

How long have you been with the Archives, and what kind of work did you do before joining the Archives?
I have been at the Archives for 13 years. Previously I worked for King County Elections in the Absentee department.

What is one of your favorite records or record series in the collection?
The photographs. I love finding random things, like a series of about 20 photos, all showing a man in a yellow car.

[Photos of man in a yellow car, circa 1973-1985] Series 1150, Photographic slides, Office of Information Resource Management: Service Development / Printing and Graphic Arts, King County Archives.

What is something you enjoy at the Archives?
I enjoy creating custom housing for records that don’t fit into standard containers or that need special storage.

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Rebecca Pixler, Assistant Archivist (Retired)

[Editor’s note: This interview was conducted just before Rebecca retired in December after 19 years of public service with the King County Archives. Her contributions to the Archives continue to benefit King County and will do so far into the future!]

What do you do at the Archives?
As an assistant archivist, major professional-level responsibilities include: preserving historical records of King County government, organizing and describing them for researcher access; helping customers find topical information or specific documents; preparing Web content to showcase specific collections; and participating in professional-level staff discussions regarding the archival program. — From April 1999 to November 2000 I also served as Acting County Archivist.

How long have you been with the Archives, and what kind of work did you do before joining the Archives?
I began working at the King County Archives on March 1, 1999. With two brief exceptions early in my career when I was an equal opportunity investigator for the State of Alaska, I have worked in libraries, record centers and archives since 1967 (professional level since 1978). Before coming to King County, I held several positions as a library/records coordinator at, or associated with, the University of Washington.

What is one of your favorite records or record series in the collection?
Series 474 (Engineer bridge file photographs) evocatively documents a rural King County that doesn’t exist so much anymore. Many images are well-composed and visually very attractive. I arranged and described the series, using our existing (c.2004) technology to capture as many access points as I could (this has been carried over through two subsequent collection databases). Later, I suggested a subset of the photographs to a colleague as a Web exhibit; this was developed and can be seen here: The Bridges of King County.

What is something memorable about your work at the Archives?
I’d overseen processing of some Public Health HIV-AIDS program files in 2001-2002. Related graphical materials followed in 2010. Later, County Archivist Carol Shenk thought they’d make a wonderful Web exhibit…and let’s add some oral histories too! At that very moment a talented volunteer walked in the door! She helped us write a successful 4Culture grant and I recruited some friends to do the oral history interviewing. I worked with the talented volunteer to process the 2010 records, write the exhibit text and select images. Carol coordinated the oral histories and did all the hard technical Web work! All the collaboration paid off when the Archives won a heritage award for the exhibit in 2017. I’m proud of this project because, by showing off Public Health’s work, it filled a real gap in the historical record about how the AIDS crisis was handled locally.

Carol Shenk, County Archivist

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What do you do at the Archives?
I oversee operations of the Archives. This includes records intake and processing, selection and design of electronic systems, collection care, reference services, and monitoring the archives facility. I appraise the historical value of County records for potential transfer to the Archives, and I work closely with the Records Management Program in their mission to ensure that County records are effectively managed throughout the records lifecycle. I do a lot of other things, too, including responding to research requests and developing exhibits. But first and foremost my job is to support our excellent staff, volunteers, and interns. All this I do with the help of Archives staff, supporting agencies in King County, and our Section Manager Deborah Kennedy.

How long have you been with the Archives, and what kind of work did you do before joining the Archives?
I have been County Archivist since 2013. Prior to that I was Information Manager for the Seattle City Clerk and Municipal Archives. In previous positions I have served as records manager and public disclosure officer, deputy city clerk, cataloguer at Amazon, and adult literacy tutor.

What is one of your favorite records or record series in the collection?
It is hard to choose. I love records that tell stories, like a Commissioners’ zoning file about a community’s objection to a proposed drive-in movie theater. This one-inch file inspired a blog post (see A Theater Near You).

Much of the collection documents how people have used and modified the land since the County’s beginnings in the 1850s. I find these records to be really interesting, as they reveal changing ways people interact with the natural world. The records of the Inter-County River Improvement Commission, which document how waterways in south King County were modified to manage flooding in the early 20th Century, are an example. Such environmental history records can have practical application in natural resources management today.

What is something you like about the Archives?
Again it is hard to choose. I appreciate the commitment among Archives staff to public service, and I enjoy learning from the records in our collection, which help tell the story of the region and its people. It’s exciting when the records help increase understanding and inform decisions today.

I enjoy how archival records document the history of the County’s many and varied departments and functions. They can show the evolution of philosophy and practices within different professions, which reflect the knowledge and culture of a given era.

I very much value our role supporting governmental transparency, and it’s rewarding that we get to share the collection with all kinds of people: engineers, historians, students, attorneys, artists, activists, and people from all walks of life needing to access public records to establish rights or conduct business.

Now that you know a little more about us, contact us with your questions about archives and King County! — The King County Archives Team