The filing cabinets in the back – all 36 – were among the last things to be done.
Tall and black, they had been there, gathering dust, since the first time I had set foot in the old News Tribune building, and in fact a little longer. Next to the old microfiche player and a faded collection of 1980s TNT softball trophies, the cabinets – containing a rarely seen collection of old TNT photographs and clippings – were part of State’s backdrop Street where the Pierce County newspaper was produced, day and night, for decades.
But in May 2021, that was no longer the case. Almost all of The News Tribune’s staff had been working remotely for almost a year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now the building we had left was being sold. While a few of us still wandered from time to time – donning masks and seeking respite from the monotony of work from our bedrooms or kitchen tables – we knew the end of an era was near. The building would soon be reduced to rubble to make way for a new 248,000 square foot warehouse, and everything worth saving inside needed a new home.
Luckily – in the case of the workbooks, and more importantly the history stored in them – we had a place to turn.
Working with the Northwest Room of the Tacoma Public Library and Chief Archivist and Historian Anna Trammell, News Tribune Editor-in-Chief Stephanie Pedersen reached an agreement to transfer possession of the binders to an institution. who knew exactly what to do with it.
Here’s the best part:
Soon we will all have the chance to see what was inside.
Next week, The Northwest Room will officially unveil an online archive containing digitized versions of more than 1,200 photos that were previously stored in those dusty old filing cabinets. In total, according to Trammell, the Northwest Room received about 360 standard banker’s boxes of material from The News Tribune. Old photos make up about half, and many of them have never been published in print.
Trammell said some of TNT’s oldest photos date back to the early 1900s, but “most of the content” is from the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
According to Trammell, the photos help fill in the gaps in the records of the Northwest Room. Some describe areas of the city—like Hilltop or the old Hawthorne neighborhood that was lost when Interstate 5 and later the Tacoma Dome were built—that have changed significantly. Others show the city’s residents, such as protesters during the Fish Wars and those involved in various labor movements, she said.
Given the historical context of the photos and the unvarnished glimpse into the past they offer, Trammell also said the North West Room kept the included captions and topics under which The News Tribune categorized them. For example, a series of photos from the 1980s — depicting people attending various pride rallies and LGBTQ rights protests — were found in a folder marked “gay.”
Trammell said it all — from the photos themselves to how they were filed by the newspaper that created them more than 30 years ago — helps illuminate Tacoma’s complicated history, good and bad.
“The News Tribune is … the publication that has documented (Tacoma) since the early days, and so it’s something we use all the time,” Trammell said. “Now people will have these images that really cover a lot of Tacoma’s history that wasn’t covered by any of our other existing collections.”
According to Pedersen, working with the Northwest Room to preserve The News Tribune’s internal archives was a natural fit.
“When we were preparing to move out of our building, one of the most common questions we heard was what The News Tribune would do with its archives. After just a few conversations with the talented folks at the Northwest Room, we found a great partner who was willing to digitize and turn much of our community’s history into accessible files for not only The News Tribune but the audience,” says Pedersen.
“I am delighted with their speed of execution on this project and the fact that there is now widespread access to sometimes unseen archives,” added Pedersen.
For the Tacoma Public Library and The Northwest Room, the early photos made available by The News Tribune are just part of next week’s big release.
In addition to the newspaper’s digitized material, Trammell said the library will also make available thousands of digitized items, ranging from donated personal papers and records of local businesses and organizations to maps, videos and audio recordings. Users will be able to find it all in the Northwest Room’s Online Records and Collections Access (ORCA) database and its grant-funded (and growing) Community Archives Center – which will be available for the first time next week.
Trammell was hired last year and said one of the North West Hall’s primary goals is to provide people with better and more transparent access to its “vast and complex” collection of historical records. In addition to newly digitized items, users will also be able to search and find descriptions of thousands of items — and more than 120 individual collections — that the Northwest Room has not yet made available online, Trammell said.
Although many of these collections have technically been held in the Northwest Hall archives for years, the public previously had very few ways to find or use them, Trammell said.
“I started on February 1, 2021, and we pretty immediately started talking about what we can do to make our collections more accessible and discoverable,” Trammell said. “So it took us a little over a year to get to this point.”
Since taking over as head of the North West Hall, Trammell said library staff have worked to ensure the library’s archives better reflect communities that have historically been underrepresented. .
The old photos that once lived in those News Tribune filing cabinets only help the library’s mission, Trammell said.
“We were thrilled at the opportunity to be the home of this content, as we recognize the value of the work that has appeared in the Tacoma News Tribune over the decades of its operations,” Trammell said.
“We have this unique evidence of people, places and the built environment of Tacoma captured by TNT.”