Across Our State

What is in the state library?

by Jerri Honeyford

Two and a half miles south of the Capitol building at 6880 Capital Way is the Washington State Library and State Librarian Jan Walsh. Jan's path to our State Library is a bit unusual. After earning her Master's of Library Science degree at the University of Pittsburgh, she worked in the library at a juvenile detention center there.

When her entire family moved west, Jan came as well. She continued institutional work at Western State Hospital in Steilacoom working for the Pierce County Library System. Then she came to the state working throughout Washington in library development. Finally in 1997, Jan became assistant director for customer services and in 2002 became the state librarian.

There are many career opportunities in library science and after seeing what Jan has at her disposal and what she makes available to all the citizens of Washington State, I am wondering that there aren't more librarians coming out of our colleges.

In our state library there is a huge collection of very old and rare books. These are on the third floor behind locked gates. They are accessible to the public, but cannot be checked out because of their fragility. I saw there some of the original journals of members of the Lewis and Clark expedition, some early histories of places in the Northwest, and biographies of the pioneers who settled our state.

Included in the rare books, but kept in a fireproof room, is the library that the first territorial governor, Isaac Stevens, shipped to the state around the horn. In 1853 Congress appropriated $5,000 for these books. A ton of books and two globes were sent. These were representative of the best titles of that time and cover various subjects: history, science, theology, geography, military strategy, even including a pamphlet titled, Muck Manual for Farmers. The Territorial Library Collection Catalog can be accessed online at

In the state library is the regular circulating collection of Northwest books. To access them, just go to your community library and ask for an interlibrary loan. Your local librarian orders the book for you. The catalog of those books is also available online. This is a way that our State Library can serve the whole state.

A full collection of newspapers from every city and town in Washington is available for loan on microfilm. The library spends quite a bit of money every year to buy and store these papers so they are available. In the past year, the library has been working on putting the oldest newspaper in the state, The Columbian from Vancouver, online.

You can read the issues from the first few years in the early 1850's! They also plan on having the first part of the Walla Walla Statesman, from October 1865 to December 1867 available soon.

In the Northwest collection the library stores films and videos, maps, manuscripts, genealogies, old phone books, city directories, and other memorabilia. Two copies of every state publication is sent to the library. One is circulated and the other is saved. The library is also the depository for federal documents much of which will also be online.

So you can see that you don't always have to travel across the state to use the state library services. Many of their treasures you can find on your own computer. In the library, they will continue to work on putting the old books and newspapers online, on preserving and enhancing all their collections, and on making it easy for adults, young people, and children to see and discover. There's a lot of history here, but there is also much current information as well. When Washington reads, Washington becomes more educated!

- Jerri Honeyford, wife of Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), offers her Across Our State column as a means to update local readers on what is currently happening in Olympia.


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