Meet Heather, who is cataloging, digitizing, and enhancing access to the Tacoma News Tribune Photograph Collection.

This is a guest post by Heather Lowcock. Heather is an archivist working with the Northwest Room on the National Archives’ National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant project, which is digitizing the Tacoma News Tribune Photography Collection.


Did you work for Adams Peanut Butter or walk the anti-nuclear Peace March in 1986? Perhaps you attended a BASH auction to support Tacoma independent schools or participated in the Miss Pierce County Beauty Pageant in the 1970s? Did you run in the Tacoma Bed Races or learn to box at the Tacoma Boys Clubs? Maybe you just like aardvarks or airplanes or bees?! Well, then, have I got some NEWS for you!  

My name is Heather Lowcock, and for the next 18 months I am working with the Northwest Room at the Tacoma Public Library on a grant-funded project to process and digitize a photograph collection from the Tacoma News Tribune.  Every workday, I open the drawer of one of 18 filing cabinets full of envelopes; I put on my white gloves (to preserve the photographs) and get ready to discover what’s inside. The full collection, alphabetical by subject, people, and sport, has envelopes with a range of titles—from air pollution and weeds to John Madden and RuPaul. Along with the photographs, I sometimes discover photo negatives, zinc plates, and image graphics used by the newspaper. Sometimes the envelopes include AP wire images or promotional images from other organizations, but with every envelope, I find myself in conversation with history.  

My first task is to organize each envelope into a file that will not only make the content more accessible but also consider its long-term preservation. I then identify what photographs we can and should digitize, create descriptive records of each image, using information from the photograph as well as additional research, and then I scan each photo, complete quality checks, and prepare the file so that you can view it on ORCA—The Northwest Room’s collection database.  After six weeks, I’ve reviewed hundreds of envelopes and scanned over 2000 photographs…and I’m still in the Bs!  

Since the collection covers newspaper photographs that have (so far) spanned over 70 years, I’m often surprised by the next envelope title and what I might discover. Wonder what’s inside “beds and bedding”? Well, yes, photographs of beds and bedding! Most are promotional images for certain types of bedding, but one image I discovered was a bedroom from the Wurdemann Estate, a historic mansion in Lake Forest built in 1915. So, I started with comforters and found out about comfort!  

How about the “Bangor Naval Annex” envelopes? The photographs include the construction of the annex in preparation for the arrival of a Trident nuclear submarine as well as images of the encampments and demonstrations that protested its arrival during the 1970s and 1980s. A large collection of envelopes focus on the experience of aging from activities and employment to the health concerns and politics, suggesting that sometimes our conversations with history also reflect the present—minus the 1980s fashion!  

As a recent Masters graduate in libraries and archives, who also spent years as a high school English teacher, I love every part of this process. I was reminded recently that simply because information is there, doesn’t make it accessible. So, with each file folder, each descriptive record, each scan, I’m a part of creating access that I hope brings people more into conversation with their history and our diverse collective memory. However, I also know that simply because information is there, doesn’t make it complete—there are stories left untold that need to be told and stories still to be shared by younger generations. During this project, I look forward to seeing how we in the Northwest Room and the Tacoma Public Library can celebrate this collection and use it to further highlight more stories.  For now, I’ve got to get back to my Bs! 


The photographs Heather is working on will soon be added to ORCA. Stay tuned to the Tacoma News Tribune Photograph Files record in ORCA. Link Here!