Five years ago, labor history in Washington State was facing a crisis. Labor activists and unions played central roles in the region’s history, but the evidence of their accomplishments was being lost. Their papers and records were being thrown away forever, or when saved, sitting forgotten in local libraries.
Recognizing the urgent need to preserve and share its history, Washington’s labor movement, teamed with the University of Washington’s Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies and the University of Washington Libraries, to launch the Labor Archives of Washington. Local unions raised the funds to establish the Labor Archives in 2010. Spearheaded by a 3-year, $150,000 matching grant from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and a 3-year fundraising campaign by the Washington State Labor Council. County labor councils and unions throughout Washington State have provided critical support. To date nearly 100 labor organizations and over 175 individuals have contributed almost half a million dollars to the Labor Archives Fund.
After less than three years of operation, the Labor Archives won a major award from the American Library Association and was honored at the ALA national conference. The 2013 John Sessions Award is granted by Reference and User Services Association of the ALA and sponsored by the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO. Each year the award recognizes a library or library system that has brought recognition to the labor movement in the United States.
This year’s prize committee chose the Labor Archives of Washington, citing “its steady stream of exhibits, outreach efforts to the community and the impressive LibGuides site and digital collections portal site. In addition to meeting with unions and holding events in the community, Casey and his many volunteers who help at LAW, have mounted a steady stream of exhibits in the UW Libraries; some of them have traveled to off-campus locations.
Labor Archivist Conor Casey received the award on behalf of the Labor Archives at the June meeting. Casey, who has led LAW since it was founded in 2010, describes the award as a “great honor.” “This is really a testament to the amazing support that we have received from the labor movement in our state.” He added that “the funding for LAW comes almost entirely from working people and their unions. I think the prize committee understands how unique and important that is. We look forward to continuing to serve the communities that are our main users and to building bridges and enhancing access to groups of new users.”
Housed in the University of Washington Special Collections, LAW has grown quickly under Casey’s leadership. It includes more than 200 labor related collections comprising more than 3,000 cubic feet of material. An impressive number of fully digitized collections, including thousands of photographs are accessible through the University of Washington’s website. In October of 2013, the Labor Archives will dedicate a special plaque recognizing donors in the lobby of the University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library.
Labor Archives Website: http://www.laborarchives.org
Labor Archives Digital Portal: http://content.lib.washington.edu/lawsweb/
Labor Archives Collection Guide: http://guides.lib.washington.edu/laborarchives