By Amy Trost
Last Saturday, around 20 MLIS students and library professionals attended a tour sponsored by the SLA Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Wing Luke Museum Library in Seattle’s Chinatown-International district. An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the museum documents and celebrates the experience of American immigrants from all parts of Asia with a rotating collection of exhibits.
Library coordinator Jordan Wong shared with us with a history of both the museum and its library, named after former Washington governor Gary Locke. At 18,000 volumes, the small library strives to maintain a collection that documents the experience of all Asian immigrants with a mix of archival and current holdings. Most of the library’s new volumes are obtained through donations from individuals and partner organizations, such as the Korean American Historical Society.
Within the library, Jordan also manages the Wing’s collection of oral history records. Members of the community regularly visit the library (typically with a parent or grandparent) to create an audio recording that documents on a personal level, the story of immigrants here in Seattle. The mix of recordings from both ordinary and prominent citizens provides materials for a number of exhibits in the museum proper.
We enjoyed some quiet time browsing the library’s collection and chatting with Jordan about the challenges of librarianship in a small museum: the collection budget can be quite literally nonexistent, and librarians can struggle to find their place in the larger context of the museum’s work. Despite these constraints, the Wing’s library is succeeding in its mission, with a beautifully displayed collection, thriving oral history project, and nascent children’s programming.
The library (located at 719 South King Street) is open to the public from 11 AM to 3 PM from Tuesday through Saturday. Head downtown for a visit sometime!