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Wednesday, February 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Northwest Room materials to be housed at Gonzaga during library closure

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 14, 2020

The Spokane Public Library’s Northwest Room, which will be displaced during a coming renovation, includes such treasures as the Isaac Stevens Report book “Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the most Practicable Economical Route for a Railroad From the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, Made Under the Secretary of War, in 1853-60.” (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane Public Library’s Northwest Room, which will be displaced during a coming renovation, includes such treasures as the Isaac Stevens Report book “Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the most Practicable Economical Route for a Railroad From the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, Made Under the Secretary of War, in 1853-60.” (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The Northwest Room is cloud nine for lovers of local history.

Looking for the Rogers High School yearbook from 1952? It’s there. Trying to find biographical information about a former Spokane leader? Yup, the Northwest Room has it.

“The biggest question I get is people researching the history of their house,” Northwest Room Librarian Riva Dean said.

But as of Friday, the Northwest Room and its thousands of materials are temporarily displaced.

As the Spokane Public Library prepares to close its flagship downtown building for a substantial renovation project that will last two years, the unique and delicate items of the Northwest Room have been packed away.

Materials from the Northwest Room vault, which are sensitive and must be kept in a climate-controlled environment, will be held by Gonzaga University. The other 10,000 or so books and materials in the Northwest Room have been packed into boxes and will be kept in storage at the temporary STA Plaza location.

“It’s about the preserving of the material for us, it’s a safe place for us to store and ensure future access to those materials for the public,” said Andrew Chanse, executive director of the Spokane Public Library.

Gonzaga University has rare materials of its own, and built its own climate-controlled room with capacity for future growth.

That extra space came in handy for the Spokane Public Library, which reached out for help.

“The library community here is pretty close-knit, so it seemed like an obvious way to help our community,” said Paul Bracke, dean of library services at Gonzaga.

There were few other places locally for the library to turn, as such spaces are specialized.

“A lot of it is just the age and the condition of the materials. Older materials tend to be brittle,” Bracke said.

Gonzaga is not charging the library for the use of its space. Though not accessible to the public, the materials will be available to Spokane Public Library staff if necessary.

When it reopens, the Northwest Room will have a collection that has been pared down to focus more specifically on the Inland Northwest.

Library officials have not yet specified what materials might be culled from the collection.

In the meantime, Dean will be tasked with continuing to digitize the Northwest Room’s materials, many of which already are available free online, including photographs from the history of the Inland Northwest with such highlights as Expo ’74 and the First National Indian Congress in 1925.

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