About Archives and Archivists

What is an archives?
Archives hold historical records of organizations and individuals. In the case of the Seattle Municipal Archives, it is the records of City government: records created by or for City agencies and elected officials. Archives differ from libraries in that their collections do not circulate and may not be checked out. Additionally, their records are unique; a letter or photograph held by an archives may be the only one in existence. The size of a collection in the archives can range from a single item to hundreds of boxes.

What kinds of records are in an archives?
The records may be in many different formats, including documents, photographs, audio, film, maps, architectural drawings. Records reflect the everyday activities of the agency or person who created them, but may be used by researchers for an entirely different purpose than for which they were created. For example, a letter to the City Council in 1893 complaining about the noise from cows (and their bells) running loose in the City tells us about the nature of the City changing from a rural to an urban environment, even though the reason the individual wrote the letter was to get action regarding a noise problem.

What types of archives are there?
Archival repositories are diverse. They can be located in federal, state, and local governments; schools, colleges, and universities; religious institutions; businesses; hospitals; museums; labor unions; and historical societies.

What does an archivist do?
Archivists preserve and provide access to these historical records. This involves identifying and selecting permanent records due to their enduring value, then arranging those records to make them usable and housing them in acid-free materials in order to aid in their long-term preservation. Archivists often create guides to collections to provide information about the scope of the records as well as contextual information about why, how, and by whom they were created. They also provide reference services and help researchers find records that are relevant to their area of interest. Additionally, archivists create exhibits, publications, and other outreach programs to increase awareness about the records in the archives.

See the Society of American Archivists' online publication Using Archives to learn more about archives and how to use them.


 Cows in Ballard Letter  Cows in Ballard Letter  Cows in Ballard Letter  Cows in Ballard Letter

Seattle, Wash.
August 17 1893

To the Committee appointed by the Council to investigate the cattle nuisance of Brooklyn and Latona.

Gentlemen: On account of the press of business at the particular hour you convene at Latona and Brooklyn, I shall not be able to meet you, but presuming on your indulgence I have sent you my grievance by letter.

We are living in the city limits, pay our taxes for the same, and yet at present have but few priveledges, and none in the way of a cattle law.

There is scarce a night, the quiet of our streets is not broken and one continual pandemonium of brawling of cows and ringing of bells (nearly ever other cow has a bell) and the fearful cries of cows for their offsprings, and the tramp of horses, up and down the sidewalks, reaching over fences to obtain the same grasses, breaking fences and sidewalks and covering them with the excrements. I counted one moonlight night at 12 o clock no less than 17 head before my door. They were locking horns-bellowing for their young-ringing bells, tramping sidewalks, until night was made hideous.

My neighbor has nearly a dozen head of cows, besides their young, 3 or 4 horses, and a pig. And the stench when the wind is blowing from the west is unbearable. An all in the sample city of the sound. I have lived in the country but never have been annoyed half as much as in this City, by stock ranging at night.

Again the damages to the lives of travelers should not be over looked. One night on coming home we almost ran into three cows, and it was with the greatest difficulty we stopped the car in time, or we would have been thrown into the lake.

Today I asked a conductor if he had any trouble with stock on the track-his answer was, "We ran into one cow just as we were turning a curve and smashed in our head light. If the committee wants to know what a nuisance the cattle are, let them go to the rail road company."

Gentlemen I don't wish to hurt the poor man with his one cow-that man could tether it out, or for a few cents per week could have it herded. It is the city farmer, or stockmen, who want City priviledges so as to be near to sell other commodities at the expense of citizens who pay high taxes for priviledges which they never get, in fact less than we should have in the country and pay scare any taxes.

Gentlemen you have 59 voters for a cattle law against a little over 30 for no cattle law, and a large number of those are neutral because many of them are friends or receive some favor from the cattle men.

Gentlemen those 59 voters, certainly have some rights that should be respected. Our houses are becoming empty and I assure you I would never have bought with such a cattle anoyance around me. Such a state of affairs is detremental to the growth of this portion of our favored City and brings a blush to the cheek of those who love suburb City life.

Gentlemen we leave the matter in your hands, trusting that you will respect our rights and give us a cattle law.

I am
yours very respectfully
[signed] W. Chapman, M. D.

General Files document 992804
Seattle Municipal Archives