There’s an Archivist for That! An Interview with Andrew Weymouth of the Washington State Fair Archives

This is the newest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. In this article, Andrew Weymouth talk about his work with the Washington State Fair.

Please tell us a little about yourself

My name is Andrew Weymouth and I am currently in the final year of my MLIS degree at the University of Washington. I work as the Digital Pedagogy Specialist for the University of Oregon’s DREAMLab, where I am currently building an online curricular toolkit for faculty and students to learn about digital scholarship services. I am also excited to begin working as an archivist for the Murray Morgan Papers with the Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room, whom I have been busy collaborating with throughout the fall on a Visual Resources Association Foundation grant in order to assess, digitize and promote the incredible Richards Collection. Finally, I am working as research assistant for Hannah Palin and Annie Dwyer at the University of Washington’s Moving Image Archive and Comparative History of Ideas departments, respectively. I come from a background in design, writing and radio and I decided three years ago to move up from Oregon to Tacoma, WA in order to finish my higher education and apply some of those skills towards archiving, instructional design and digital exhibit making.

How did you get into archives?

I have always had a pretty compulsive interest in history but my first real interaction with archives would be through working on a Portland, OR based radio show called 100 Tacks for the community radio stalwart, KBOO. I wrote and produced the show, which focused on the industrial, agricultural and social history of Oregon and found myself frequently visiting the Multnomah County Archives to inform the work, so much so that some librarians and archivists there eventually became interviewees and contributors to the program over time. While professional obligations eventually pulled

me away from this project, I have remained in contact with archives across the Pacific Northwest and I have been lucky enough to gain experience with a wide variety of materials, formats and subjects.

How did you get the position as the Assistant Archivist at the Washington State Fair (WSF)?
I applied for the position through a posting on Archives Gig in the Spring of 2020. Although I didn’t have any contacts in the organization, I think my background in design was of interest to the WSF graphic designer Patty Herman, who I would later work under.

Strange enough, I was able to bring my experience creating the radio show into the interview process. One of the larger projects I wrote and produced was on the story of a twenty foot tall, animatronic bear made out of prunes which was created for the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland. The whole creation was in service of promoting the Oregon prune, which, at that point, was attempting to unseat the California raisin, and we know how that panned out. This interest in fairs, local history and agriculture may have also helped me secure the position.

Tell us about the Washington State Fair

The Washington State Fair, previously known as the Puyallup Fair for the Tacoma suburb where the grounds are located, has been operating in one form or another since 1900. The fair has always been focused primarily on agriculture and livestock, holding popular competitions on mainstays like produce weighing and judging everything from horses to rabbits. There has also been a consistent feature on folk art, canning, lumber and horse racing which people regularly travel across Washington to participate in.

Because I was so new to Tacoma when I started working with the WSF, I was completely unfamiliar with the fairground’s use as a Japanese American internment site during WWII. Known technically as the The Puyallup Assembly Center or euphemistically as Camp Harmony, the fairgrounds were intended as a temporary holding place for Japanese Americans before being transferred to larger, more remote internment camps in Idaho, California and Wyoming. That said, poor planning and extended confinement led to dangerous and unsanitary conditions for the over 7,000 Washington State citizens retained there over time.

Could you describe your collections?

Although there were initially plans to process some moving image records, I only had a chance to work with the visual collections during my time with the WSF. For the most part, the subject matter for the collections was amazingly consistent from 1920 to 1980. Every year had jam and needlework competitions, petting zoos with intrigued/ terrified children, fireworks, pie eating and every imaginable variety of clown.

What are some of the challenges unique to your collections?

As I mentioned above, I began working with the WSF just as the pandemic was graduating from a concern to a real threat. I was able to work with the institution for a few productive months by picking up materials and working on them remotely, but it ultimately became a logistical impossibility as everyone began to realize that the fair was not going to take place that year. Like many working with archives during this time, I was furloughed from the position not very long after beginning to work on the collection. That said, I was able to attend the 2020 SAA conference almost immediately afterwards, and it was incredibly beneficial to connect with others in the field, as so many of us struggled to stay afloat during this historic moment.

What is the favorite part of your job?

I am fascinated by nineteenth and twentieth century fairs, expositions and lyceums. These events merge community, industry, agriculture, politics and religion and reveal incredible insights into a community’s shared values, fears and aspirations.

What advice do you have for aspiring archivists?

One kind of silly hurdle which kept me from pursuing my MLIS degree for too long were negative experiences with institutional gatekeepers who over-emphasized the technical aspects of library science. While I am currently developing my skills around web design and coding, and will continue to in the future, I am fully aware that these skills will never be my strongest assets that I can lend to future projects, and that’s ok!

If anyone reading this also comes from more of a storytelling background, there is still absolutely a place for you in archiving. You will still have to struggle though learning these platforms which may be completely second nature to others, and you may be the least proficient person with these tools during future meetings. This is all in service of being able to clearly communicate your digital storytelling, UX and instructional design concepts with more technically minded collaborators in order to create the best possible work for your archive.