New Everett library historian looking foward to looking back

As a girl in Chicago, Lisa Labovitch found a hero on the movie screen.

“I always wanted to be Indiana Jones,” she said.

Indy’s archaeologist- adventurer character lined up with her interests: a zest for learning, a fascination with Egypt, and a love of the treasures at Chicago’s Field Museum.

None of that explains why Labovitch is in Everett, but clues to her future were clear in childhood. She has always been keen on the past.

Labovitch, 31, brings her expertise to the Everett Public Library, where earlier this summer she was hired as one of two history specialists. She works with longtime historian David Dilgard in the library’s Northwest History Room.

Dilgard has been at the library 35 years. Most of that time, he worked with historian Margaret Riddle, who retired in 2008. Melinda Van Wingen, who left earlier this year, succeeded Riddle in the job Labovitch now holds.

“There are really great resources here left by my predecessors,” Labovitch said Tuesday. “Because of their vision, we get to decide what to do with all those materials — oral histories, historic photos and films, and things collected by individuals who have lived in the area.”

Labovitch brings strong credentials to Everett. Her undergraduate degree, from the University of Illinois at Chicago, is in anthropology. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she earned a master’s degree in library and information science.

The Field Museum, which boasts the world’s most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, is where the past captured her imagination.

Labovitch volunteered at the Field Museum, then worked there as an anthropology assistant and reference librarian. She spent time at the Smithsonian Institution as a visiting archivist, and worked for The HistoryMakers, which collects oral histories of African-Americans.

She long hoped to travel to Egypt, but the 2011 Arab Spring protests put those plans on hold. In two months here, she and her husband have explored Western Washington.

The Everett library’s Northwest History Room is an impressive asset, Labovitch said. “This is very special. People are in here all the time,” she said, pointing out a rocking chair where Northwest Room visitors sit to talk with the historians.

Both the Northwest Room and the library’s two historian positions “show the city takes its history seriously,” Labovitch said.

Kate Reardon, the city’s spokeswoman, said the library is a local repository. “We strive to provide free public access to a myriad of information, new and old,” Reardon said. “We take pride in the work that went into creating the collections we make available to the community.”

“The Northwest History Room is definitely the gem of our library system, and it’s one of the gems of the city,” said Kate Mossman, the Everett library’s assistant director and head of adult services.

Mossman said most libraries the size of Everett’s have small local history sections. Here, visitors find full-time history experts to help with research, along with physical and digital resources — books, photographs, maps, podcasts and local biographies.

Dilgard’s work, including public talks and tours of historical sites, complements the skills of Labovitch and her predecessors, Mossman said. “David has been with us 35 years. He’s seen the history happen before his eyes, and he has that interest,” Mossman said.

Making collections available online is a continuing effort, and people are interested in even recent history. “The Neil House pictures are hugely popular,” Mossman said. Neil C. House was a city of Everett photographer in the 1970s. His photos documenting the era are on the library’s website.

Labovitch’s work isn’t all high-tech. Part of it is simply learning about people who have lived here. On her desk is an old photo album. With it is a note saying: “11 years ago I found this photo album next to the dumpster at my apartment complex.” Inside are wedding pictures from what looks like the late 1940s.

“It’s not all about big historical events,” said Labovitch, who hopes to gather oral histories just as Riddle and Dilgard did years ago. “It’s day-to-day life, listening to the stories of your elders.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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