April 19, 2018

Brian Kamens | Movers & Shakers 2003

The Link to Local History

Even when he was a kid, Brian Kamens was a history buff, devouring countless books about the Greeks and Romans and Egyptians, so when he was assigned to the Northwest Room at the Tacoma Public Library, he knew he’d found his place in life. Tracking down the history of a local ship, finding old-time sports heroes for a reunion, helping business owners unearth original blueprints so their buildings can be restored to their Victorian splendor – that’s not work for him, that’s pleasure.

Of course the Northwest Room already housed all kinds of documents, but the indexing was scattered, so during his lunch hours, Kamens started to compile a cross-indexed card file of all the information on local homes. When the web came along, he jumped on board, realizing that not only the index but also the source material could be put online and interlinked.

He created the Pierce County Buildings Index, which offered all the available information on each home and building in Tacoma: the architects and contractors, blueprints, photos from the library’s photography collection (which he also helped put online), articles from Tacoma newspapers and local history books, and more. He constructed a web page showing people how to research their homes and soon became a popular speaker on Tacoma history. Active in his union, he also has taken an interest in local labor history and has started to build a collection for the library.

Kamens’s love of local history means that there is no real gap between his job and his spare time. He is the founding secretary of the Tacoma Historical Society, and he takes part in the annual Historic Homes Tour and acts as a consultant in preservation efforts.

Library Director Susan Oldencrantz says, “The content that he creates is some of the most requested and used material in the library.” When the time comes for city leaders to discuss budgets for city agencies, genealogists and local history researchers show up in force to testify for the library.

Kamens wants public libraries everywhere to provide the same kind of historical preservation and access, because “in an age when the public thinks everything is on the Internet, local information can disappear if there is no institution that cares.”


Current Position: Library Associate, Special Collections, Tacoma Public Library

Degree: AS, Library Science, Northwest Connecticut Community College, 1974

Web Site: Pierce County Buildings Index (www.tpl.lib.wa.us/v2/NWROOM/Build.htm)