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'Get to Know Your Past': Massive archives at downtown GR library will now be called Grand Rapids History Center

The library is rebranding to make their archives more welcoming, to encourage the curious public to stop in
GR Library Archives rename
Posted at 6:24 PM, Dec 08, 2021

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — If you have ever wondered what your house looked like 75 years ago, or perhaps would like to torture yourself with how much it sold for back in the 1960's, this is all information you can likely find inside the massive archives of the downtown library. The library has decided to change the name of the archives from 'The Special Collections Department', to the perhaps less-intimidating, 'Grand Rapids History Center'.

The library's archives began collecting in the early 1900's. Their collection includes all sorts of unique photos, maps, business records, reports, and catalogs.

“We want anyone and everyone to come in and use our collections,” said Julie Tabberer, the head of the Grand Rapids History Center.

"I think people find a lot of meaning and understanding their own history... We also have people who come in to look up stories about things that happened in their childhood, you know, it may have even been a tragedy, and it's something that they want to understand better as an adult."

The idea behind the recent name change was to make the archives seem more approachable.

"Our archives, and local history collections, genealogy collections at the library, they've been called Special Collections for a number of years, and we realized that that sounded kind of jargony, and that it's a little bit intimidating," Tabberer said Wednesday.

You can also find books, newspapers, and magazines about the history of Grand Rapids and the rest of West Michigan.

The library also holds genealogy databases and books that go beyond Michigan, so people can dive into research about their own family history.

“One of the more popular requests that we get is people who are interested in the history of their own house, or a building that they work in, or their neighborhood,”Tabberer said.

The bulk of their collection goes as early as the 1830's, while they hold some books on furniture design that date back to the 1700's.

Anybody is welcome to come in to the Grand Rapids History Center, regardless of what they are looking for, or how far they have gotten in their research. Walk up to the 4th floor of the downtown public library, and there will always be a staff member available to help you with the process.

“There's photographs, there's documents, scrapbooks. We have over a million photographs, and then we have about 4,500 linear feet of collections,” Tabberer said.

Over 500 separate collections of items, documents, and photographs are available to explore on the library's website.

Their most dense collection, containing more than 950,000 black and white photo negatives taken between the 1930's and 1960's, is the Robinson Studio Collection. You can search that database online HERE.

All of the online research tools that the library has available at this time can be found HERE.

Find further details about the Grand Rapids History Center at their website HERE.

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