Connecting Flight: Student Worker Ying Lee and the Kimble Northwest History Database


For Ying Lee, the yellowing newspaper clippings she scans for Washington State University Libraries unexpectedly opened the door to a conversation with a stranger on an airplane this past Christmas.

Lee, one of several WSU students working on the libraries’ online Kimble Northwest History Database, had been reading articles about Alaska—an intriguing state to the native of Taiwan. Coincidentally, seated next to her on the plane was a man headed for Anchorage. Lee and the stranger turned what could have been a dull connecting flight into a discussion on all things Alaska.

“As a foreigner, these articles about Pacific Northwest history are new and fresh,” she said. “I get to know about Pullman, about Washington, Idaho and even Alaska. I started to make connections from what I read and what I’m learning about the area and the people I meet. It’s more like a sharing.”

Lee’s work would not be possible without the efforts and generosity of WSU alums Marilyn Kimble and her late husband, Wallis.

In 2001, the couple donated seed money to establish a digitization project for roughly 400,000 newspaper clippings collected and organized in the late 1930s by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The clippings document life in the Pacific Northwest from 1900-1938 on such subjects as Bonneville and Grand Coulee Dams, mining, Native Americans, government, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the WPA. WSU students have scanned some 100,000 clippings and entered indexing and description terms to make them searchable.

Thanks to the digital database, researchers and historians have access to newspaper accounts that paint a vivid picture of a region undergoing rapid growth and development. During the early 20th century, settlers were still arriving, and farmable land and available water were dwindling. Large and small irrigation and reclamation projects were planned, funded and constructed. The profound impact of the settlers on the indigenous Native American population is also documented.

Kimble has continued to extend her financial support of the database for another, more personal reason.

“I had worked at Holland Library while I was a student and then as a full-time employee after my graduation (1964; bachelor’s degree in speech therapy),” she said. “My connection with the library was a motivating force in directing some of our contribution to Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections.

“This project has helped the students who have been employed to scan the articles,” Kimble added. “It is heartwarming to hear stories over the years about the students and what their work on this project means to them.”

Students like Lee.

A doctoral student in education, she came to WSU in 2012 after obtaining her master’s degree in education from California State University at Chico.

At WSU, Lee’s research centers around language literacy and technology, with a focus on children’s literature. Books for kids, especially e-books, help English-as-a-second-language students master the English language, Lee said.

Her work on the Kimble Northwest History Database offers a similar literacy benefit for the Taiwanese student—including learning about world history and about how those who covered the events of the day perceived them. Before Alaska, Lee read and scanned articles about China in the years preceding World War II.

“Something about those articles provided a different perspective than what I learned about China as a kid,” she said. “I saw how American journalists perceived the same event differently, who was subjective and who was objective in their reporting. It’s quite fascinating. To understand what really happened, you have to separate these perceptions out and decide what you want to believe.”

Lee is one of some 120 students WSU Libraries employs part-time throughout the year to work in all areas of library operations, from checking out, shelving and repairing books to answering patron questions, scanning collections and providing technical support. Their jobs give them the opportunity to develop important professional skills, as well as financial breathing room and flexibility. Your generous support as donors to the Libraries continues to ensure that more WSU students like Lee will find unexpected connections and understanding as they pursue their formal educations.