The Association (HI)STORY

By Heather McGowan, MLS, an archivist and digital preservation librarian at the National Association of REALTORS®.

In 2020, the Texas Association of REALTORS® celebrated its centennial at its state conference with a 3D art installation commissioned to allow members to click on a piece of TAR history from the past 100 years and learn about that particular point in time.

That unique and meaningful display was made possible with the help of the NAR Library & Archives.

The NAR Archives gathers and documents the history of the National Association of REALTORS® to tell the story of real estate, as well as the stories of the hundreds of associations that are the foundation of the profession across the United States.

Understanding the context and the history of your association in your community is important and valuable knowledge to possess and share. Being able to share and reflect upon your association’s history—how it changed, shaped, and contributed to your community—helps you to better serve members and their customers.

Why Stories Matter

When NAR was founded in 1908, the importance of local and state associations was built into the way the association was to operate. The “three-way agreement” became formalized, with each member of NAR required to be a member of the national, state, and local associations. Because of this foundation, the NAR Archives would not be complete without documentation of the activities of local and state associations.

The Archives houses files from every local and state association, including charters, name changes, jurisdiction maps/changes, constitutions and bylaws, and most official papers from NAR’s Membership Policy & Board Jurisdiction divisions. These files tell the stories of how state and local associations came to be, how they changed over time, and how they are contributing to the advancement of their communities and the real estate profession.

Using those files, the NAR Archives is able to create association histories. We take the materials, scan the historical documents, and put together a timeline of the major events of your association. We not only provide you with information about your own association, but also help you find materials and information so you can contextualize those timeline events.

For example, we can share materials about the REALTOR® convention in a particular year. We can browse historical educational materials about how to market and sell properties. We can look through the National Real Estate Journal to find articles about real estate in your area. Sometimes we find hidden gems like old MLS listing cards from the 1960s or photographs of a float the association made for a community parade.

In addition to our files, we are always available for a discussion about your historical files. Whether they are in order, in 12 places, or in meticulous scrapbooks, we can help guide you to properly care for those materials, or we can take them out of your hands and use them to give a fuller picture of your history.

As associations, we want to be able to say, “We are the experts on real estate in [insert city, town, county, area, etc.] since [year].” It helps communities understand that not only can a REALTOR® be trusted, but that the association behind the REALTOR® is a well-established and trusted organization. Since associations tend to be involved in larger ways in our communities and the longevity of those activities creates a social trust, the NAR Archives can play a role in helping to assure community members that they can rely on REALTORS® and the associations behind them to keep the best interest of their homes top of mind.

Research Ready

The NAR Library & Archives is always available to help at your request. It can create an association history, research a tricky real estate topic, or recommend a book about sustainability or managing associations. It’s a valuable member benefit for understanding and celebrating not only the history of the National Association of REALTORS® and your association, but also the future of real estate. Contact the NAR Library & Archives at

Prepping for Milestone Anniversaries

In 2022 and 2023 alone, more than 200 local and state associations are celebrating milestone anniversaries—that is a centennial, 75th anniversary, or 50th anniversary. Armed with your association history from the NAR Archives, you can take charge and celebrate your association’s steadfast nature and longevity as a leader in your community.

Many local and state associations mark the occasion with a gala or celebration event, where they invite members to celebrate the anniversary and witness the installation of the centennial president. For example, in 2021, REALTOR® Association of the Fox Valley in Illinois hosted a gala and installation event where it shared the history of the association, celebrated the recognition the association has received and the service it has been involved in, and gave out association awards for the centennial year. Pennsylvania’s REALTORS® Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh took this even further by holding its event at the John Heinz History Center and placing artifacts from its history on display.

In addition to an event to commemorate their anniversary, many associations have celebrated in other ways. When the Virginia REALTORS® association celebrated 100 years in 2021, it published a coffee table book that tells the history of the association with images—both past and present—of Virginia REALTORS® in their communities. The Vermont Association of REALTORS® celebrated its 75th anniversary with a legislative reception, where the governor signed a proclamation to declare Jan. 28 as Vermont REALTORS® Day. Similarly, to recognize the centennial anniversary of the Reading-Berks Association of REALTORS®, Berks County, Pa., officially proclaimed March 15 as Reading-Berks Association of REALTORS® Day, and the mayor of Reading presented R-BAR with a commendation recognizing its legacy of public service.

Beyond Histories

Beyond providing association histories, the NAR Library & Archives offers many other valuable services to associations and members. Founded in 1923, the NAR Library & Archives houses the world’s largest real estate collection, including a circulating collection of books available for checkout; a 10,000-volume, and ever-growing, collection of e-books; and thousands of serials, journals, and newspapers. Through the EBSCO business research database, the library also offers access to thousands of professional and scholarly journals. Besides specific real estate topics, the library collection includes broader business and interest topics.

In addition, the library continually curates more than 150 reference pages, which give a general overview of a topic and then dive more deeply into articles, resources, and statistics to serve as a “one-stop shop” of information on those topics most important to members and associations. For example, the Sustainability reference page includes NAR’s REALTORS® & Sustainability Report, articles relevant to sustainability in real estate, tool kits and guides to sustainability, and resources for state and local associations, including education about greening the MLS.

Along with physical and digital collections and resources, the NAR Library is an active research service for members, associations, and staff, providing statistics; recommending books, articles, and websites; or assisting with more in-depth real estate- or association-related research projects.

“The NAR library is a one-stop shop of information on topics most important to members and associations.”

Shaping the Future

Celebrating the history of NAR—and the history of the associations that make up the backbone of NAR—is paramount to understanding how our associations will shape the future of real estate. As the world seems to change by the day, it is important to ground ourselves in our history and our communities.

I would encourage you to take a look at your history and learn how your association has shaped the past, and then look forward to the ways in which you can lead your association into the future of real estate.



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