History Lost

March 13, 2009

Today I stood beneath a statue of Teddy Roosevelt astride a high-stepping horse. I was among  75 people in Portland’s South Park Blocks. Warmed in late afternoon sun, we protested plans to greatly reduce access to the Oregon Historical Society research library across the street.

Many people spoke of the library’s key role in their work — historians, writers, journalists, genealogists, and others. During the last two years, I spent innumerable hours there researching this book about the Pendleton Round-Up and desperately need it for my next big project.

ohs-protest

The statue, dedicated in 1922, is the work of famed sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor, who died at 89 in 1950, and whom I wrote about for the book.

Listening to impassioned speeches about the importance of the library, I thought of the day I sifted through Proctor’s personal papers housed there. The yellowed edges of pages in one document were so old and brittle that they broke at my touch, falling like ash as I marveled at discoveries alive in rich detail.

The library is in trouble because of major state budget cuts and declining private contributions. One speaker noted that more than 150 years of  history is being shut away while the city appears ready to financially support two sports teams and construction of their stadiums.

Soccer balls and baseballs won’t tell us we’re going if we don’t keep discovering where we’ve been.

UPDATE: Supporters of the library have created a Facebook page for sharing information. The Northwest History Network has created an online petition calling for a long-term solution to the libary’s funding problems.