Sealing Up the Gold Mine

March 23, 2009

Posting a comment on Facebook has landed me a radio show interview tomorrow. Topic: the implications of severe cutbacks at the Oregon Historical Society Research Library, where I spent much of the last two years researching this book.

Thinking of what I might say on the radio, a metaphor comes to mind: the thrill of panning for gold. That’s what it’s like to seek information that unearths a new story or casts an old one in a new light. The tedium of searching through microfilm or musty papers turns joyous when, suddenly, a shining nugget appears. Find enough nuggets and the arc of a forgotten  life takes shape and pulses with meaning.

Why would the Oregon Legislature seal off the library, a gold mine of information? The process began with a cut in state funds in 2001. The inescapable message: in this the state’s 150th year, the past counts for nothing — we’ve learned from it all that’s worth knowing.