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A Library Basement can be a “Magical Place”

June 26, 2019

By Jimmy Pearson, Astoria Public Library

It is my honor to serve as the 14th City Librarian and caretaker of 170 years of regional history.  The basement of the Astoria Public Library is a magical place containing many unique items informing us of the story of our city, county, and region.  The archives began in 1941 when new director Glen Buch recommended collecting local history, possibly naming it Astoriana. 

In 2017, an Oregon Heritage grant allowed us to hire archivist Rachael Woody to begin the task of organizing this vast and unique collection. Together with local historian John Goodenberger and a team of volunteers, the archives are one step closer to greater access and preservation.

Volunteers were recruited by engaging people at the circulation desk, showing them some of the items I keep in my office, and tailoring how I talked to each audience I approached for assistance. For example, when I presented to the Rotary Club, I knew they had purchased our first edition set of the Biddle/Allen edition of the Lewis & Clark journals in the 70s and spoke to them about that. When I gave a basement tour to our Writers group , I highlighted the first edition copies of classics we have including Roughing It by Mark Twain.  When I presented to City Council, I mentioned the 1896 ordinances we care for. 

I find any way I can to highlight our unique collection to the public. A cool way to engage families is to show them some of the items I have selected and maintain within my office. These items form the nucleus of one pillar of my legacy and are appropriately named the Director’s Collection.  I will pass the collection to my predecessor with the hopes they do the same. Kids like seeing our oldest book, which is a bible from Germany dated 1728. I have been informed by a parent a couple of months later that it was the topic of conversation at the dinner table that night. Free advertising! I have also used items from the collection by posting them on our Face Book page.

Over the course of this grant, we organized and developed a plan for the placement, storage, and care of the archival collection at the Astoria Public Library. We now look forward to next steps in caring for our unique collection. Thank you to all who made this happen, especially to Kuri Gill, as I fumbled my way through my first grant administration.

Project Update 8/7/19: Due to the work they accomplished through the Oregon Heritage Grant, the Astoria Public Library was able to apply for and receive a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

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