Developing an Archival Strategy

In 1942 the Board of Library Trustees asked the State Librarian to develop a strategy for improving the archival situation. A committee studied the problem for a year before submitting its report to the Board. The report recommended that:

  • the state recognize its responsibility to care for its own valuable records.
  • the valuable records of the state should be unified as a state archives.
  • the State Library was the proper agency to administer the archives.

At the same time an independently formed committee was working from a different perspective to protect Oregon government records. Only weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 the Committee on the Conservation of Cultural Resources organized. It functioned under the Oregon State Defense Council and was chaired by Professor Luther Cressman, head of the Department of Anthropology and director of the Museum of Natural History at the University of Oregon. Concern for the safety of historical records in the event of enemy air raids occupied much of the early committee discussion. The resulting research into how and where records were housed led to the realization that many valuable records were in danger of destruction because of neglect.

In response to this, Cressman appointed a subcommittee to formulate recommendations. The subcommittee (which included the State Librarian as a member) submitted a report to Governor Earl Snell in 1944 recommending "the creation of a depository, the appointment of a custodian or archivist, and the establishment of standards for the selection of those records that are non-current and proper for preservation."2 The report also noted nagging problems of poor storage, the uncertain fate of records of defunct agencies, and the potential benefits of a microfilm program. It pointed out the need for an adequate budget and strong legislation to facilitate the creation and development of an effective archives program.

Bolstered by these reports, supporters introduced archives legislation to the 1945 Legislative Assembly. Unfortunately, the Society of American Archivists model law used as the basis of the bill conflicted with existing statutes including the Oregon laws of evidence. Because of this a comprehensive act creating a state archives did not pass.

However, the Legislative Assembly did approve a provision for the State Archives as part of the 1945-1947 State Library budget. The modest amount of $15,000 was allocated to get the program underway. Additionally, the Attorney General issued an opinion which allowed the state archivist to collect records for the use of government agencies but did not further define specific activities. State Librarian Eleanor Stephens painted the budget in rosy terms in a letter to a prospective candidate for the State Archivist position, "Because office and storage space will be furnished the Archives in the Oregon State Library Building without expense to the archival budget, this provision is even more liberal than it appears."3

Eventually, the Board of Library Trustees approved the appointment of David Cushing Duniway as State Archivist. The challenge of creating a state archives from the ground up helped him overcome initial reservations to Salem while interviewing for the position: "The whole area was filled with the smell of the paper mill and I can remember my wife saying that she never wanted 'to live in a town like that.'"4

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