Renowned Portland State University and western historian and head archivist Gordon Dodds recently passed away, leaving the enormous task of cataloguing the PSU archives to assistant university archivist Cathy Croghan Alzner, who spends her days tucked away in a corner office on the top floor of the library.
Until recently, historical information about PSU had been locked away in storage and not readily accessible to students and the general public. The PSU archives were formally established in January of 2002, bearing the goal of making university records available for general use.
According to their brochure, the mission of the PSU archives is “to collect, organize, describe, preserve, and make available the records of the University.” At present, the archives consist mainly of paper documents, such as university records, yearbooks and photographs. However, they accept any sort of memorabilia for review and possible acceptance into the archives, especially about old student groups and on-campus events.
“Officially we’ve only been here a couple years,” Croghan Alzner said. “We don’t really know what we have yet.” The majority of archived materials are stored in boxes in an off-campus warehouse, and a good inventory of just what those boxes contain is the archive office’s long-term task.
“We have 500 to 600 boxes out in the warehouse. Some of them are labeled with lists, some of the boxes have titles, and some of them don’t say anything at all,” Croghan Alzner said. Sitting on her desk, the latest unlabeled box she opened contained miscellaneous records and a packet of decades-old photographs from the retirement of Jean Black, the college’s first librarian.
Documents and memorabilia in the archives date back to the days when PSU was called Portland State College and, before that, the Vanport Extension Center. Vanport archives are of especially historic value – and rare.
“The remains of Vanport are in one box,” Croghan Alzner said, gesturing to a container half full of papers.
Archive material ranges from yearbooks, newspapers and photos to an old student constitution and administrative records. The few memorabilia items, such as posters and an old PSU bowling shirt, are on display in the archive office and the Smith Memorial Student Union Browsing Lounge.
Eventually a more comprehensive inventory of the contents of the archive will be available as more documents are uncovered and catalogued. Students, staff and the public are welcome to use items from the archives for research or general interest purposes.
Individuals who want to use archived material may drop in any time the archive office is open (see below for hours), and must use items within the archives. Cotton gloves are required to handle some delicate documents, and food is not allowed. They provide the gloves.
Croghan Alzner encourages students to utilize the archives for research projects, and to inquire if they aren’t sure if an item is available – or even if it exists. As more boxes are inventoried, additional materials may become available.
“You never know what kind of treasures you’ll find in the archives,” she said.
The PSU archives are located in the Millar Library in Room 596. Hours of operation are Monday 10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Right now Croghan Alzner is the only available archivist in this tiny room, and until more staff members are hired the archives are open limited hours. However, she insists that e-mail requests for information will be returned promptly. Contact the PSU archives through [email protected] or at (503) 725-5760.