the mountains and the library

“When C.R. Ashbee toured Portland in 1916, two things struck him: “the mountains and the library.

waiting for the library to open

The Library, not as a building, but as an object lesson in democratic conviction; the mountains, Hood, Saint Helens, Adams and far away Rainier, and eternal reprimand.”  Ashbee described the work of Mary Frances Isom, the head of Portland’s library:

She has under her a staff of 60 men and women, and she has the great work of “making the library be alive.”  I’ve learnt from her a little of what an American library in a great town is…. Here it is a huge democratic propagandist  institution, with its subsidiary libraries and book stores, and its motor cars, its staff that searches out lonely homes where books are needed and taken, its system of inviting all new immigrants into the Library, and teaching workpeople and the school children how to use the catalogue and what it all means…. I try to mark down the difference between our libraries and the American.  Ours seem to be afflicted with the property sense.  They are public institutions for guarding the public books. Here, as she told me, they act on the hypothesis that it is better for a book now and again to be stolen than for the public not to be using the Library.

— Lawrence Kreisman and Glenn Mason, The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest.

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