Gordon Dodds, professor emeritus of history at PSU, and adjunct instructor Cathy Croghan Alzner have recently undertaken the task of reorganizing and updating the archival system, which is a branch of the library, for Portland State University. They hope to bring it up to the statutory requirements for records retention.
In early January, Daniel Bernstine contacted the library asking Dodds to serve as the University’s first archivist. It was no surprise to Dodds that he was chosen for the position, as he is the university historian and author of Portland State University’s written history, “The College That Would Not Die,” which is available through the president’s office.
Upon accepting the position, Dodds recommended Alzner, a former PSU master’s student, for the position of assistant archivist. Alzner received her initial experience in archival practices from her work toward her master’s degree in history, which she received in 1998.
In their hands are 724 boxes containing records of university activities from 1946 through the late 1980s. The boxes have resided in many locations over the years, and are currently being held in the library’s temperature controlled storage facility in northwest Portland.
One of the first decisions Dodds and Alzner faced when tackling the venture was, among the hundreds of boxes and thousands of documents, where they should begin. For guidance they consulted Lewis and Clark College archivist Doug Erickson and assistant archivist Jeremy Skinner. Erickson and Skinner endorsed the idea of beginning with the president’s office documents, because they provide an institutional framework within which to work. There are 83 boxes of documents from the president’s office to be inventoried.
Dodds and Alzner are working through each box by reading and familiarizing themselves with what is inside and making detailed, itemized lists of its contents. The former system had the contents organized into general categories.
Dodds said they will be maintaining the fundamental structure of the original system, but they will break it down into comprehensive lists, making them more accessible to the public. They plan on eventually compiling the detailed information about what is in each box into a computer program, which will enable them to quickly access the archive’s contents.
Some of the most common items found in the boxes are correspondences among university officials, administrative and academic files, financial records, minutes of department meetings, photographs and memorabilia.
Once a box has been inventoried it is returned to the warehouse for storage and exchanged for a new box, which is transported to Dodds’ and Alzner’s office in the basement of Millar Library. They have currently completed the inventory of five boxes.
Dodds and Alzner are also working on expanding the archives by acquiring new material. They recently received a small donation of documents and photographs from the faculty women’s association, which Dodds will be organizing and adding to the archives. Departments at PSU that have material of archival value are urged to contact Dodds or Alzner at 503-725-5760 if they are interested in contributing to the archives.
Students, faculty and community members can also contact them if they are interested in viewing photographs or documents from the archives. Dodds and Alzner are working to make the story of PSU more available to the public. “We want people to use these archives,” Alzner said.
As Dodds learned while doing research for his book, PSU has overcome a number of obstacles to achieve the status it has today. “These boxes contain a story worth hearing about,” Dodds said. “They are records of a school with a tenacious spirit.”