Facing the Capitol Mall, The State Library of Oregon works for all Oregonians. Librarian Ross Fuqua does extraordinary work at the library and shares more about his interesting role.

The History of the State Library of Oregon

Completed in 1939, the State Library is a beautiful marble building on the National Historic Register (along with the Capitol Building). The State Library was the first building constructed on the Capitol after the Capitol itself and was part of the Works Progress Administration projects during the New Deal. It is an excellent example of Modernist architecture in Oregon, designed by the architectural firm Whitehouse and Church. The building includes unique carvings both inside and outside by artist Gabriel Lavare.

State Library of Oregon
The beautiful lobby of the State Library of Oregon is adorned with original carvings by Gabriel Lavare. Photo credit: Mollie Nouwen

The work of the State Library actually began earlier, in 1905, when it was known as the Oregon Library Commission. From the beginning, it has supported the work of state government workers who need research and library services and has helped public libraries throughout the state as more and more opened. Throughout its operation, the State Library has tried to reach as many Oregonians as possible. In 1930, it started a reading course for young men who were unemployed and unable to go to college but wanted to educate themselves. In the 1940s, it hosted a radio show called “Ask your State Librarian,” and in the 1960s, the Talking Book and Braille Collection began. The library has come a long way since its modest beginning.

Services Through the Library

Oregonians can access most of the services of the State Library through the online portal, but if you make an appointment, it is open Monday through Friday from 1-4 p.m. The Talking Book and Braille Library, an essential part of the State Library services, is available Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m.. As with the other open areas of the library, appointments are necessary. Talking Books and the Braille Library are part of the Oregonians with Print Disabilities work that the library does. They are a free service that sends audiobooks and books in braille to any Oregonian through the mail or via download.

State Library of Oregon
One of the reading areas on the second floor is open to the general public at the State Library of Oregon. Photo credit: Mollie Nouwen

Supporting Libraries Around Oregon

Some of the work of the library is public-facing, but a lot of it is to support public libraries, academic libraries, tribal libraries, school libraries and librarians around Oregon. The State Library offers grants, technology assistance, and other resources to the libraries and librarians throughout the state. They also run continuing education courses for librarians on a variety of topics. Some of the funding for the popular Oregon Battle of the Books comes from the State Library, as does the statewide ebooks consortium funding. If it affects libraries in Oregon, chances are the State Library has some role.

State Library of Oregon
Ross Fuqua, one of the librarians at the State Library of Oregon, works to help Oregonians learn new information and skills, remember our past, and find ways to make libraries even better in the future. Photo credit: Karl W. Schmidt.

Librarian Ross Fuqua and Northwest Digital Heritage

Ross Fuqua hasn’t had a typical journey to becoming a librarian. After college, he got his MA in Folk Studies and was employed at a non-profit working with folklore-related media. At that job, he worked with an archivist in digitizing media, which began his interest in cultural heritage and collections work. This led to his second master’s degree, this time in library science.

Ross came to the State Library of Oregon after working at the State Library in Washington and in a public library in the Portland Metro area. At the State Library of Oregon, he helped to start a new initiative, partnering with Oregon Heritage and the Washington State Library. The Northwest Digital Heritage project, which includes both Oregon and Washington libraries, consists of an array of different collections. The site provides everything from Northwest beer labels and Works Progress Administration (WPA) documentation photos to the Ruth Mountaingrove collection, with photographs of a lesbian commune in Southern Oregon during the 1970s. Many pictures of important historical moments include the Mount St. Helens eruption and the Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905.

State Library of Oregon
The grand marble exterior of the State Library of Oregon on the Capitol Mall. Photo credit: Mollie Nouwen

The Public Library Statistical Report

Most of us have visited our local public library, checked out books, and maybe attended a program or used other resources. All that kind of data about our public library system in Oregon – collections, technology, facilities, and finances –  is captured in the Public Library Statistical Report, the other program that Ross oversees. With more than 200 data points from over 130 libraries, this census of libraries has been going on in Oregon for over 100 years. Once Ross has gotten the data and organized it, all of it is on the State Library website, open for anyone to see.

Librarian Ross Fuqua and the State Library are constantly working to help Oregonians learn new information and skills, remember our past, and find ways to make libraries even better in the future. The beautiful building on the Capitol Mall is a little-known resource for all Oregonians, and more of us should take advantage of all it offers.

State Library of Oregon
250 Winter Street NE, Salem

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