A few books began the library
In the ancient libraries of Greece and Egypt, hand printed and bound books were so rare and valuable that they were locked and chained. By the 1840s when Harvey Clark and Tabitha Brown began their log cabin orphanage, a forerunner of Pacific University, books were much more prolific, but still relatively rare on the Western frontier.
What books the orphanage used is purely speculative, but the collection almost certainly contained a Bible, as Clark was a Congregationalist minister. It’s probable Brown and Clark employed early “look say” readers, which pair a picture with a word to help children learn to read. Other likely candidates from the University archives are reading guides for teachers and grammar books dating back to the 1830s.
Also, according to history Professor Larry Lipin, “My sense is that there would be a lot of moral philosophy, often textbooks written by leading American followers of Scottish common sense philosophers.”
Any such books would have traveled a perilous journey overland via the Oregon Trail or “around the Horn” of South America by ship where cargo space was tight and conditions harsh on paper. As a result, said Pacific Librarian and Archivist Alex Toth, “Books don’t seem to have been a high priority.”
By the 1880s, though, the railroad had come to Oregon and the fledgling colleges of the state competed to build the largest collections. This was both by necessity and as a mark of prestige. The size of a school’s library had a direct bearing on whether or not its degrees would be accredited by the state, noted Toth.
According to the 1883 edition of the University’s catalog, “The Library contains over 5,000 volumes, and now has a substantial fund for its increase. These volumes are classified for ready reference, and in some of the most practical departments of knowledge they are very full.” The total was more than twice as many as the slightly older Willamette University, and more than any other Oregon college.
One of the more famous sources of Pacific books was the Morse family of New England, friends of Sidney Harper Marsh, Pacific’s first president. Some 400 titles came from Sidney Morse, brother of Samuel F.B. Morse, inventor of the electric telegraph and Morse Code. Samuel was an early supporter of Pacific and donated four of his telegraph instruments to Pacific, which still has them.
University archives indicate that Academy Hall, the twin of Old College hall, housed the bulk of this collection. The venerable 1840s building must have been bursting at the seams awaiting the construction of Marsh Memorial Hall in 1895. By then the collection had grown to 7,000 titles. Marsh served as the main library until the construction of the Carnegie building, Pacific’s first stand-alone library building, in 1912.
During the period from 1894 to the opening of Carnegie, the library collection more than tripled to 16,000 titles. Clearly books had become a priority on the old frontier.
In 1905, as it often has been, Pacific was once again at the crossroads of history. Industrialist Andrew Carnegie donated a $20,000 matching grant to the University for its first stand-alone library, one of 3,000 in the U.S. and abroad he helped establish. Pacific’s was the first academic library west of the Rocky Mountains to employ Carnegie funds.
Seven years later, the matching funds had been raised. The building opened in 1912 and was the main library until 1967 when the Harvey W. Scott Memorial Library opened, honoring the University’s first graduate and long-time editor of The Oregonian newspaper. Now known as Scott Hall in the wake of the opening of Pacific’s new library this August, the building cost $750,000 and contained many then-new features such as microfilm.
Today, the old Scott library sits quiet and mostly empty, its next assignment to be determined by a campus committee. In August, the last few hundred of its 100,000 books were ceremonially passed hand-to-hand in a human chain across Trombley Square to the new library building.