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Society's History

OPB | March 24, 2009 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 8:50 p.m.

Just two weeks after Oregon celebrated 150 years of history, one of the state’s major repositories for archived materials announced it was cutting one third of its staff in the face of budget shortfalls. The Oregon Historical Society has been around for more than 100 years. Its library and museum are home to 2.5 million photographs as well as maps, newspapers, audio recordings and other historical items. Most of the 15 staff members who were laid off in late February worked at the library, helping local historians with research for independent and academic projects. Many of these researchers and other supporters gathered outside the Oregon Historical Society earlier this month to show their disapproval of the organization’s decision to reduce staff and temporarily close the library (they say it will reopen by the end of the month). Deborah Olsen posted on our site to suggest we address this issue on our show.

The Oregon Historical Society is certainly not alone in facing tough choices in a down economy. Clackamas Heritage Partners (CHP), which manages the museums and other cultural sites in Oregon City, had to suspend operations earlier this month due to severe budget shortfalls. Executive director David Porter is currently working without pay to try to raise funds to reopen the museum and continue CHP’s ambitious Willamette Falls Access project, which would create a new tourist destination in the oldest incorporated city west of the Rocky Mountains. Beyond Oregon, many historical societies across the country including institutions in New Jersey, Nevada, Ohio, and Virigina have cut hours and laid off staff. In Nevada, the museum may be closed in order to keep the library operational.

How do you use Oregon’s historical resources? What is most important to you when it comes to archival material — keeping an accessible calalogue in a library or displaying objects and information in a musuem? How is the recession forcing historical institutions to redefine how they serve the public?

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