Think Out Loud

How the PSU library is faring after occupation by protesters

By Gemma DiCarlo (OPB)
May 7, 2024 6:31 p.m. Updated: May 14, 2024 8:35 p.m.

Broadcast: Tuesday, May 7

Numerous signs ask occupants to protect the archives and book areas, seen during a tour inside the occupied Branford Price Millar Library at Portland State University, April 30, 2024.

Numerous signs ask occupants to protect the archives and book areas, seen during a tour inside the occupied Branford Price Millar Library at Portland State University, April 30, 2024.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB


It’s been just over a week since protesters took over the Branford Price Millar Library at Portland State University as part of demonstrations against Israel’s war in Gaza. Police eventually cleared the building and classes resumed last Friday, but the library remains closed as damage to the collections and facilities are assessed.

Cris Paschild is an associate dean, university archivist and head of special collections at PSU. She joins us with more details on the Millar Library’s state and when it might reopen.

Note: This transcript was computer generated and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I am Dave Miller. It has been a little over a week since protesters took over the Millar Library at Portland State University as part of demonstrations against Israel’s war in Gaza. Police eventually cleared the building and classes resumed on Friday but the library remains closed as damage to the collections and facilities are assessed. Cris Paschild is an associate dean, the university archivist and the head of special collections at the PSU library. She joins us now with more details on the state of the library right now and the next steps. Cris, welcome to the show.

Cris Paschild: Hi. Thank you for having me. It’s felt like a lot of people have been talking about us. So it’s nice to actually get talked with.

Miller: That is what we believe is the best way to do this, is to actually talk with the people who know what’s happening. I want to go back a little more than a week now. What went through your mind when you first heard that protesters were in this building that means so much to you?

Paschild: Well, I wear two hats at the library. I’m an associate dean, but I’m also the head of special collections, as you said, and the archivist. So at that moment, my concerns were primarily about the security of the archives. We have a lot of one of a kind materials, a lot of community history. So to be honest, I was in a bit of a panic, what an occupation meant for those things.

Miller: Was there a section or a collection that you were most worried about?

Paschild: Well, our community archives section has history, local history that is completely unique and was kind of entrusted to us specifically because of Portland State’s mission and relationship to the community. The first one comes to mind – we have the Portland Japanese American Citizen League papers. The JACL is the oldest Asian American civil rights organization in the country. Our collection goes back to 1935 and documents up to the period when everyone’s forcibly relocated during the internment and when everybody comes back and tries to establish the community. Those are the day to day correspondence and records of that experience, and those are in there.

We’ve got original Frederick Douglass papers. We’ve got some of the only known original copies of some of Portland’s most significant Black-owned, Black published papers.

Miller: And just to be clear, these are specific pieces of paper that are one of a kind, and have they all been digitized?

Paschild: No. Some have, but no, just given the bulk of material that we have, probably I would say maybe 20% of the collection has been digitized. That might be even high.

Miller: I understand that you were concerned enough about these collections and the holdings in general that you went down to the library and eventually were granted access by some of the people who are occupying it. What was that visit like?

Paschild: Well, I tried to go out on the first night and that was not a conducive setting to having a conversation with people at that point, as there were people sort of getting in there and starting the occupation. So that was a bit of a fool’s errand on my part. But after a pretty sleepless night, the next day I had heard that they were letting people in. So I went down and they had people stationed at the door, but I introduced myself and explained what I was there for, that I just wanted to check the archives and I told them kind of generally what was in there. They had some conversations, some protesters had conversations among themselves. I said I’m happy to have an escort or someone with me. So someone came with me and they let me back in there to check.

Miller: What was it like? So you were walked through your library. What did you see? What did you do?

Paschild: Well, I’ll first say in terms of the state of the library, as a whole, when I first saw that it was pretty shocking. I mean, the photos that you’ve seen out there are pretty accurate in terms of the extent of just the chaos in there.

Miller: I have seen photos, probably many of our listeners have, but probably many haven’t. So can you describe what you saw, whether it was on that first visit or since then? I mean, how extensive was the damage?

Paschild: Yeah, so definitely, there was chaos. The people had … The first move appeared to try to barricade the windows and the doors down there. And so everything had kind of been overturned and moved and kind of pushed towards the windows and piled in certain ways. I think people had been looking for tools or things that they could kind of repurpose, to barricade the building. Lots of things had been gone through in that way, looking for that.


By the time I was in there, people had set up tents in the hallways and kind of food stations and things like that, I think preparing for the long haul. It was crowded with things like that. There were things that were damaged, it was hard to tell for what purpose. So that was disconcerting. But it was also random, like some things that you would think would have been damaged, like the Library Administrative Offices weren’t, but the classroom was. It was just a lot of chaos and pretty intense.

Miller: So to go back to that visit, when you wanted to see if you could somehow safeguard these important collections, what did you do?

Paschild: I actually just was trying to be very sincere and honest with the people I was talking to. There were one or two individuals who were kind of staying with me the whole time and they actually were really receptive and seemed to really hear what I was saying and what my concerns were – that was nice. I appreciated that.

So we went back and they took me … we have sort of our own small public reading room and there was quite a bit going on in there in terms of chaos, of tables upside down and stuff. But amazingly, our display cases in that area which actually had some things in them hadn’t been damaged or touched. Then we went back to our next section, which is where we store stuff and people had been in that space, but it didn’t appear that anyone had rifled through anything or knocked anything off shelves. In subsequent visits I confirmed that. And with that first visit, the people with me actually helped me move some additional items back into that area, some original materials that were on the walls and [they] helped me move that cabinet that had things in it, helped me scoot it back in there. Then they let me lock it up and they barricaded it behind me.

Miller: And then you left. What was it like to walk out of the library after getting some help in closing off at least one room?

Paschild: Really hard. It was hard because archivists, we have a pretty tight relationship to our collections, so it’s difficult. But, what I’ll say is also I appreciated that and it was comforting. I felt like I was less worried about kind of bad actors or anybody getting in there meaning to do harm. But what stood out to me about the visit to the library as a whole is, as someone who’s worked in that building for 15 years, I don’t know what happened that first night. I think things got a little chaotic that first night, but there was really extensive damage to the fire and safety systems. Smoke things had been pulled off the walls, the pull bar alarm, things had been yanked out. All the fire extinguishers had been removed from where they usually are. The hoses … There were just wires hanging from the ceiling where people had been ripping things out. I’m not quite sure what was going on there.

And then the barricades were, a lot of the exits … I’m used to being in that building with four or five ways to get out and there weren’t anymore. There was maybe one or two ways to get out and that was really unsettling. I mean, if you go up to our 4th and 5th floors, we still have the majority of our book stacks. So it’s a labyrinth [of a] giant building with bad sight lines and a lot of paper.

Miller: And it felt a little bit like a closed off maze, it seems like.

Paschild: Oh, it was, yeah, it was unsettling. And I mentioned that to one of the people who was walking around with me, because I was concerned for them and I said, this feels like a fire trap, this doesn’t feel safe for you to be in here. And they said, oh, we’ve got an emergency exit over there ready. But I was like, well, that’ll work great as long as your emergency doesn’t happen on that side of the room, I guess.

Miller: I wanna turn to what you now know about the status of things, and what comes next. I mean, first of all, there were unconfirmed reports that the Dark Horse Comics collection was missing. What can you tell us about that?

Paschild: Yeah, and first of all, I’ll preface this by saying we library folks have only had limited access back in the building. We’ve kind of gone on these guided walkthroughs. So we are still in the process of really understanding fully the inventory. But that said, I do think the Dark Horse rumor that was out there was a misunderstanding. There’s a collection in the archives that was untouched, [and] there’s a collection that’s out in the public areas that’s for reading and checking out. We had recently relocated all of that public collection to another part of the library, but we hadn’t taken the signs down yet.

So I think someone came in and saw all that empty shelving and the sign and assumed that the materials had been stolen or something, but they were actually – the majority of them, there may be one or two pieces that are missing, we don’t know yet – but the majority of that collection appeared to actually just kind of be around the corner in its new location.

Miller: In the bigger picture, what’s it going to mean for students, faculty, for the public – people who are used to being able to go inside this library for a variety of reasons – that, unless something has changed, it’s not going to be open until the fall?

Paschild: Yeah, I know they’re trying to figure that out. The fire safety stuff I was talking about has to be fixed first before anyone can be in there. And we don’t know yet, [but] we’re hoping to know by the end of the week how long that might actually take.

It’s hard. Our students are entering into midterms and for a lot of people, it’s the final term of the academic year. And just right now with no access to the building, even like getting a book, a course textbook on reserve, a student can’t get to that right now. I mean, there’s all sorts of things. So that feels really rotten.

I will say, the people in the library and our colleagues that share that space, the learning center are so amazing. We’re grieving and we’re sad and we’re hurt and we’re confused, but they’re also just on the ground working right now. We’ve set up a satellite reference desk in another building so students can come there to ask their reference questions. We’re trying to puzzle out how people get to course reserves. I know the learning center’s pivoting to try to find other spaces for their tutoring.

So we’re trying as hard as we can, but it’s a pretty hard pivot. I mean, we’re still trying to figure [it out]. There’s a lot of touches that have to happen to make things work and so we’re doing the best we can.

Miller: Cris Paschild, thanks very much.

Paschild: Thank you for talking with us. We really appreciate it.

Miller: Cris Paschild is the associate dean, university archivist and head of special collections at the Portland State University library.

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