Libraries still circulate books, but they also and more frequently provide the public with experiential intangibles like access to their email accounts, job listings and rest of the Internet. But the librarians who run them remain vital, and the ways in which they interpret their roles may be on the verge of changing how we gather—and interpret—information.
Location: 1505 SE Gideon Street (for now: bridge construction is forcing them in the coming weeks to relocate to SE 11th and Division)
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m, Sunday, noon-5 p.m.
Membership: $7 per day, annual memberships start at $35
The GFO has no specific librarian. It is run by a team of up to 50 volunteers who do everything from helping patrons and prepping books for the stacks to writing and designing newsletters and bulletins for members and the general public.
Anna Wendlandt, a Massachusetts native and a Portlander since 1952, is one of those volunteers. The genealogy library grew, she says, from a shared personal movement in 1946, when three local women decided to collect books to try to determine their respective families' histories. Sixty-five years and 35,000 books later, the GFO is one of the west coast's largest comprehensive genealogical research libraries.
"You'll need to see it to believe it," she says of the stacks, most of which feature genealogy books about Oregon and Pacific Northwestern families, but which have also have plenty of books on ancestral origins from all 50 states and from countries throughout the world.
Access: Public, with membership
Location: 701 SE Grand Avenue
Hours: The library is open by appointment only. The Center, however, is open to the public Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Membership: Annual memberships start at $35
If you're a homeowner pondering interior or exterior renovations, and if your home is an old one, you may want to consider joining the AHC, which, as promoters of Portland's historic preservation, has its own library.
Val Ballestrem, ACH's educational manager, is a historian and native Portlander who "wears a variety of hats," only one of which is that of librarian.
But he recognizes that the library is a valuable resource to Portlanders with a stake in preserving the past.
Comprised of two small rooms containing 3,000 titles, the library houses hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of photographic slides, a collection of vintage postcards, files on local architects, planning documents related to historic districts and plenty of books on historic preservation.
These resources, Ballestrem says, serve the interests of local historians, consultants, researchers, occasionally students, owners of old houses who are interested in what those homes were like when they were first built.
The library, he says, is useful for those looking "to find information not only about buildings, but about the history of those buildings, to create context to better understand those buildings."
Location: Second floor of the Mark Building at the Portland Art Museum, 1119 SW Park Avenue
Hours: Sunday-Wednesday, noon-5 p.m.
For the last 12 years, Debra Royer has been the librarian at the Crumpacker Family Library, located on the second floor of the Portland Art Museum’s recently renovated Mark Building, formerly the Masonic Temple.
A painter, a graduate of the Museum School and a former PAM volunteer, Royer creates displays for the library on current museum exhibitions and currently oversees more than 58,000 cataloged items, which include books, artists’ files, and ephemera (brochures, gallery announcements and curriculum vitae on previously exhibited artists), all of which can be reviewed in the library’s online catalog.
Specializing in PAM artists and artists of the northwest, the library is designed for researchers, mostly PAM employees and art students. There is no circulation, so books may not be checked out (unless you're a PAM curator).
While the library may have limited hours, it is open to anyone. It offers a couple of computer monitors and wireless Internet to users. The library can even be rented after hours for social activities, like book clubs.
If you haven't yet visited, swing by, choose a book, take a seat and let your creative mind wander and wonder.
Location: 1044 NW 9th Avenue
When Reece Dano graduated from Washington University's iSchool with a degree in library science, he thought he would begin his career as a reference librarian answering reference questions and directing library patrons to the restroom.
But when he landed at Ziba a few years ago, one of the world's most prestigious innovation consultancy firms, his role of librarian became that of information specialist, meaning he "transform(s) data and information into strategic knowledge." He sees his role as to recognize "patterns of information and [boil] them down into something meaningful and powerful."
While the library still exists to serve Zibites (as Ziba employees affectionately call themselves), and while Dano still curates the firm's collection of books and periodicals, his role has grown, and now he often embeds with design teams to better determine and interpret their information needs.
He frequently joins design projects as a primary researcher, helping compile materials for designers and their clients. These include global documents and studies requiring translators, anthropological research, and field interviews with consumers. Ziba provides this information to help designers create products, environments and experiences on topics as concrete as electronics or as abstract, literally, as air.
Dano’s experiences have led him to believe that the role of the librarian will continue to evolve.
"They won't be just delivering information," he says, "but understanding it, too," providing context to users in order to help them better measure and understand the world around them.
Check out the first part of Librarians: Portland's Quiet Heroes.