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Nobel, Pulitzer Winner Was Library's First Donor
Nobel, Pulitzer Winner Was Library's First Donor

On May 30, 1948--Memorial Day--the dike holding back the Columbia River broke, and within an hour the resulting flood inundated and destroyed Vanport, a city of 10,000. Vanport was created to house the shipyard workers that built much of the United States' fleet during World War II.

Vanport Extension Center's new campus, established in 1946 and the future Portland State University, was also flooded and destroyed by the rising river. The Center's founder, Stephen Epler, later recalled that officials found three books floating in the water. He commented drily to the college librarian: "So you see we have the nucleus of a library."

Only the card catalog survived the flood for it was loaded onto a truck along with student transcripts and paychecks before the dike broke, and a ten foot wall of water rushed through at Vanport.

Portland State historian, the late Professor Gordon Dodds, who was also the Campus Achivist in his later years, recounts in The College That Would Not Die:

"At the time of the flood, librarian Jean Black was three thousand miles away in Atlantic City reading a paper at the annual meeting of the American Library Association. The delegates were agog with news of the flood's destructive power. Walking in the corridors, Pearl S. Buck, a speaker at the convention, noticed Black's nametag and drew her into a conversation that resulted in her presenting the Library with autographed copies of each of her twenty-one books."

From the novel, Pavilion of Women to the nonfiction piece, What America Means to Me, to several children's picturebooks including, Yu Lan, Flying Boy of China, you can visit Portland State Library's Special Collections to see this fabulous collection.

With the Pearl S. Buck collection and a torrent of other generous gifts, Jean Black, Vanport's head librarian and Portland State's first archivist, built the foundation of today's 1.3 million volume collection at the Branford P.Millar Library.

Pearl Buck, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature, worked tirelessly as a champion for education throughout her life. You can continue her legacy of support for high quality, affordable university education by making a gift to the Portland State Library Fund today.

For more information contact Jennifer Wilkerson, Library Development Director, (503) 725-4509 or