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Pearl S. Buck and the Portland State Library


Pearl S. Buck

Winner of the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes for Literature

On May 30, 1948, the dike holding back the Columbia River brokeĀ­, 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. Professor Emeritus Gordon Dodds collected this anecdote about Stephen Epler, the Center's founder, for his history of Portland State, The College that Would not Die:

In addition to what was carried out before the dam broke, officials later salvaged some microscopes, a library book truck, and three books Epler later found floating in the water (a history of England, one on the mathematics of investment, and another on personal health). In his characteristically dry way, he wrote of these three works to the college librarian: "So you see we have the nucleus of a library."(21)

Only the card catalog from our first Library 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 History Professor Dodds, who was also the Campus Archivist in his final years, collected another Library story that he 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. (26)

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 canĀ 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 University Library.

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