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Libraries & Culture 36.3 (2001) 465-469

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In its rooms the lover of literature, the curious and imaginative, the student of history and even the cormorant of current events may find pleasant opportunity and abundant means to gratify their tastes and desires and enjoy the choicest intellectual products of the age. Upon its shelves and tables are found in convenient form the best thoughts, speculations and conclusions of the past and present upon all the problems of life--the constitution and duties of society, the sphere and responsibility of the individual and the modes, means and progress of civilization.

--Judge Matthew Deady, describing the Library Association of Portland in its 14th Annual Report (1877)

IMAGE LINK=The Library Association of Portland, now the Multnomah County Library, was founded as a subscription library in 1864 by a group of Portland's well-established and prominent citizens. 1 During the early period of the library's organization, its founders envisioned it first as a mercantile library, but they quickly decided that this vision was too limited. Instead, they determined that Portland needed a library with a broader purpose, and from the earliest days of its operation the library's collection consisted of books and periodicals selected with [End Page 465] the general population in mind. Although it was not a free library and received no tax support until after the turn of the century, the association shared ideals with the public library movement in America, particularly the vision of the library as a center of self-education.

As is generally the case with ambitious new undertakings, the success or failure of the Library Association depended largely upon the commitment and ability of the individuals engaged in the enterprise. Among the founders, one individual stands out as making the most significant and sustained commitment: Judge Matthew P. Deady (1824-93). He was born in Maryland, but his ambitions led him to move west. He arrived in Oregon in 1849 and spent the rest of his life in the state. Once there, he taught school for a short time and then began to practice law. He was influential in many important aspects of development in Oregon and the West, encompassing political matters such as Oregon's statehood, legal issues, and new social institutions; he was actively involved in many of these and also wrote about such issues for several different newspapers. 2

Deady's commitment to the Library Association spanned a period of nearly thirty years, beginning with its inception and continuing until his death. He served as board president for nearly twenty of those years. 3 Although other board members were wealthier and made more substantial financial contributions to the association from their own resources, Deady was largely responsible for generating and sustaining community interest in the association and instrumental in raising funds for its establishment and operation. In addition to his work toward its financial solvency, his presidency was also characterized by his proprietary approach to the library. He worked very closely with the librarian in charge and took an interest in every aspect of the operation; he often gave orders regarding book selection and was directly involved in the development of library services.

Deady left a substantial written record of his activities on behalf of the library. Each year the board president produced a report that was published as a part of the association's annual report, outlining major events and developments. Deady produced this report for most of the library's existence as a subscription association. He also kept a voluminous personal diary in which he made frequent references to his work with the library, especially in the areas of fund-raising and book selection. This diary was published in 1975 under the revealing title Pharisee among Philistines. While his diary is often informal and remarkably candid, his president's reports are highly formal, articulating his views of the role of the library in society as a center for self-improvement and upward mobility. His diary contains frequent references to individual books he purchased for [End Page 466] the library, sometimes shopping for books as he traveled in...


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