Archives of THE BEE, on microfilm, to move to a new library
The first issue of what was then called the "Sellwood Bee" newspaper rolled off a manually-operated printing press at the end of September in 1906.
In the intervening 114 years, printing technology has changed, as have the number of pages per issue, and the frequency of its printing; sometimes it was a weekly, sometimes biweekly, and since 1991 it has been arriving monthly. It is now "just" THE BEE, without an adjective, because its contents reach readers well beyond Sellwood. It is delivered to homes in Westmoreland and Eastmoreland, Brooklyn, Woodstock, and the Reed neighborhood, and is also available in newsstands in Creston-Kenilworth, Brentwood-Darlington, and Ardenwald (in the portion of that Milwaukie neighborhood that's in Multnomah County).
Its ownership has changed several times, but as far as this writer is aware, the only on-paper collection of THE BEE is in the possession of the SMILE History Committee. Along with other newspapers published in Oregon THE BEE has been microfilmed by the Union Project, at the University of Oregon, although that process stopped a few years ago for THE BEE. For many years, this newspaper was available on microfilm only in the library of the Oregon Historical Society. Its location in downtown Portland in a facility that was open limited hours was very inconvenient for researchers. And, until Multnomah County residents voted to support the Historical Society with tax revenue, the institution was open only to those who could afford an OHS membership.
In 2000, when the Sellwood Branch Library was planning its move into its current location on S.E. 13th Avenue at Bidwell Street, members of the SMILE History Committee convinced that branch to include a microfilm reader/printer, and to offer THE BEE on microfilm in the new facility – which it did, when it opened there two years later. Space was allotted for the reader on the table next to the reference desk; and this writer, my colleague Dana Beck, and perhaps others, have made frequent use of this historic resource to conduct research.
Unfortunately, after twenty years of use, technology has caught up with this resource. While the microfilm reader still functions, the companion printer does not, and it cannot be repaired or replaced. In addition, the old reader is bulky, and occupies a large corner of the table that also now holds the several computers used by other library patrons.
New, more compact microfilm readers are available both at the downtown Central Library, and the library of the Oregon Historical Society. However, they are very expensive, and still do not have a designated printer. Both Dana and I suspect that we are the only two regular users of this equipment, and it hardly seems reasonable for the library to purchase new equipment simply for our use, and to devote limited table space for it in the county's smallest branch library, in Sellwood.
We have been in discussion with Sellwood Library Administrator Sarah Mead for several months, to try to resolve the matter. Consideration was given to offering the microfilm reader and reels of film either to SMILE (the Sellwood-Moreland Improvement League neighborhood association), for use at SMILE Station in Sellwood, or perhaps to the Sellwood Community House.
The problem with both of these locations is limited secure space – and the absence of anyone designated to make the equipment available to researchers. While the microfilm reader is not a complicated piece of equipment, it does require thorough instruction by someone who is familiar with its use (loading the film properly; feeding it into the uptake reel; rewinding; and four separate "focus" functions). And without a printer, researchers are required to hand-copy stories (if they can find what they are looking for). Unlike the Oregonian newspaper, THE BEE for most of its history has lacked an index. The downtown library still has dozens of file drawers full of 3x5 paper index cards with hand-written entries on stories that were published in The Oregonian until the 1980's – when it was digitized, and gained an "automatic" searchable index. While it is not foolproof, anyone with a Multnomah County library card and Internet connection can access it twenty-four hours a day, without having to travel to the library. It is to be hoped that THE BEE can also be digitized in this way in the future, and discussions continue about how to try to make that happen.
In the meantime, it appears a solution has been reached through the efforts of Ms. Mead and her colleagues in the Clackamas County Public Library system. The historic "Ledding Library" in downtown Milwaukie recently reopened in a huge, brand new, modern building. It is at its original site at 21st and Harrison Streets, across from the Milwaukie City Hall and the Tri-Met Transit Center. The Ledding Library is willing to accept THE BEE on microfilm, where it will join that of locally-published newspapers.
Although, as this is written, the Ledding Library is closed (as are all libraries) due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 coronavirus, it is anticipated that later in the spring THE BEE on microfilm will be transferred to the Ledding Library. It is normally open seven days a week, and since these microfilm records are "reserve material" (meaning that they cannot be checked out), users will NOT need a Clackamas County library card to access it.
The other option was to send the microfilm to the downtown Central Library on S.W. Tenth Avenue. However, Central is three miles from the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood, whereas Milwaukie is just over a mile away. And when the downtown library upgraded its microfilm readers, it purchased many fewer machines, presumably due to the expense of the new ones, and the digitization of the Oregonian.
Because of the short distance between the two communities, Sellwood and Milwaukie were historically closer to each other than Sellwood and downtown Portland. Most early issues of THE BEE carried stories about activities and individuals in northern Clackamas County – and, for a brief period, the paper was actually printed in Milwaukie. . .At the time of its origin in 1906, in addition to a subscription fee ($1.00/year for a weekly paper), THE BEE relied on advertising revenue to support its publication. But, for many Sellwood businesses back then, the idea of paying for advertising space was a foreign concept – and the paper's editor spent months trying to persuade the small-town merchants to advertise. Finally, in frustration, he moved his equipment (heavy press, type, etc.) to Milwaukie, where THE BEE was published as the "Milwaukie Bee" – until it returned to Sellwood eight months later.
The day that our public libraries (and restaurants, and schools, etc.) are again open to us will certainly be one to celebrate. Watch these pages for the announcement of THE BEE's microfilm migration to Milwaukie. And thank you to all of the professional librarians for finding a solution to this dilemma!
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