The library found its humble beginnings in 1933 as just a couple of parlor rooms in the Queen Anne style, brick house that still stands at 13th and Main (pictured below). Here it served the first ever class of Clark Junior College (as it was then known). The parlor rooms were both adorned with marble fireplaces and large tables flanked by simple chairs produced by a local lumber mill. The dining room served as a periodicals room. Former English teacher and Dean of the College Dr. Lewis D. Cannell characterized the college at this time as getting off to a "wobbly start" with "much scrounging" from the community, especially when it came to collection development at the library. "Some [books acquired by the college] properly belonged in a college library, some were of only peripheral application, some were good but outdated, and some were useful simply as trades at secondhand stores for more desirable books" (Cannell, 1975, p. 243). Despite these shortcomings, Cannell described the library as having been the "pleasantest place on campus" (Floyd-Kvalheim, 1990, p. 1).
(Image Attribution: Hidden House Event Space, 2016)
The origins of one very famous patron of the library can even be traced back to these parlor rooms. In fact, if you had visited the library during its second year, you would have likely met him. He has been described as wearing a top hat, smoking a cigarette, and consisting almost entirely of papier-mâché. In a former life, he advertised tobacco in a local drugstore window. But ever since a group of Clark students liberated him from his overworked and underpaid retail job and placed him on the library's mantle, Oswald the Galapagos Penguin has proudly served as the college's mascot (Cannell, 1975).
The details of Cannell's 1975 account of Oswald's origins as described above are consistent with the account published nine years earlier by Linda Howard, the editor of the Clark College yearbook. Interestingly, however, a conflicting story was produced in 1983 by Larry Rakestraw who was the college's first registered student. Rakestraw wrote that he had received a wooden penguin for Christmas and donated it at the request of the former Dean Robert T. Oliver who witnessed Rakestraw playing with it in the library. Contradictions aside, one detail remains uncontested—Oswald, like many patrons that have followed, found his home in the library at Clark.
In 1937, the college and library moved to its second location—a larger building that was bounded by the streets 6th, 7th, C, and West Reserve (Cannell, 1975). The building (pictured below) was originally constructed and opened in 1918 as a Salvation Army hut that provided recreational opportunities for soldiers as well as temporary lodging for kith and kin visiting the soldiers. The hut was designed in a Swiss chalet style by Spokane architects Archibald Rigg and Roland Vantyne and built by the contractor Pratt & Watson of Tacoma (Denfeld, 2011).
(Image Attribution: The second site of Clark College (the Salvation Army hut). From C. E. Scharff & H. E. Millen (Eds.), A History of the Vancouver Public Schools, 1975.)
The north face of the building had a large porch and a tree-adorned lawn to the east. When the building was acquired by the college, the lobby was divided into partitions with one serving as a "pleasant library with new stacks and new tables" (Cannell, 1975, p. 247). To fully take advantage of the new stacks, Cannell made another appeal to the community to help augment their collection. He produced and circulated a list of the one "hundred most wanted books" and how much it would cost to buy them. For every donation from this list, the library included the name of the donor on a bookplate inside the cover (Cannell, 1999).
By 1941, the college again decided to move into a larger space, anticipating a growth in enrollment. The old Franklin School (pictured below) was selected, and Dr. Paul F. Gaiser, the first president of the college, described it as "infinitely better in both space and facilities as well as in location" (1941, p. 2). Here, readers must admire Dr. Gaiser's optimism regarding a site that Cannell described as "a gloomy old building...[with a] forbidding Edgar Allen Poe atmosphere [that] needed paint on the outside, smelled of floor oil on the inside, [and] had no lawn, no porch and no fireplace" (1975, p. 248).
(Image Attribution: The third site of Clark College (the old Franklin School). From "Clark Jr. College Moves to New Building." 1941, August 29, The Clark County Sun, 33(35), 1.)
In this new building, the library occupied two classrooms on the second floor of the building (Cannell, 1999). In a 12-page recruiting supplement to the August 29, 1941 issue of the Clark County Sun newspaper, the library's collection is characterized as "well-selected," "constantly growing," and containing many books gifted by local citizens (Cannell, 1941, p. 2; Nunn, 1941). Below is a scanned newspaper image of Clark students browsing in the 1941 library.
(Image Attribution: Library. From "Clark Jr. College Moves to New Building." 1941, August 29, The Clark County Sun, 33(35), 8.)
Only a year after moving into the old Franklin School, the college once again found itself compelled to re-locate. For the first time, it needed to downsize. Maintenance costs combined with low enrollment forced the college to move in with Vancouver High School at 26th and Main Street (pictured below). Due to space limitations, the two institutions arranged classes such that college classes would not begin until the final high school class had ended (Cannell, 1975). A separate library for the college was not established, but instead, Clark's books were simply shelved with the high school collection (Cannell, 1999).
(Image Attribution: Vancouver High School. Clark County Historical Museum Photographs, 1972)
The college's space in Vancouver High School was sufficient during the years of World War II. But as the war came to a close, the board of the Vancouver School District, which also served as trustees of Clark College, acquired in 1947 a swath of real estate surplussed by the federal government after the war. This was the Ogden Meadows wartime housing development on Fourth Plain Road east of Stapleton Road and became Clark College's new home. At this time, the campus contained a day-care center, a shopping center, an administrative complex, and nine apartment buildings. The latter were single-story, wooden structures that contained eight individual units (pictured below). One of those nine apartment buildings was repurposed to serve as the Clark College library (Cannell, 1975). Of all the buildings the library has occupied, this was undoubtedly the shortest.
(Image Attribution: One of nine apartment buildings on the Ogden Meadows campus. From C. E. Scharff & H. E. Millen (Eds.), A History of the Vancouver Public Schools, 1975.)
An article from the Clark College student newspaper The Penguin's Progress (now called The Independent), provides some insight into the library's activities in this new location. Among these were expanded service with seating for up to 80 students, new shelves, and open hours from 8:00 AM to 4:45 PM Monday through Friday (Associated Students of Clark College (ASCC), 1948a). The librarian, Miss Helen Mitchell, gave library tours to English classes in which she introduced freshmen to the use of the card catalog and other library resources (ASCC, 1948b). In at least one instance, Mitchell appealed to students by way of analogy, asserting, "Your library contains much of value for you. It is packaged away between the covers of books and in the pages of periodicals. It takes work on your part to 'mine the gold' in 'them thar mountains' of books. But the satisfaction when you strike 'pay dirt'...is worth the effort" (1959, p. 3).
To facilitate broader access to instructor-assigned books, Mitchell also established a "special reserve" program that limited class materials to a single day loan period. The general collection was expanded to include 600 new books and 140 new periodicals and publications. Many titles acquired at this time are indicative of the economic prosperity and housing boom that immediately followed the austere World War II years. These include nonfiction works such as:
Classes continued on the Ogden Meadows campus through 1958, but in 1950 the Vancouver School District acquired an additional 150 acres of land formerly occupied by Vancouver Barracks that is to this day the present home of Clark College. The district began by building a vocational complex on the parcel acquired for Clark, and the college moved all business and math classes to this satellite campus. And by 1958, the Ogden Meadows campus was fully vacated, and all operations were moved to Clark's sixth and final campus—what would later be designated as its "Central Park campus" (Cannell, 1975).
Walking through Gaiser Hall on move-in day, one might have noticed a stack of liquor boxes in the east wing. But any enterprising, young freshman would have been relieved to find inside the boxes only Jack London, Hemingway, and Camus, not Jack Daniels, Hennessy, or Campari. Liquor boxes, Cannell contended, were the best for moving books.
In 1959, this location saw the movement of the library's reference collection to an open stacks system wherein students were now able to browse and take items directly from the shelf rather than request them from the librarian (ASCC, 1959). Although the library's inspiration for making this shift may be unknowable, it could have been influenced by a Library Journal article circulating at the time written by Dorothy B. Cooper, Assistant Chief Circulation Librarian of the University of Washington (UW). She provides a firsthand account of her library's shift from closed to open stacks. While the transition at UW prompted some "head-shakings and prophecies of doom," Cooper ultimately judged the change to be worthwhile, citing less pressure at the circulation desk, more efficient service, and an expanded use of the collection (1957, p. 507).
Within a couple of years of moving into the new space, the library hired its first full-time reference librarian, Geraldine Davis, to start during the fall of 1961 (pictured below, far right). With this addition, the library now had three professional librarians on its staff including head librarian, Brooks Jenkins, and order librarian, Helen Mitchell.
(Image Attribution: Newly hired faculty members at Clark College. From left: Molly Stenburg, social science; Dr. Billyanna Niland, social science; Virginia Neal, physical education; James McAuliffe, mathematics; and Geraldine Davis, librarian. From ASCC, The Penguin's Progress, 4(1), 1961.)
In 1984, the college honored Cannell by naming the library after him. Six years later and after 32 years in the east wing of Gaiser Hall, the library secured its very first purpose-built location (pictured below). The Lewis D. Cannell Library in its new location opened to students in September 1990 with a dedication ceremony November 7th (Cannell, 1999). It is in this space that students, faculty, staff, and Vancouver residents can today find the support they need in navigating their research and informational pursuits.
(Image Attribution: Lewis D. Cannell Library in its present location. Clark College photograph, 2016)
During the library's dedication ceremony, the library unveiled a large etched glass sculpture created by Seattle artist Norie Sato and titled Branik's Tree (pictured below). The artist considered the sculpture a metaphor for a tree where the "leaves are bits of information hung on our memories... [and] this library provides the means to increase the foliage of our minds" (Floyd-Kvalheim, 1990, p. 1).
(Image Attribution: Branik's Tree sculpture and photograph by Norie Sato, 1990)
The first year in the new library building proved to be a very lively one. To get a sense of this activity, one need only to review some statistics from the library's 1990-1991 Annual Report:
In the following year's report, Former Library Director Leonoor Ingraham-Swets championed the library's major move towards automating its services. For the first time, the library now had an online library catalog, which it shared with the Fort Vancouver Regional Library System and the Camas Public Library. The impact of a World Wide Web—including the technologies made possible thereby—was a recurring theme year after year in the library's annual reports, which covered the last decade of the 20th century.
The aughts were a time of growth for the library. It embraced Web 2.0 or the "social web," creating a blog in 2007, a Facebook profile in 2008, and a Twitter page in 2009. These channels have been used for communicating information related to library resources and programs as well as posing the occasional thought-provoking question.
Around this time, the library also established a satellite location at the Columbia Technical Center on Southeast Mill Plain Boulevard (pictured below). This "Information Commons" (variously stylized iCommons or I-Commons) opened during the summer of 2009, expanding access to library services including research assistance, computer access, study rooms, and a rotating collection of library materials for check-out.
(Image Attribution: Clark College at Columbia Tech Center photograph by Jenny Shadley, 2012)
Our time as students, faculty, staff, or visitors at Clark College and its library, whether brief or long-lasting, is still just a fleeting moment on the stage of human history. But for this one moment, we are the makers of history. How might we influence that history? Will those of us with power and privilege elevate the voices of communities so long excluded from higher education and libraries? Will we be firm and unapologetic in confronting characteristics of white supremacy culture as they manifest in ourselves and others? How can our physical and online spaces be not just accessible but welcoming?
Institutions across the board have for so long perpetuated the evils of racism, sexism, ageism, and ableism (among others). Let's perpetuate something else for a change. Together.
(Image Attribution: Stack of books on topics of compassion and social justice, Clark College photograph, 2023).
Associated Students of Clark College (1948, September 30). Lectures on library functions held for frosh. Penguin's Progress, 2(2), 1. https://digitalcollections.clark.edu/newspapers/files/original/e14672f892726fc1c0c3f870b9e9384f.pdf
Associated Students of Clark College (1948, September 30). Special reserve shelves organized in Clark Library. Penguin's Progress, 2(2), 1. https://digitalcollections.clark.edu/newspapers/files/original/e14672f892726fc1c0c3f870b9e9384f.pdf
Associated Students of Clark College (1959, October 9). Reference books in open section. The Penguin's Progress, 2(3), 1. https://digitalcollections.clark.edu/newspapers/files/original/b77df77c24e21af3e729c91b95a955c8.pdf
Associated Students of Clark College (1961, September 15). Five instructors join faculty. The Penguin's Progress, 4(1), 2. https://digitalcollections.clark.edu/newspapers/files/original/bc14504a62751608b24cfd2326a1884a.pdf
Cooper, D. B. (1957). Open stacks open new doors. Library Journal, 82, 507-508.
Lewis D. Cannell Library Annual Report (1990-1991).
Lewis D. Cannell Library Annual Report (1991-1992).
We acknowledge that Clark College’s main campus is located on the ancestral lands of the federally recognized tribe of the Cowlitz and Lower Columbia Peoples. Truth and acknowledgment are critical to building mutual respect and connection across all barriers of heritage and difference. We pay respects to the indigenous elders, past and present, as we respectfully consider the many legacies of violence, erasure, displacement, migration, and settlement that bring us together today.
We also acknowledge that our nation has benefited and profited from the free enslaved labor of Black people. We honor the legacy of the African diaspora and Black life, and the knowledge, skills, and human spirit that persevere in spite of violence and White supremacy.