With the passage of House Bill 6 in 1905, the Oregon Library Commission was created in order to “give advice to all schools, free and other public libraries, and to all communities which may propose to establish them, as to the best means of establishing and maintaining such libraries, the selection of books, cataloging and other details of library management." The salary of the secretary of the commission was $1,200 a year and the commission was allotted an operating budget of $2,000.
Cornelia Marvin was appointed the first secretary of the commission, which consisted of the governor, state superintendent of public instruction, president of the University of Oregon, librarian of the Portland Library Association, and one other appointee.
At the end of the first year, the library commission had made materials available to 45 rural communities and small cities in Oregon and circulated 6,700 books. The commission also recognized the importance of providing accurate information to the Legislature by looking up laws and reports from other states in order to “avoid the mistakes of others, and adopt the laws which have operated successfully."
In 1907, Senate Bill 136 passed, creating an act “to provide for the binding and distribution of public documents," which is now called the Oregon Documents Depository Program. (For more information on this topic, please see the Centennial page, or reference Oregon's Documents Depository Laws and Policies: Past and Present by Barbara Moberg.)
In 1911, Oregon became the first state in the nation to have a mail order library service, made possible by the Oregon Library Commission.
In 1913, the Oregon Library Commission officially became the State Library, and the secretary of the commission became the state librarian, with Cornelia becoming the first state librarian. The group that formerly made up the library commission now made up the Board of Trustees of the State Library. The Board of Trustees was created to “...keep the close connection between the library and other educational interests," and took on the responsibilities of the commission. The State Library took over all federal, state, and general books which had previously belonged to the Supreme Court Library. About 40,000 state and federal documents were transferred at this time.
During World War I, war service responsibilities were added to the services provided by the State Library including: educational courses, distribution of books and pamphlets to housewives and military camps, and the establishment of the War Libraries Fund. In 1919, Cornelia was appointed the State Historian of Defense for Oregon (see Laws of 1919, chapter 400), and was assigned to collect and preserve the records of Oregon's war service.
Cornelia's efforts to develop free library service across the state had long-lasting impact. The number of public libraries in Oregon grew from 3 to 82 during her tenure as State Librarian. Cornelia left the State Library in 1928, marrying former Oregon governor Walter M. Pierce, who became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1932.
Cornelia was a strong proponent of eugenics and a supporter of the American Breeders Association. She backed the fight for the enactment of eugenics laws in Oregon, which sought to improve the genetic quality of the human race by restricting marriage and reproductive rights for individuals deemed degenerate. She “viewed her promotion of the sterilization law as an extension of her responsibilities as State Librarian and also as a tool for improving society" (Gunselman, 2009). Walter Pierce was known to be affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan, and in 1923 signed the Oregon Alien Land Law that banned Japanese and Chinese nationals from buying and leasing land in Oregon. Cornelia was a product of her time and held beliefs that are abhorrent by today's standards and run counter to the State Library's current mission and values.
Gunselman, C. (2009, Fall). “Wheedling, wangling, and walloping" for progress: the public service career of Cornelia Marvin Pierce, 1905-1943. Oregon Historical Quarterly, 110(3). Retrieved from https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A208131433/GPS?u=oregon_sl&sid=GPS&xid=0e30b875