Issaquah's first library opens on February 16, 1946.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 9/24/2016
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20135

On February 16, 1946, Issaquah's first library opens in the town-council chambers in the East King County community's town hall. A much smaller reading room opened in Issaquah in 1908 but has long since fallen into disuse, and the 1946 library is widely considered to be the town's first "real" library. The approximately 500-square-foot room will serve until 1963, when the library outgrows its quarters and moves into a building of its own.

From Reading Room to Library

In February 1908 a group of Issaquah citizens established a reading room in the back of Enos Guss's barbershop on Front Street in Issaquah. The room had all of 40 books and a few magazines, but after 10 years they were moved to the town hall, where they languished and molded from inattention over the next several decades. Finally in 1945 Issaquahians came together to establish the town's first full-service library. Luckily for the town, the King County Rural Library District, later known as the King County Library System (KCLS), had been established less than three years earlier. Rural communities whose residents otherwise lacked library service could contract with the district and obtain access to books and other services that the district offered.

In December 1945 Issaquah's Kiwanis Club hosted a dinner to help raise money to establish a library and to discuss planning for it. Representatives from both the state and county libraries attended the meeting and explained how the new library system worked. Those present were enthusiastic, but there was a problem. The town needed to enter into a contract with the district in order to join, but the town budget had already been approved for 1946. A new budget wouldn't be prepared until the following autumn. Fortunately, the local Civilian Defense Committee strode to the rescue. World War II had ended just a few months earlier, and the committee now had funds to donate to the cause. Donate it did, and a contract was in place less than a month later.

The town donated the town council chamber for the library, and renovations went quickly and smoothly. What is informally considered to be Issaquah's first real library opened to the public on February 16, 1946, though local students were allowed to visit the day before and register for library cards. Ruby Lindman was the first librarian until her death the following October; she was assisted by Mickie Lortie. The library was open 17 hours a week: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 6 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (By 1950 this had been increased to 22 hours a week.) Lindman's salary was 65 cents an hour for a 78-hour month, or $50.70, but the library generously rounded it up to $51 a month.

A Little Something for Everyone

In its first few weeks the library registered nearly 500 borrowers, most of them children, and that summer began offering a series of story hours for the town's youth. But the library also had plenty for adults -- various articles in the Issaquah Press reported that a variety of gardening books were offered to women, while books that it described as geared toward men were also offered, many of them related to construction and repair. There was also at least one thought-provoking title available: Modern Man Is Obsolete, a recently published book by Norman Cousins discussing the ramifications of the new Atomic Age. The paper added that the library provided the "best in 'escape' reading" ("New Library ..."), such as detective stories and romance. In addition to 1,549 books, the library provided 11 magazines (Consumer's Research was a favorite) and two sets of encyclopedias, one for adults and one for children.

A February 1947 article in the Press proudly boasted of the library's success in its first year. The library reported that it had increased its book count to 2,410, a more than 50 percent increase. More than 17,000 books had been borrowed in the preceding year by the library's 759 registered borrowers (as of the end of 1946), and nearly two thirds of these books were "juvenile titles" ("Local Library ..."). That made sense, since more than 60 percent of the library's members were children. Additionally, the library kept a rotating collection of books on site to meet the changing needs of the community; for example, the Press reported that 100 books of interest to young people were being sent from county library headquarters to the Issaquah Library that week in preparation for visits from eight local high school English classes.

The little library grew steadily through the 1950s. By the end of the decade it was becoming apparent that it was no longer adequate to meet the growing community's needs. Still, not much was done until 1961, when Issaquah -- now a city -- needed more room in its council chambers and suggested taking 140 square feet of shelf space from the library, which now had approximately 3,500 books and was growing, not shrinking. A real solution was needed, and soon. It came when when the Issaquah School District agreed to donate an old cafeteria building, which was in the way of new school construction, after the Library Board offered to move the building at its expense. The building was relocated to Memorial Field behind City Hall in 1962 and remodeled for library use the next year, opening on August 12, 1963.

Two more buildings followed, both built specifically for the library. In 1983 a new Issaquah Library opened in the northwest corner of the city's Memorial Park, and in 2001 the Issaquah Library moved into a 15,000-square-foot building (nearly double the size of the 1983 structure) at the corner of Front Street N and W Sunset Way.


Sources:

Issaquah Library journal (black scrapbook), Issaquah Library archives, in possession of Issaquah Library, Issaquah, Washington; "Library for Community Is Assured," The Issaquah Press, December 20, 1945, clipping, Issaquah Library journal; "New Library Slated to Open on Saturday," The Issaquah Press, February 14, 1946, clipping, Issaquah Library journal; "Local Public Library Now in Operation," The Issaquah Press, February 21, 1946, clipping, Issaquah Library journal; "Library Lists New Books of Interest to Men," The Issaquah Press,, March 23, 1946, clipping, Issaquah Library journal; "Start Series of Story Hours at Local Library," The Issaquah Press,, June 20, 1946, clipping, Issaquah Library journal; "Local Library Is Observing Its First Anniversary," The Issaquah Press, February 20, 1947, clipping, Issaquah Library journal; "Local Library Offers Books on Gardening," The Issaquah Press,, March 27, 1947, clipping, Issaquah Library journal; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Issaquah Library, King County Library System" (by Phil Dougherty), http://www.historylink.org (accessed September 24, 2016).


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