On November 20, 1999, a gala dedication celebration is held for the newest and second-largest library in the King County Library System (KCLS), located in Redmond, home to tech giants Microsoft and Nintendo. The library first opened to the public on November 10. The formal dedication ceremony held 10 days later includes dozens of speeches, ceremonies, and performances, including an appearance by poet Tess Gallagher (b. 1943), widow of writer Raymond Carver (1938-1988), who is on hand to celebrate the fact that likenesses of Carver, and several other famous authors, appear in the form of gargoyles on the roof of the new library. During the afternoon more than 3,000 people tour the new 30,000-square-foot facility, enjoying clowns, classical music, a magician, and storytelling. As befits a library in a city that is synonymous with high tech, the new library has 62 computers available for public use, most of which are internet-connected, and a computer lab dedicated to teaching computer literacy. The new facility is the second-largest KCLS library, and in time it will surpass even Bellevue, the largest, in circulation.
Planning and Building
Redmond was a sleepy little Eastside city that suddenly found itself the center of the worldwide software revolution in the late 1980s. Its existing library was inadequate for the resulting population explosion, or to serve its increasingly diverse and tech-savvy constituency. On September 17, 1996, Redmond voters approved city-wide ballot measures to create a Library Capital Facilities District and to authorize issuance of a $7 million library bond. At 30,000-square-feet, this new Redmond Library would join Bellevue, Bothell, Federal Way, and Kent as one of five regional libraries in KCLS's library system offering in-depth reference services, computer labs, and computer-training classes.
The planning proved to be a bit more complicated than anticipated. First, it was determined that the new library needed to be moved to the corner of NE 85th Street and 160th Avenue NE. A parcel swap between the city and the county solved that problem. But when the plans for the new library were unveiled in April 1998, they sparked public outcry. It was a classic battle between traditionalists and modernists, in which modernists were represented by the angular single story-building designed by the architects, and the traditionalists, including Mayor Rosemarie Ives and city councilmember Richard Grubbs, complained about "the tyranny of modern architecture" ("Books Yes ..."). A group of retirees wrote a letter of protest to the Redmond City Council. "It stinks!" and "flat-out ugly" were some of the epithets quoted in the local papers ("Retirees Take Issue ...," "New Redmond Library About Ready ...,"). In response, the proponents drew up a cartoon of a Carnegie-style library in a tree with a steep ladder up to the entrance, with the caption: "and now for 'something more classical, with a peaked roof and pediments ... something taller ... something that reflects Northwest chateau architecture ....' (unfortunately it only has room for 200 volumes)" (SVR Design Company cartoon).
The controversy was laid to rest by the Redmond Library Capital Facility Board, which approved the design at the end of April, opening the way to a bidding process won by Kassel Construction. Work got underway with groundbreaking in September 1998. Concerns about the library's design were laid to rest when construction was complete and the public had a chance to experience the building firsthand. The interior was described as "very elegant and functional," and even the mayor, a former critic of the design, conceded that "it's starting to grow on me" ("New Redmond Library About Ready ...").
Ribbon-cutting and Dedication
The new library first opened its doors on Wednesday, November 10, 1999, with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting. The giant scissors that cut the ribbon were held by Clark Schaefer, the young son of two advisory board members, and Helen Usibelli of the Nokomis Club, the Redmond women's club formed in 1909 that founded Redmond's first library in 1927. Usibelli's mother, Lena Ottini, joined the Nokomis Club on May 27, 1910, and served as one of the volunteer librarians in the early years of the Redmond Library.
Ten days later on Saturday, November 20, the Redmond Regional Library was officially dedicated. Before the formal dedication speeches, the library hosted performances by Clowns Unlimited, the Pentair Woodwind Quartet, and the Albert Einstein Elementary School Choir. At noon the speeches began, preceded by flag ceremonies performed by Boy Scout Troop 550 and the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Among the speakers were Marie Woods, Nokomis Club president; Louise Miller, King County Council member and chair of the Redmond Library Capital Facility Board; state representatives Kathy Lambert and Laura Ruderman of the 45th Legislative District; Redmond mayor Rosemarie Ives; Edgar Doolittle, president of the Redmond Library Board; Cathy Ford, representing the Friends of the New Redmond Library; representatives from Bassetti Architects and Kassel Construction Company; poet Tess Gallagher; and Redmond managing librarian Louise Blain. Bill Ptacek (b. 1951), Director of KCLS, acted as master of ceremonies.
Refreshments and a magic show by Toby Wessel followed the speeches. Tours were offered all weekend long, and the festivities continued on Sunday with a presentation called "Mad Science," and another called "Northwest Passages" in which actress Kelly Lloyd of Living Voices portrayed an immigrant at the turn of the twentieth century.
Books and Art
The dedication brochure included descriptions of the new building's principal art pieces, which were very popular during the opening tours. The large sculpture beside the parking lot entrance to the library was described as follows:
"Wisdom Seekers, a bronze and stone sculpture bearing four ravens, was designed by Seattle artist Tony Angell. The Ravens, esteemed for being inquisitive and discerning, sit at the four points of the compass on a vertical base of granite quarried from Washington Rock Quarries in Graham. The piece is positioned near the main entrance to the library and represents the concentration of ideas and information contained in the library" ("Open House and Dedication Ceremony").
The library's art also included Seattle sculptor David Jacobson's four concrete gargoyles, cast in the images of famous writers -- Saul Bellow (1915-2005), Toni Morrison (b. 1931), Joyce Carol Oates (b. 1938), and dedication speaker Tess Gallagher's late husband Raymond Carver -- that were installed atop the roof and functioned to channel rainwater into gutters. The walls of the children's section were lined with photographs of children from around the world taken by Phil Borges, Paula Bock, and Alida Latham, and the "infinity mirrors" placed opposite one another on posts at the entrance to the children's section, allowing children (and their caregivers) to see themselves reflected into infinity, were a very popular feature.
Redmond's new library housed a 150,000-item collection of books, DVDs, CDs, and other materials when it opened. Sixty-two computers, six catalog-only and 56 connected to the internet, were available for public use. There was a large meeting room and smaller rooms for tutoring, storytelling, or smaller meetings. The ceiling over the 18,000-square-foot reading room vaulted into 12 separate bays, which operated to break up the interior into separate areas, including dedicated teen and children's areas. Though big, it was also filled with cozy reading nooks, including rocking chairs and the only fully functional gas fireplace in the King County Library System, perfect for curling up next to with a good book.