Boulevard Park Library becomes first library to join the new King County Library System on December 27, 1943.

  • By Michael Schein
  • Posted 9/26/2016
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20137

On December 27, 1943, the Boulevard Park Library becomes the first library to join the new King County Library System (KCLS), which was created earlier that year. The library had opened on November 10, 1937, in a small building that cost just $351.93 to build. The Boulevard Park neighborhood is located just southwest of Boeing Field, east of White Center, and north of what will later become known as Sea-Tac Airport. At the time the library joins KCLS, World War II is in full swing, and the neighborhood of former truck farms is booming with wartime airplane production and troop transportation. The population boom makes the existing 216-square-foot library building too small to serve the community adequately, but because of wartime shortages it is not immediately possible to build a new building. A new library building will be constructed in 1952 and another in 1971.

Wednesday Social Club Organizes a Library

On April 21, 1937, at the Wednesday Social Club's 10th anniversary meeting, it was moved that "the Wednesday Social Club shall sponsor a library" (Colburn, 5). The motion passed unanimously. The problem was that the club only had $4.85 in its treasury. The women of the club hiked Des Moines Way S -- which in those days was a red-brick road -- and Glendale Way S, from S 116th to S 128th Streets, but could not find a suitable location for the new library. Mansfield Grocery, which was purchasing a new property for the purposes of expansion, came to the rescue by offering one corner of the new lot for use by the fledgling library, free of charge. The new building would be located on S 120th Street, approximately 30 feet east of Des Moines Way S. After that, all that the club needed was -- the building!

The members of the Wednesday Social Club began fundraising and by November 3, 1937, the club was able to enter into a construction contract for a 12-by-18-foot building, for the Depression-era price of $351.93 (equal to approximately $5,800 in 2016 dollars). With the help of substantial volunteer labor, the little building was built and ready in only one week. The Boulevard Park Library opened its doors on November 10, 1937, "with 568 books purchased from King County Library" at a discount, according to a manuscript written in 1976 by Lura M. Colburn (1899-1996), who was involved in the effort to open the library (Colburn, 6). (It is not clear what institution Colburn was referencing, because there was no official King County Library prior to the creation of KCLS in early 1943; searches of city directories, daily newspapers, and the state library's bulletin do not locate a "King County Library" in the 1930s).

Among the items that the Wednesday Social Club purchased as necessary to run a library in 1937 were three light fixtures and bulbs, a broom and dustpan, a galvanized pail, a door mat, two oak chairs, two jars of paste, five bottles of glue, 1,000 date-due cards, 5,000 manila pockets (for the date due-cards), 800 cataloging cards, a rubber stamp and pad, one bottle of ink, and 10 one-cent postcards. The new library also purchased one-year subscriptions to the magazines Open Road for Boys, Boys' Life, Children's Activities, and American Girl.

First to Join

As authorized by a county-wide vote in November 1942, the King County Board of County Commissioners established the King County Rural Library District (later known as the King County Library System, KCLS) on January 4, 1943. As soon as KCLS was ready to accept branches, Boulevard Park stepped up. On December 27, 1943, the Boulevard Park Library became the very first to join the new King County Library System. According to Colburn, the formal agreement, dated January 8, 1944, stated: "The library to be established will be a public library for the free use of any resident of the King County Rural Library District under the rules established by the King County Public Library" (Colburn, 7).

Meanwhile, Boulevard Park's proximity to the Boeing Airplane Co. and Boeing Field, as well as its ready access to troop embarkation ports, was causing a surge in population during World War II, which continued as the economy shifted to peacetime aviation, and again back to war production during the Korean conflict in the early 1950s. The little library was too small to serve the increased population, but KCLS was not yet in a position to fund capital improvements. So the Wednesday Social Club again embarked on fundraising, and was able to raise enough to pay the cost of $7,885 required to build a new library in 1952. This new library housed a collection nearly 10 times the size of the original 1937 library.

The Boulevard Park Library soon outgrew that structure as well. The Boulevard Park Library Guild, as the Wednesday Social Club was now known, began planning for a new building in 1964, but due to funding constraints imposed by the Vietnam War, that building was delayed until 1971. The new building, at more than 6,000 square feet, was about five times the size of the 1952 building, and a big improvement in terms of comfort and functionality. The 1971 building has been renovated twice: once in 1991 and again in 2002. As of mid-2016, it was scheduled for further renovation to begin in late 2016 or 2017

In the decades since Boulevard Park became its first library, KCLS has grown significantly in both size and prestige. In 2004, King County voters approved a $172 million library capital improvement bond. In 2010, KCLS became the busiest library system in the nation in terms of circulation, with more than 22.4 million books, movies, and other media checked out in a single year. In 2011, KCLS received the coveted Gale/Library Journal Library of the Year Award.


Sources:

Lura M. Colburn, "The History of the Boulevard Park Library," typescript dated 1976, available at circulation desk, Boulevard Park Library, Burien, Washington; "Community Study: Boulevard Park Library," typescript dated August 2001, librarian's files, Boulevard Park Library, Burien; "Boulevard Park Library: Community and Facility Analysis," typescript dated 2013, librarian's files, Boulevard Park Library, Burien; "Boulevard Park," King County Library System website accessed June 30, 2016 (http://kcls.org/locations/1494/); "KCLS Stories 2015" (annual report), King County Library System website accessed July 6, 2016 (https://w3.kcls.org/annual_reports/2015%20YIR.pdf); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "King County Library System" (by Paula Becker), and "Boulevard Park Library" (by Michael Schein) http://www.historylink.org (accessed September 26, 2016); "US Inflation Calculator," accessed July 14, 2016 (http://www.usinflationcalculator.com ); Michael Schein interview with Thomas Swaner, KCLS, June 28, 2016, notes in possession of Michael Schein, Carnation, Washington.


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