Kingsgate Library, King County Library System

  • By Michael Schein
  • Posted 10/28/2016
  • Essay 20165
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Everybody loves a wedding, and the Kingsgate Library is so beloved by its community that two bibliophiles chose it to host their marriage ceremony. That is apropos for a library that broke ground on Valentine's Day in 1973. The Kingsgate plateau is an approximately 2.3-square-mile area located north of Totem Lake, east of I-405, south of Woodinville, and west of the Sammamish Valley. The Kingsgate Library's service area extends west of I-405 to encompass northern parts of the Juanita neighborhood of Kirkland, and northward to include parts of south Bothell and Woodinville. The library opened its doors to the public in November 1973, supplanting bookmobile service that the King County Library System (KCLS) had provided since 1953. The Kingsgate neighborhood was mostly farms and forest back then, and was part of unincorporated King County. By the time the library opened, Kingsgate's character was more suburban and residential. The area became part of the City of Kirkland in 2010. As of a 2009 study, the library served more than 205,000 people annually. With the opening of a completely renovated facility in April 2016, Kingsgate Library prepared to handle growth and change over the coming decades.

Early Kingsgate and Origins of the Library

The Kingsgate plateau, also known as Evergreen Hill, was first logged in the 1880s. Timber was processed at sawmills located around Totem Lake, and also in the Juanita/Kirkland area on the northeastern shore of Lake Washington. In the 1920s and 1930s, several dairy farms were established in the Kingsgate area with the aid of Puget Power's Farm Electrification Program. Kingsgate maintained a primarily rural character until the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, at which time rapid suburban development and the 1973 opening of Totem Lake Mall changed it from farming to largely residential use, both single-family and multifamily.

The Kingsgate area began enjoying KCLS bookmobile service in 1953, 20 years before its library opened its doors. The bookmobile, nicknamed "Belinda," was a beloved resource connecting rural areas such as Kingsgate to literature and culture. "Books by mail" was another KCLS service that connected rural communities to the library. But as the population of Kingsgate grew through the 1960s and early 1970s, it became clear that the time had come for Kingsgate to get its own library building.

A 1964 expansion of the Federal Library Service and Construction Act of 1957 made matching funds available for construction of new libraries and, in 1966, King County voters approved a library bond. With funds from this bond, KCLS agreed to provide the Kingsgate area with a building, books, a professional librarian, and 80 percent of operating expenses, with the community expected to provide 20 percent of operating expenses. Construction bids were opened in the first week of December 1972, based on a design by the firm of Beckwith, Spangler & Davis of Lake Hills, and the contract was awarded to Wilcox Construction Company. A photograph of the groundbreaking on February 14, 1973, at 2:30 p.m., shows a man with a shovel in front of a sign with a big heart drawn on it. Although the new library was expected to open in June 1973, weather conditions and lack of a paved access road caused delays. The Kingsgate Library opened for community use on November 19, 1973, at 11 a.m. It was the 41st library in the King County Library System.

The new library was located at 12315 NE 143rd Street, on a one-acre wooded parcel just west of the intersection with 124th Avenue NE, which is the major thoroughfare through Kingsgate. The library was 10,235 square feet, with capacity for expansion, and cost $325,500. It opened with 30,000 volumes but had the capacity to hold 40,000, and was additionally designed with a large multi-purpose community meeting room, and a staff lounge and work area. Kingsgate was an early example of environmental design sensitivity. The siting maximized preservation of existing trees. Tall bay windows helped to connect the interior to the beauty of the wooded environment. The building featured an unobtrusive brick veneer with bronze aluminum windows, a low-silhouette roof with skylights, and pre-weathered architectural sheet metal. According to a description initially published in 1975:

"Protected by surrounding trees in a secluded residential area, this red brick building with its floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows is a gracious addition to the area. From inside looking out to natural trees and shrubs, it is a serene atmosphere for browsing and study" ("Kingsgate Library 2009 Community Study," 3-4).

The official opening celebration, held on December 9, 1973, from 2 to 5 p.m., was attended by approximately 150 people. The guest of honor was Dr. Irving Lieberman (1914-1998), a member of the Washington State Library Commission and Director of the University of Washington School of Librarianship. The master of ceremonies was a Kingsgate resident, former KOMO-TV reporter and future U.S. Representative Rod Chandler (b. 1942). An invocation was given by Reverend Robert E. Reith of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, who stated that participants were "dedicating not a building, but an ideal" (Lanham). Beckwith, the architect, said that "the building symbolizes human resources available to all of us" (Lanham). Kingsgate Boy Scout Troop 424 performed a flag ceremony, and Karl Lo (1935-2007), president of the newly-formed Friends of the Kingsgate Library, accepted the key on behalf of the library. Music was provided by the Woodwind Quartet, featuring Kingsgate resident David Taylor of the Seattle Symphony on bassoon, with Douglas Sorenson, clarinet; Doren Lindelian, French horn; Janet Stein, oboe; and Sharon Cragun, flute. A big sign over the entryway read: "The Library is a People Place" (Lanham).

Kingsgate Library: 1970s through 1990s

The first Kingsgate head librarian was Natalie Ervin, assisted by Margaret Ellsworth, children's librarian, along with five clerical staff members and four pages. Ervin always wanted to be a librarian, but she grew up in a time when women had fewer freedoms, and her father was against it. She followed the traditional path into marriage, raised three children, but never set the dream aside. Ervin served for eight years as reference librarian at the Bellevue Library before becoming Kingsgate's first head librarian. Her approach was decidedly modern and welcoming: "I'm looking for a living, thriving library, not a silent, cold hall. ... We're hoping for a friendly, casual atmosphere" (Horning).

Among early Kingsgate Library activities in 1973 and 1974, documented in news clippings kept in a Friends of the Library scrapbook, were puppeteer Joan King with her show "The Magic Onion," a talk about "The Trolls of Norway" presented by "Grandpa" Arthur Stavig, a drama class for 4-to-5-year-olds taught by Joyce Wagar, story hours, puppet making, book sales, quilting, a children's art show, an author discussion about capital punishment, music by a brass ensemble, Christmas Carol singing, a talk and slide show about the USSR, and screening of a rare Edward S. Curtis film about the Kwakiutl tribe of Vancouver Island. The zeitgeist of the Seventies is reflected in programs such as "Discomania" dance lessons, special bicentennial programming, and a lecture by the founder of the New Age Foundation on UFOs and ESP. The influence of feminism was felt in a program for women called "What You Need to Know to Manage by Yourself" and films on childbirth education. As the 1980s came around, the library was hosting regular author events and even, in 1981, a short-story-writing contest. In 1988, the library hosted its 15th-anniversary celebration, featuring cake, flowers, balloons, and a brass band.

Three years later, Kingsgate Library experienced the joy of hosting a wedding. On New Year's Eve, December 31, 1991, two of its most loyal patrons, Karen Aileen Mackie and Peter Anton (Tony) Kuster, exchanged their marriage vows in the library meeting room. Mackie and Kuster were known for showing up together two minutes before closing and rounding up an armful of books to check out. They read everything from bestsellers to works on architecture. The couple had planned a private ceremony with only two witnesses, but after they told their families about their plans the guest list quickly expanded to about 50 guests, and the search was on for a place to accommodate the wedding on short notice. Head librarian Louise Blain offered up "the newly-remodeled meeting room of the library" ("Avid Library Fans ..."), and the couple accepted. To make it an even more literary affair, the head librarian at Highline Community College acted as officiating minister. The bride, wearing a blue-jean jumpsuit, decorated the room at 4 p.m. with red poinsettias, then after a quick change and the closing of the library, the ceremony began at 5 p.m., accompanied by a live pianist. In September 2016, with the couple nearing their 25th anniversary, Kingsgate Operations Supervisor Carlene O'Keefe noted that they "still come in today and are part of the Friends of the Library" (O'Keefe interview).

In addition to its many joys, Kingsgate Library also faced its share of sorrow. In the early 1990s, Patricia L. Jackson, who served as Kingsgate's children's librarian from 1982 to 1990, passed away after a struggle with breast cancer. She was honored by the Friends of the Kingsgate Library on March 6, 1993, with the dedication to her memory of a sculpture called "Circle of Joy," by the artist Wendy Reed. The bronze sculpture depicts a vertical circle of playful sea otters chasing one another's tails.

On November 21, 1998, the Kingsgate Library celebrated its 25th anniversary with balloons and refreshments all day, and special activities. A children's museum sampler included mask making, ethnic snacks, songs, crafts, and costumes. At 2 p.m., Vic Mills and Purple Sky were featured in a country-rock family concert, billed as a sing-along hootenanny, sponsored by the Friends of the Kingsgate Library.

The Library in the Twenty-first Century

The 1973 library building was renovated in the fall of 1991, but it was not until the cusp of the new millennium in 1999 that "[t]he library's roof was replaced and electrical system updated ..., facilitating the addition of electronic services unavailable -- and unimagined -- at the time of the library's original construction" ("Kingsgate Library 2009 Community Study," 4). Computers were added, and by 2009, there were 17 public workstations, six public laptops, and four catalog-only terminals in regular use. In 2006, shelving was reconfigured to house 80,000 volumes and to create distinct adult and teen/children's areas.

The increase in physical volumes was of great value, yet perhaps not as significant as the increase in access to information through digital services and eBooks. "The Kingsgate Library is the sole provider of public access to computers in the Kingsgate area" ("Community Discovery Report ....," 3). This invaluable service supports area seniors, students, job-seekers, and those on limited incomes. In addition:

"The teen librarian also oversees a number of teen volunteers from Kamiakin Junior High school who select the library for their CAPStone project, which is composed of volunteer hours in the community and includes creation of a project that has some 'benefit to the community.' From these partnerships have come several collaborative programs such as the Teen Poetry Coffee House and the Teen Science Fiction/Fantasy Book Group" ("Kingsgate Library 2009 Community Study," 12).

The Kingsgate Library's circulation in 2014 was 422,791 items, but it dropped the next year to 201,360 items while the library building was closed for major renovation from May 2015 until its grand reopening on April 30, 2016. During the closure, operations were moved to a small temporary facility across 124th Avenue NE. When the library reopened, its HVAC, electrical, and technological systems had been completely rebuilt. Seismic upgrades improved safety. More computer space and a dedicated ADA terminal were added. There was a striking new vaulted ceiling, which with more floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights increased the interior's natural light. Two study rooms -- a particular wish of patrons -- were built, and separate teens' and children's areas were created. After the reopening, in the five-month period from May to September 2016, Kingsgate patrons checked out 159,287 items.

A snapshot of program offerings as of September 2016 included "Poke Mania," a Pokemon-related craft, snack and battle event; Japanese-language stories, games and songs; toddler story time; preschooler story time; study zone for free homework help from trained volunteers; "Game On!" for teen gamers; one-on-one computer help for adults; training on use of eBooks; "Talk Time" to practice conversational English and learn about American culture; a workshop on "Green Cleaning," the making and using non-toxic home cleaning products; a monthly book-group meeting; and a four-part class on finances, including credit, budgeting, banking, and risk management (insurance).

In 2016, the library registered 923 new KCLS card holders, an increase of 120 percent over 2015. Most important, however, is the fact that library users are very positive about their experiences at the Kingsgate Library. A 2009 survey reported nearly unanimous satisfaction with the library, and quoted comments that included:

"I love this library and everyone is always helpful! It's a great resource to the community and I am happy to see so many young people using the library!

"The Kingsgate Library is such an important and fun part of my life. I just want to thank the staff, who are above and beyond helpful and make the experience a joy!

"I like coming here -- it is a very pleasant atmosphere. I enjoy the displays and have participated in bringing quilts and a collection to display. The [used] books and magazines for sale are great. Good work -- keep it up!

"The librarians are all extremely helpful and knowledgeable -- and patient in helping me research items and locate books" ("Kingsgate Library 2009 Community Study," 14).

No statistics are needed to see that the Kingsgate Library lives up to the great big heart of its Valentine's Day groundbreaking.

Sources: Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "King County Library System" (by Paula Becker), (accessed October 7, 2016); "About Kingsgate Library," King County Library System (KCLS) website accessed October 6, 2016 (; "Kingsgate Bond Project," KCLS website accessed October 6, 2016 (; "2015 Annual Report," KCLS website accessed September 20, 2016 (; "2014 Annual Report," KCLS website accessed September 20, 2016 (; "Kingsgate Library 2009 Community Study," KCLS website accessed September 15, 2016 (; "Community Discovery Report for the Kingsgate Library Service Area," May 29, 2013, copy in possession of Michael Schein, Carnation, Washington; "Kingsgate Library in Kirkland Holds Grand Opening on Saturday Morning," Kirkland Reporter, April 26, 2016 (; "Kingsgate Library Closed for Renovations," Ibid., May 6, 2015 (; Ashley McCuen, "Kingsgate Library Design Team Puts Families First in Renovation," Ibid., June 12, 2015 (; Matt Phelps, "Part 1: The History of Kirkland's Totem Lake Malls," Ibid., January 12, 2011 (; Susan Lanham, "Kingsgate Library Opens as Place for People and Books," Eastside Journal, December 12, 1973, p. D-6; "Avid Library Fans Married at Favorite Place -- Kingsgate Library," Kirkland Courier, January 15, 1992, p. 4; "Mackie and Kuster Married at Kingsgate Library December 31, 1991," The Woodinville Weekly, January 7, 1992, p. 5; Steve Johnston, "Check It Out: Literature-loving Couple Marries in Library," The Seattle Times, January 3, 1992, p. E-3; Lorrie Horning, "The Friends of the Kingsgate Library Scrapbook, 1972-1981," Kingsgate Library, Kirkland, Washington; "Kingsgate Library Plans Ready; Completion Scheduled June, '73," Northshore Citizen, August 9, 1972, and Nancy Schultz, "Kingsgate Library Delayed 'til Fall," Ibid., January 17, 1973, news clippings, "The Friends of the Kingsgate Library Scrapbook, 1972-1981," Kingsgate Library; "Kingsgate Library, Display Case Notebook, 1996," Kingsgate Library; Michael Schein interview with Carlene O'Keefe, Operations Supervisor, Kingsgate Library, September 29, 2016, notes in possession of Michael Schein, Carnation, Washington.

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