The Redmond Library, which began in 1927 in a rented storefront as a volunteer project of the Nokomis Club, has grown with the community into the busiest library in the King County Library System (KCLS). New facilities in 1929, 1933, 1964, and 1975 all predated the tech boom that transformed Redmond. The current Redmond Library building, which opened in 1999, is high-tech, big, diverse, busy, and chock full of things to discover. It is also able to provide a cozy fireplace to curl up by with a good book, or a window seat for a parent and child to share while reading a story. It has not always been easy, but the Redmond Library has risen to the challenge of fulfilling its place both as a virtual global hub and as the local library for a small city.
An Overview of Redmond History
The town at the north end of Lake Sammamish that became Redmond was first called Salmonburg, after the migrating salmon that were so thick in the Sammamish Slough that they could be hauled out with a rake. The first settlers to stake claims in the area were the Luke McRedmond and Warren Perrigo families, both in 1871. By 1880, when the new wagon road to Kirkland, located to the west on the eastern shore of Lake Washington, opened, some 50 families had settled what was by then called the town of Melrose, named after Warren Perrigo's brother's hotel. Farms were cleared by using hot coals or burning pitch to weaken the base of the giant firs and cedars until they fell, and then trimming and hauling them to timber mills by ox cart.
The unincorporated town of Redmond barely grew, but at least it didn't shrink and disappear. Rail service came in 1889. By the turn of the century Redmond's population was 271. By 1912, when citizens considered incorporating, the town was one resident short of the statutorily-required 300 -- until a baby was born in November, which allowed incorporation on December 31, 1912.
Redmond's population reached 503 in 1940, when the first Lake Washington bridge was built, and by 1960 it was still less than 1,500. With the post-war baby boom, the blossoming of suburbia, and the completion of the Evergreen Point floating bridge in 1963, Redmond had its first big growth spurt, to slightly more than 10,000 people by 1970.
Redmond's story, of course, is entwined with that of a little software company founded in 1975 by Bill Gates (b. 1955) and his friend Paul Allen (b. 1953). Initially headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then in Bellevue, Microsoft moved to the Overlake neighborhood in southwestern Redmond on February 26, 1986. The next month it went public, and the rest is history. Microsoft's 2016 fiscal net annual income was $16.79 billion. As of September 30, 2016, more than 45,000 of Microsoft's 114,000 employees were in the Puget Sound region, so that while they did not all live in Redmond, most commuted in and out of the city. Significantly, in the early 1990s the employee population shot up past the resident population, though the latter was rising steadily, so that as of a 2009 study Redmond's resident population was 52,000, but its workday employee population was 90,000.
Early History of the Redmond Library
"By the shores of Gitchee Gumee
By the shining Big-Sea-Water
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis"
These opening lines to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's (1807-1882) famous poem "Hiawatha" inspired some Redmond women of the early twentieth century to name their newly-formed social club "Nokomis," after the wise grandmother of Hiawatha. On June 3, 1909, six women met at the home of Jennie Williams, elected May Steele Huffman (?-1920) their "Commander-in-Chief," and embarked on the social, literary, and public-service venture that would later spawn a town library. By year's end the membership was 14; within a few years the club limited it to 35 and always had a waiting list. Members met biweekly and then monthly, read poetry and later prose to one another, presented biographies of writers, wrapped and sent Christmas gifts to the orphans at the Industrial Home in Des Moines, donated to needy families and the Red Cross, raised money for reference books and gym equipment for Redmond High School, and funded it all with meeting dues, community dances, card parties, and good cooking.
In 1926 club members served all the meals at the four-day Consolidated Grange Fair, then in the fall the club sponsored a carnival and dinner, and in 1927 presented a very successful play, all of which resulted in an impressive treasury surplus. According to the March 25, 1927, minutes: "the question of how to spend our fortune was finally decided by the club voting to start a library" (Anderson). At the next month's meeting the club voted to lease Postmaster Herman Reed's two-room building, located between the Trading Post and Lentz's Dry Goods on Leary Way, for $10 per month, less three month's credit for painting the exterior. Club members made drapes and painted and papered inside, while their husbands were put to work building the shelves and painting the exterior. The women went door-to-door collecting books, purchased 80 books for $35 from used bookstores, and ordered $115 worth of books from Scribner & Sons, paying $15 down and $5 per month.
Redmond's first library opened on Saturday, October 29, 1927. It was open on four days for a total of 10 hours each week. The new library's 800 volumes were heavily used by a community eager for culture and entertainment. In its first full year of operation, the Redmond Library boasted a circulation of 7,009 books -- not bad for a town with a population of just 400. Over the next two decades, the women of the club catalogued all the books in their ever-growing collection, and took turns volunteering as librarians.
After just two years Reed's building proved too small, and in September 1929 the library moved across the street to a larger room in the Grand Central Hotel Building. The collection expanded in October 1929 with a loan of 300 books from the Washington State Traveling Library. On January 29, 1932, Nokomis Club president Mabel Johnson (1880-1966) gave an inspiring talk about working toward getting the library a building of its own, and a committee was appointed to achieve this goal. The committee's report, approved in December 1932, laid out the depression-era costs for the first library building owned by the club:
"Final report of the Building Committee of Redmond Public Library. Labor $75, Lumber $258.85, Wiring $6.95, Hardware $14.35, Plumbing $50.73, Painting $9.75, Alcohol $1, Light fixtures $3.50. Total paid $420.13. Water meter and fittings donated by the town of Redmond. Installation of same donated by Mr. Pope" (Anderson).
To complete the transaction, on January 5, 1933, Alfred N. "Fred" Brown and his wife Irene W. Brown donated the land at the corner of Kirkland Avenue (now NE 80th Street) and Cedar Street where the new library was built.
The new library, which was only an aspiration in January 1932, was dedicated on Sunday, February 12, 1933. Redmond Mayor Bill Brown spoke, and a short history of the Nokomis Club by June Bartow was placed in the building cornerstone. In 1937 a large clubhouse was added in the back, which was used by the club for fundraising dinners and dances, and rented out to the community for wedding receptions and other events. By 1940, the library held 3,890 volumes, served 1,400 patrons, and had a circulation of 7,610.
Part of the King County Library System
The members of the Nokomis Club continued to fund and operate the Redmond Library until January 1, 1947, when the library became part of the King County Library System, which had been created by county voters four years earlier. It was perhaps no surprise that the first librarian furnished by KCLS was Mamie Orr -- a member of the Nokomis Club since 1922! The Nokomis Club donated its books to KCLS on August 25, 1948.
The Redmond Library's collection had grown to 6,000 volumes by 1952, and circulation had reached 14,268, when in December of that year the club moved the library to the larger clubhouse room in back. Even after turning over its books and library operation to KCLS, the Nokomis Club still owned the library building and furnishings -- in fact, a 1958 judgment of the King County Superior Court confirmed that the club and not the City of Redmond owned the property. And until the library moved in 1964, the club continued to perform or pay for all maintenance, utilities, and insurance on the building that the library occupied.
With the ongoing postwar baby boom and growth of suburbia, the library finally outgrew the Nokomis Club's building. On April 23, 1964, KCLS decided to move the Redmond Library's 17,000-volume collection to larger quarters in the Redmond First Building at 16425 NE 80th Street, renting 2,000 square feet in the building. According to a 1970 article titled "Library Interests Redmondites, Even if They Can't Find It" (Thunemann), an unprecedented 63 percent of library surveys sent out to Redmond residents with their utility bills were returned, yet 23 percent of the respondents didn't know where the library was located. This suggested that the library needed its own building again, and on October 6, 1970, the Redmond City Council passed an ordinance creating a board of library commissioners to oversee the project.
In the spring of 1972, the Friends of Redmond Library was established for the purpose of organizing citizen support for the library. The Friends group and the library commissioners worked together to rally support for a $300,000 Redmond library bond measure, which was placed on the November 7, 1972, ballot. The Friends' election materials argued that the limitations of the existing library had stymied natural growth: it had about 20,000 books and a total circulation of slightly less than 60,000, which was about same as 10 years earlier, while Redmond's population during that time had grown from less than 1,500 to more than 12,000. The bond proposed funding a new 15,000-square-foot library.
The bond measure passed, and on January 9, 1973, the library board approved plans for a new library building sited just east of Redmond City Hall, with a pledge from KCLS to match Redmond's contribution. The job was put out to bid, but when the eight bids were opened on December 20, the lowest was more than $150,000 over budget. The board was forced to reject all bids and go back to the drawing board. Fortunately, with donation of land by the city, and cutbacks in size and design, the next round of bidding permitted acceptance of a $519,724 bid by Keta Construction Company for construction of a 13,000-square-foot facility.
Ground was broken in April 1974, but work was halted in July by a masons' strike, followed by a lockout of all construction workers by Associated General Contractors. By September work had resumed and the library was expected to open in late May 1975. Further bad luck plagued the project in the form of a delay in shipments of metal shelving from the East Coast that held up transfer of books from the old library, and it was not until August 1975 that the new library finally opened. The official dedication ceremony was held on September 14, 1975. Unlike the first Redmond Library construction project back in the early 1930s, which took 13 months from conception to dedication, this one took more than five years, but the net result was worth the effort. Redmond once again had a library everyone in the community could find, in its own building, taking a place next to the other major municipal institutions.
A New Regional Hub
Within a few years of Microsoft's move to Redmond in 1986, it became clear that local institutions would need to meet the rapidly changing and expanding needs of a new kind of community that now included sophisticated tech workers from all over the world. In 1990, city voters took a step toward this goal approving the annexation of the Redmond Library to the King County Library System. It was, however, too late to have a Redmond project included in the 1988 county-wide KCLS library bond measure. Consequently, the Redmond Library would not be able to expand or rebuild for some time without finding another source of funding. Yet the need was becoming increasingly acute. By 1994, circulation was about 450,000, and the library was plagued by overcrowding. A 1996 article said of the library: "From that bunker-like information center, there are days when you'd be hard pressed to find an empty seat, let alone a computer terminal" (Lee, 3).
In early 1996 a group called the Friends of the New Redmond Library was formed specifically to push two city-wide ballot measures that would create a Library Capital Facilities District and authorize issuance of a $7 million library bond. The first would pass if it received a simple majority; the second required a 60 percent supermajority. According to Brad Patrick, campaign co-chair, "we are calling it our 'yes-yes vote'" ("Redmond Will Vote"). The campaign for the new library emphasized that when the existing library opened in 1975 Redmond was a small city of about 11,000 just emerging from its agricultural roots, not yet on the forefront of technological innovation, whereas by 1996 it was a city of 41,000, home to Microsoft, Nintendo, and many smaller high-tech companies, experiencing rapid growth and change. Although $1 million was set aside for a 7,000-square-foot expansion of the existing facility if the 1996 measures failed to pass, the proponents argued that cement walls and outdated wiring prevented upgrading the existing library to meet even the then-existing needs of the community, let alone anticipated future needs.
On September 17, 1996, Redmond voters approved both measures in support of the proposed 30,000-square-foot library, which represented a giant leap forward from the 13,000-square-foot facility built in 1975. Unlike anything Redmond had aspired to before, this new library was to be a regional hub on a par with the other four KCLS regional libraries in Bellevue, Bothell, Federal Way, and Kent, intended not only to serve its immediate community, but also to attract patrons from all over King County.
But when the plans were shown to the public in April 2008, the library almost had to go back to the drawing board because of public outcry (including from the Redmond mayor and part of the city council) that the proposed new library was "flat-out ugly," "a slab-sided monstrosity," and " another example of the tyranny of modern architecture" ("New Redmond Library About Ready ...," "New Redmond Library OK'd," "Books Yes ..."). The library facilities board nonetheless approved the design, so a construction contract was let to Kassel Construction, and ground was broken in September 1998.
The new Redmond Regional Library opened to the public on November 10, 1999, and celebrated its official dedication on November 20. At 30,000 square feet, Redmond's new library was second only to the Bellevue Library in size. It housed 150,000 circulating items and 62 computers (six catalog-only and 56 loaded with the latest Microsoft software and connected to the internet), including a 10-station computer lab for teaching Microsoft Office and other computer skills. There was a large meeting room with a 164-person capacity, as well as smaller rooms for tutoring, storytelling, or smaller meetings. The ceiling over the 18,000-square-foot reading room was vaulted into 12 separate bays to break up the interior into separate areas.
Artworks and Literary Events
Adding a homey touch, the Redmond Library offered the only gas fireplace in the county library system. Featured art included Wisdom Seekers by Tony Angell (b. 1940), a large granite and bronze sculpture of four ravens, symbolizing curiosity, and four concrete gargoyles by Seattle sculptor David Jacobson in the image of writers Saul Bellow (1915-2005), Toni Morrison (b. 1931), Raymond Carver (1938-1988), and Joyce Carol Oates (b. 1938), that actually functioned as part of the roof's rain gutter system.
From the start, the library was home to literary events featuring authors as famous as those whose images adorned the library -- and in one case, one of those writers herself. A few months after the opening, on April 26, 2000, in celebration of National Poetry Month, the Redmond Library hosted United States Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky (b. 1940), who was known for making poetry accessible and fun. Notable literary events in the decade following the opening also included a visit by Joyce Carol Oates on March 12, 2001, to view her gargoyle image, and an autumn 2008 visit by author Sherman Alexie (b. 1966), which demonstrated the limits of even the grandest library meeting room -- his talk had to be held at the Redmond High School auditorium in order to accommodate the 300 Alexie fans in attendance.
More artworks were added in the years following the opening. On October 6, 2002, the Friends of the New Redmond Library opened the Doolittle Art Garden on the north side of the library, named in memory of Edgar J. Doolittle, a volunteer who served on the Redmond Library Board and supported the Friends group's work. The peaceful little sculpture park was devoted to work by local artists. The collection included a bronze piece, Salmon Rising, by Dean Fredrickson, and the exquisite totem Fawn and Bird, a carving in red cedar by legendary Redmond woodcarver Dudley Carter, who spent half of his 101 years in the city. A red-cedar totem-like carving called Tribute, by Fredrickson, a student of Carter, was also installed in the garden. Tribute was done in Carter's style as a tribute to his legacy, and to the legacy of the Native Americans who first occupied the land that is now Redmond. Fish Boy, by Paula Rey Hawk Cowdrey, depicting a boy hugging a salmon cast in bronze, was added in 2003.
The entryway of the library also displayed major pieces by Dudley Carter: Bird Woman (1947), Rivalry of the Winds (1932), and Desert Scout (1960). The first two of these pieces towered over the tallest visitors, serving as reminders that the library is a repository of beauty and wonder, as well as of books and information.
Around the same time that the Friends of the New Redmond Library opened the art garden, the group ran into an unexpected controversy when a fund-raising project brought up issues of censorship versus free speech. Donors purchased engraved paving tiles to be installed in the library walkway, and conflicting messages brought the project to an early close. The library installed the controversial tiles, along with a disclaimer that "The views expressed on the tiles are those of the sponsors, not the King County Library System" (Perry).
Shortly after the opening of the new Redmond Library, KCLS opened the Nonprofit Philanthropy Research Center, run by Jeannette Privat, at the library. A valuable resource for nonprofit organizations, the center was affiliated with and supported by the Foundation Center of New York. While there was already a nonprofit center at the Seattle Public Library, the one established at the Redmond Library was the first on the Eastside, and has been very busy and well-received. There are three computers at the Redmond Library dedicated to nonprofit formation, funding, and research. The center does a great deal of outreach with area schools, colleges, and nonprofit boards, and has helped seed other nonprofit-research centers around the Washington.
On March 7, 2009, as the 100th anniversary of the Nokomis Club approached, a special art piece was dedicated and placed in the entryway to the Redmond Library. The work by John Tapert, called Nokomis -- Women of Vision, consisted of five colored-glass panels depicting 12 of the earliest members of the club. Also in 2009, the Redmond Library benefitted from a light remodel, funded by a 2004 KCLS library bond measure. The work included new paint, carpets, desks, lighting, lowering of some shelving, and addition of new displays.
Busiest of the Busiest
In 2012, Redmond surpassed the Bellevue Library as the busiest library in a King County Library System that, in 2010, had itself become the busiest library system in the United States. Redmond never looked back, and has consistently been the busiest through 2015, the last full year statistics were available. The Redmond Library circulated 1,454,486 items in 2012. Its circulation numbers dropped off a bit since then, as eBook downloads have increased, but the library continued to hum with activity.
As of late 2016, the Redmond Library was open seven days a week, for a total of 67 hours each week. In a two-week period in October 2016, the library presented several Story Time programs for infants, young toddlers, toddlers, preschoolers, families, Chinese and Russian speakers; sessions on playing in and learning Chinese; several levels of classes on Microsoft Word; classes on budgeting, job searching, writing a cover letter, and writing a resume; social services drop-ins with the Redmond homeless outreach specialist; Next Steps Resource Center, a multi-agency social services guide and referral service; multiple teen study zones; several book group discussion sessions; Talk Time classes to practice conversational English and learn about American culture; American-citizenship-preparation classes; a young authors' club meeting; several sessions of one-on-one computer help; an introduction to snowshoeing; and talks on emergency preparedness, Medicare, homelessness on the Eastside, dealing with holiday stress, and more. In the first 10 months of 2016, the Redmond Library presented a total of 88 early-literacy sessions, 227 teen and children's programs, 57 lifelong-learning (adult) programs, 109 computer-use sessions, 6 library-use sessions, 31 citizenship classes, and 227 diversity programs, to a total audience of 18,276 people.
As library patrons came and went from all these activities, they passed by the Nokomis -- Women of Vision images of the club members who founded Redmond's first library nine decades earlier. It is fitting that the women who started it all were still presiding over what had grown into the King County Library System's busiest library.