Des Moines Library, first in state partially financed by matching federal funds, is dedicated on December 12, 1965.

  • By Glenn Drosendahl
  • Posted 11/30/2016
  • Essay 20217

On December 12, 1965, the first stand-alone building to house the Des Moines Library is officially dedicated. The new building is the result of a wide-spread community effort, including donations and passage of a city bond issue, but is also noteworthy for being the first library in the state to take advantage of available matching federal funds. That financing strategy will provide a blue print for other libraries in the King County Library System.

Finding Federal Money

The Des Moines Library was badly in need of a building of its own by 1960. Founded in 1924, it had resided in a small annex of the Des Moines Fieldhouse since 1946, two years after it joined the King County Library System (KCLS), and that cramped space had become increasingly uncomfortable and inadequate. On March 23, 1960, the Des Moines-Zenith Improvement Club, which had helped found the library back in 1924 and provided it a home in its clubhouse for most of its first two decades, called a meeting of all the city's civic organizations to address the problem of finding a new home for the library. The meeting led to the formation of the Des Moines Library League with Marian Duffy as president. A site on 24th Street S was selected, and the league subsequently launched a drive to raise the money to buy it.

One of the leaders of the fundraising effort, W. E. Difford, learned that grant money was available through the Federal Library Services and Construction Act. Through KCLS, the league applied for federal matching funds totaling $40,000. The city then put on the November 3, 1964, ballot a $35,000 bond issue to fund purchase of the site and to build and equip the new library.

The population of Des Moines was a little less than 3,000 at the time. There was some controversy about whether it was fair to ask those living within the city limits to shoulder the whole bill when they constituted only about one third of those using the library, which also served residents of the smaller city of Normandy Park, just north of Des Moines along the Puget Sound shoreline, and some surrounding areas. Nevertheless, Des Moines voters approved the bond measure with 66 percent of the vote in favor. The league turned over to the city $9,500 it had raised, qualifying the project for the federal money. Donors included 18 civic groups, 15 businesses, and individuals from both inside and outside the city limits.

"A Big First Step"

Construction began in July 1965 on the site at 22815 24th Street S. The completed building was 4,548 square feet, a huge increase in size over the 283-square-foot fieldhouse annex that the library had called home for the past 19 years. The new Des Moines Library had parking for 18 cars and its collection included more than 23,000 books, plus magazines and records. The total cost of the project was $84,500.

The new building was the first in the state to be completed under the federal Library Services and Construction Act -- a distinction noted at the dedication ceremony on December 12, 1965. State Librarian Maryan Reynolds said, "You folks were the guinea pigs in the project of working for matching funds. Everyone else will benefit from your actions" ("Library Officially Opened"). The King County Library System's newsletter called the dedication "a big first step in the development of a satisfactory library building program for King County" ("Des Moines Library is Big First Step").

The Des Moines Library operated in the building that opened in 1965 for more than two decades. In 1986, Des Moines voters again approved a library bond measure to fund construction of a new larger building. That 10,230-square-foot building, located on 11th Avenue S, opened in 1988. Remodeled in in 2002 and renovated in 2007-2008, it remains the home of the Des Moines Library.


One Hundred Years of the "Waterland" Community: A History of Des Moines, Washington ed. by Richard T. Kennedy (Des Moines: City of Des Moines, 1989), 71-72; Margaret A. Farrell, "Library Now Too Small" (letter to the editor), Des Moines Tribune, September 4, 1963; "Library League Needed," Ibid., August 28, 1963; Byron Fish, "Little Des Moines Library Proposition Watched by Others," The Seattle Times, October 29, 1964, p. 20; "Des Moines to Dedicate Library," Ibid., December 5, 1965, p. 46; "Library Officially Opened," Des Moines Advertiser News, December 15, 1965, p. 1; "Des Moines Library is Big First Step," King County Library System News & Notes, January 1966, p. 1.

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