Muckleshoot Library, King County Library System

  • By Fred Poyner IV
  • Posted 9/19/2016
  • Essay 20129

The Muckleshoot Library is located on the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation on the Enumclaw Plateau in southeast King County, midway between the cities of Auburn and Enumclaw. The library began in 1968 in a shared space in the Tribal Community Center. The King County Library System (KCLS) opened a new library in 1975, which shared space in the new Muckleshoot Tribal Center. Three decades later the Muckleshoot Library moved into a modern new 6,000 square-foot structure that opened in 2008 and held more than 21,000 books, magazines, movies, and other materials. The growth of the library over the years mirrored a resurgence in the Muckleshoot Tribe's prosperity, which made it possible to recover ownership of reservation lands, as well as significant growth in tribal population. With its strategic location on the Enumclaw Plateau, the Muckleshoot Library serves not only the reservation community but also a southeastern segment of the city of Auburn as well as portions of unincorporated King County west of Enumclaw between the Green River to the north and the Pierce County line to the south.

Origins with Tribal Community Center

From the start, the Muckleshoot Library has been a joint effort of the Muckleshoot Tribe and the King County Library System. Tribal Chairwoman Florence Starr Wynn (1893-1980) and Betty Jo Van Hoose (1923-1996) of KCLS organized the opening of the first library in 1968. That library was a shared space in the Tribal Community Center, also known as the Muckleshoot Indian Hall, located on the tribe's small quarter-acre of reservation land. The hall, which dated to 1934, was in dire need of many repairs. Following a visit to the reservation by King County Commissioner (and later Washington governor) John Spellman (1926-2018) in May 1969, the Muckleshoot Tribe partnered with the King County Commissioners Neighborhood Youth Corps, the Seattle-South King County Health Department, and several other local groups to secure federal funding to remodel the community center.

Dubbed "Operation Kanick," the effort resulted in the installation of new wiring, fixtures, and interior plumbing, along with much-needed repairs to walls and ceilings ("Rain Ignored ..."). The work was designed as a summer program for youth on the Muckleshoot Reservation, where tribal enrollment at the time numbered just 340 members. Following the remodeling, the community center continued to serve the Muckleshoot Tribe as a health clinic, as a meeting space for the Tribal Council, and as a library with limited afternoon hours on Saturdays.

On April 25, 1970, a fire attributed to two electric heaters left unattended destroyed the community center. Two units from Fire District 46 responded to the site at 6:26 p.m., along with support from a tanker sent by the Auburn Fire District. According to the first responders, the hall was a complete loss, since "there was no insurance coverage on either the building or its contents" ("Fire Destroys ...").

The fire marked a low point in the history of the Muckleshoot Tribe. Poverty and unemployment were widespread among members. With low member enrollment, no meeting space for tribal government, a marginal budget and only a miniscule fraction of land on the 3,840-acre reservation still owned by the tribe or its members, a threat of tribal disbandment loomed large in the community.

Rebuilt From the Ashes

Following the fire, KCLS provided library service to the area with visits from its bookmobile at 14 sites until a new library building was opened in 1975.

The timing of the construction of a new 1,600 square-foot library coincided with a resurgence of the Muckleshoot Tribe in the 1970s. Tribal members and leaders -- many of them women, such as Tribal Chairwoman Florence Harnden (1894-1981) and landowners Eva Jerry (1915-1992) and Alvina Cross (1906-1973) -- worked toward re-establishing the tribe's treaty rights that existed when the reservation was first formed by executive order in 1874. The right to catch salmon was at the forefront of these efforts, beginning in the fall of 1970 until 1974, when a ruling by federal judge George Boldt (1903-1984) recognized that the Muckleshoot, along with other tribes in the state, were entitled to half of the state's salmon catch. The tribe also received a settlement of around $50 million after it sued Puget Sound Power & Light Company for diverting the tribe's water supply when the company built a utility dam in 1910.

The new Muckleshoot Library was designed by architect Alan Keimig (b. 1942) as part of a new Muckleshoot Tribal Center on 172nd Avenue SE. Keimig also assisted the tribe in its securing a grant in 1974 to build the multiservice center. The Muckleshoot Tribal School, administration offices, a gym, and a community meeting area were also located in the new wood-frame building. Although open to all area residents, the library's location on tribal land and in a building also housing tribal facilities meant that a great many of those served were tribal members. The 1,600-square-foot library offered a general collection along with "special items relating to the history and culture of Northwest and other Native American tribes" ("Muckleshoot Library 2006 Community Study," 6). In addition to the tribal school, the new library served schools in both the Auburn and Enumclaw school districts, including Chinook Middle and Westwood Elementary, as well as the Buena Vista Seventh Day Adventist school.

The Muckleshoot Library was completed and opened to the public on the five-year anniversary of the community-center fire, April 25, 1975. In celebration of the event, the Muckleshoot Tribe hosted a three-day powwow over the April 25th weekend for Native Americans and non-Natives alike across the Northwest, which included traditional dances, traditional bone games of chance, and a meal of fish.

According to Berlinda Adair (b. 1942) who served as a KCLS site manager from 1975 to 2002, the library was a great resource for the community, even though it could be hard for non-locals to find, given its location some distance off State Route 164 (Auburn Enumclaw Road SE), the main highway through the area. Adair described how the library grew in program opportunities over the years and helped to train generations of new librarians:

"A lot of young ... librarians progressed to [working at] bigger libraries ... they would get their feet wet, then moved to the next one. The reference librarian was great. We also had a good program for kids during the summer, for reading ... The library started small, and got a lot bigger" (Adair interview).

By 2000, the Muckleshoot Library's service area included a total population of 11,811 people, with 31 percent of these (3,606 people) identified as belonging to the Muckleshoot Tribe. Prosperity had returned to the tribe as well, with buybacks of reservation lands that had restored tribal ownership to more than 800 acres, deals with the cities of Tacoma and Seattle that allowed utilities access, and the tribe's foray into earning gambling revenue with a new casino that opened in April 1995. Educational services continued to keep pace, as the tribe looked ahead to the establishment of a new Tribal College. KCLS sought to expand library services as well for the area. In September 2004, King County voters approved a $172 million capital bond that funded the construction of 13 new libraries, 11 expanded libraries, 11 library renovations, and two parking-expansion projects, with a new Muckleshoot Library among the first new facilities funded.

A Resounding Success

In the year following the approval of the bond measure, KCLS engaged with a Tribal Planning Commission to develop plans for the new Muckleshoot Library. Among the criteria set forth for the building was to locate it at the northwest corner of Southeast 400th Street and SR 164, within sight of highway traffic traveling between Enumclaw and Auburn. Under the plan, KCLS leased the land for the new library to keep it centrally located on Muckleshoot Reservation land. Construction got underway in August 2007.

When it was dedicated on June 25, 2008, the new library was declared a resounding success. Besides being some four times the size of the old library, the new 6,000 square-foot building incorporated into its structure both new environmentally friendly materials and cultural elements from the Native American community. The architects also based the shape of the library on that of traditional longhouses, with a pitched roof, high ceilings, and a large main interior meeting space. Two pieces of Salish artwork by Muckleshoot tribal members adorned the walls inside, while the concrete blocks used to form the exterior walls featured a traditional basket-weave pattern on the west and south facades of the building. The building was designed to maximize natural light, with a multitude of windows in the reading area and a sliding partition of glass to expand the large meeting-room space as part of the public area when not in use.

The new library reflected a continued emphasis by the Muckleshoot Tribe on promoting education for all people. Muckleshoot elder and Tribal Chairwoman Charlotte Williams summarized the effort toward the library as one outcome of a comprehensive worldview:

"Some of us have seen lot of progress over the years, and now we have come to a state-of-the-art library in a community built on tribal lands. The Muckleshoot Tribe believes in investing in the people, and one way we can invest in the people is through education. That's probably one of the best investments we can make" ("Muckleshoot Library Opens ...").

Like its predecessor, the new Muckleshoot Library served area schools and the nearby Tribal College as a resource for learning. Besides ongoing support of KCLS reading programs offered on site at the library, the Muckleshoot Tribe has been an advocate for literacy in other ways; for instance the tribe gave $3,000 to the library at the Washington Corrections Center in 2011.

Expanded Collection, Increased Circulation

The new building enabled KCLS to both offer new programming and increase the library's holdings. New programs included an Early Literacy Initiative for children up to age 5; Story Time for children told in the Whulshootseed language with participation from the tribe; a new volunteer tutoring service through the Study Zone program; and serving as a site for English as a Second Language (ESL) and literacy classes. The expanded collection likewise reflected both local culture and an emphasis on youth learning as the library increased its offering of Northwest and Native American materials. More than 4,500 new materials, including magazines, books, movies, and CDs, were added, bringing the total holdings to more than 21,000 items.

In the first six months after the new Muckleshoot Library opened, circulation increased 459 percent, and visits rose by 65 percent, over the same time period at the old location. The increased usage stood in sharp contrast to trends reflected in a Pew Research Center survey, which showed that public use of libraries and book mobiles across the nation declined from 53 percent to 44 percent between November 2012 and December 2015 (Meyer, "Fewer Americans ...").

As construction of the new building was underway in 2007, a local Friends of the Muckleshoot Library group was established. As at other KCLS libraries, the Muckleshoot Friends group supports library programs through book sales and other activities and serves as an advocate for visitor's interests and needs.

Nearing its 50th anniversary, the Muckleshoot Library remains what it has been since KCLS and the Muckleshoot Tribe first opened it in 1968 -- an important cultural and community center on the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation for tribal members and the wider area community.


"Rain Ignored as Work Begins on Muckleshoot Reservation," Auburn Globe-News, June 27, 1969, pp. 1, 3; "Fire Destroys Muckleshoot Indian Hall," Auburn Globe-News, April 29, 1970, p. 1; "A New Day for Indians, Community," Auburn Globe-News, April 23, 1975, p. 7; Danny Westneat, "Muckleshoot Tribe Rises from Ashes of 1970 Fire," The Seattle Times, July 26, 1995, p. A-1; "Muckleshoot Library 2006 Community Study," King County Library System (KCLS) website accessed April 20, 2016 (; "Delivering on a Promise to Voters: KCLS Capital Improvement Plan 11-Year Report, September 2015," KCLS website accessed May 23, 2016 (; "History," KCLS website accessed April 30, 2016 (; Fred Poyner IV interview with Berlinda Adair, June 10, 2016, Issaquah, transcript in possession of Fred Poyner IV, Issaquah, Washington; Robert Whale, "Muckleshoot Library Opens to Good Reviews," Auburn News Reporter, June 26, 2008, (; Shawn Crosby, email to Fred Poyner IV, May 24, 2016, in possession of Fred Poyner IV, Issaquah, Washington; "Donation from Muckleshoot Tribe Is Greatly Appreciated in These Tough Times," December 7, 2011,  Between the Lines Washington State Library Blog accessed June 14, 2016 (; Orlo Mohr, "Indians Study Fisheries Project," The Daily Chronicle, November 7, 1974, p. 1; Robinson Meyer, "Fewer Americans Are Visiting Local Libraries -- and Technology Isn't to Blame," The Atlantic, April 14, 2016, (; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Muckleshoot Indian Tribe" (by Alan J. Stein), http// (accessed June 19, 2016).

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