Kirkland Library, King County Library System

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 10/19/2016
  • Essay 20148

The Kirkland Library began in 1919, on a set of bookshelves located in Kirkland city-council chambers and overseen by the Kirkland Woman's Club. In 1925 the women built their own clubhouse and for more than 20 years used half the building for the library. In 1946, the library moved into a space in Kirkland City Hall that it later outgrew. In 1966 a dedicated library was built closer to downtown. It served the community for almost 30 years, during which time the library became part of the King County Library System. A new structure opened in 1995, and was later expanded.

The Kirkland Woman's Club

The Kirkland Library was started by the Kirkland Woman's Club in 1919 on bookshelves located where the club held its meetings, in the city-council chambers. Within a year, the number of books had outgrown the shelves, and the woman began looking for a better home for both the library and their organization.

For the next four years, the Woman's Club raised funds for its new clubhouse, part of which would be used as the library. During this time, club members sold subscriptions and held numerous benefits, bake sales, card parties, and dinner parties to fund their efforts. In 1924, they received a substantial gift when Burke and Farrar -- the local real-estate firm -- donated two lots of land located across from the grade school, on the hill overlooking Moss Bay and downtown.

The contract for construction was let in early 1925. The floor plan for the building measured 48 by 42 feet -- half the space would house the library. The building also contained a full basement, a kitchen, and a dining hall. The cornerstone -- which contained a time capsule -- was laid on March 15, 1925, in a grand ceremony attended by members of the woman's club and more than 150 spectators. The women held their first meeting in the new building on June 4, and the library opened immediately afterward.

Early Days

The library was open three days and two evenings a week. A librarian was hired for $10 a month, and a local high-school teacher created the first catalog. The high-school shop class built the shelves. Britannia McKibben -- a founding member of the Kirkland Woman's Club -- donated her time to mend books, which she continued to do for the next 46 years.

Many individuals and organizations donated books. For the library opening, the owner of the town's variety store donated 100 books. Later, the library would post requests in the East Side Journal, asking for more books. By the height of the Great Depression more than 700 people had library cards and were signing out materials.

During World War II, the Lake Washington Shipyard in nearby Houghton began attracting workers and their families. Kirkland experienced a surge in population. More people were using the library, and the city started the librarian's pay of $40 a month. By war's end, the library had outgrown its home in the Woman's Club clubhouse, and the city started looking into running it.

A New Location

In 1945, plans were underway to build a new city hall where the grade school was located. Hoping to move the library into the new building, the city council and Mayor Harry Everett (1893-1958) proposed a five-man library committee to oversee the project. Members of the woman's club balked, and requested that two of their members be invited to participate. Mayor Everett agreed.

Soon after Kirkland City Hall opened in 1946, the library moved in, with Luella Smith (1901-1962) as librarian. By 1956, the library had amassed more than 12,000 books, and was open 33 hours a week, serving more than 4,000 registered users. A board of trustees provided library oversight.

That year, the library expanded its space by one third. In 1960 another addition was made. But it was clear that the number of people moving to Kirkland would soon overwhelm the library's capabilities in its present location. Big changes were in the works for the Kirkland Library.

City Involvement

In 1961, the city took over full operation of the library, with support from the Friends of Kirkland Library. After librarian Luella Smith died in 1962, a decision was made to hire a full-time state-certified librarian with a salary of $450 a month. And since other libraries throughout King County -- including one in the nearby town of Houghton -- had begun contracting with the King County Library System, Kirkland hoped to do so also. (Kirkland annexed Houghton in 1968.) But Kirkland decided to wait until improvements were made to make the partnership more desirable.

In 1964, a survey was made of the Kirkland Library that found many areas in need of attention. Although the collection was found to be up to national standards, many of the books were obsolete and not being used. The magazine selection held only a fraction of those found in other libraries. A full staff was recommended, and the card catalog needed to be completely overhauled.

Most of all, a dedicated library building was long overdue. The space at city hall was only 2,500 square feet, and based on library standards at the time, the 1964 population of Kirkland called for a library that was at least 4,500 square feet in size. In November, voters approved a $175,000 bond issue to construct and furnish a new Kirkland City Library.

A Dedicated Home

A site was chosen at the southeast corner of the new Civic Center, now known as Peter Kirk Park. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on September 2, 1965, for a building designed by John Rushmore and Associates, from Bellevue. Construction began by Vandivort Construction, Inc. and the City of Kirkland, and was completed in less than seven months.

Dedication ceremonies for the new library were held on May 1, 1966. Master of Ceremonies Byron Baggaley (1910-1997), who had been mayor of Kirkland from 1956 to 1964, welcomed more than 300 guests to the event, and after architect John Rushmore turned over the new building to Kirkland Mayor James Vaux, everyone went inside to look around.

The building cost just over $212,000 for construction, landscaping, furnishing, and miscellaneous expenses. More than 7,000 square feet of floor space was provided, plenty of room for up to 30,000 volumes. Seating was available inside the library for 90 people. Less than two years later, the library began contracting with King County Library System in January 1968 for library service, which included staffing, operation, and the purchase of new books and materials.

A New Library

For the next three decades the library served the community well, but by the end of the century, Kirkland's population was growing fast. In 1990 voters approved the annexation of the library to the King County Library System and, since the library had once again outgrown its home, planning began on another new building.

A adjacent site was chosen, on the southwest corner of Peter Kirk Park, a nearby location that would make the move manageable. A new parking structure was already planned for that location, and the library would be built atop it.

Construction began in 1994 on the new 15,400-square-foot library, designed by Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects. The $4.2 million project was completed by the end of the year. More than 20,000 new books, CDs, and other materials were added to the collection. A Kirkland Library sculpure garden opened in 1995. It displays works loaned by artists for six months at a time; visitors from as far away as Russia and Argentina have arrived to view the works.

Modern Times

More than 900 people attended the grand opening ceremonies on January 30, 1995. Once inside, many patrons were intrigued with the library's Internet capabilities, then a new feature. Book information could be looked up online on one of the 16 terminals available for public use. The new building was spacious, with high ceilings and tall windows that let in plenty of light, a great improvement over the older structure.

Most of the 1966 library building was torn down to make way for the city's new performing-arts center, but part of it remains in back, connected to the Kirkland Senior Center. The old library had provided an inadequate number of parking spaces, but the new building has space for more than 420 vehicles, and is located right next to the city's new transit center.

In 2009, the library was expanded even more with the addition of 4,500 square feet of floor space. Done as part of King County Library System's Capital Improvement Plan funded by a voter-approved capital bond in September 2004, the expansion created a larger children's area, as well as new meeting rooms and study rooms. The new space allowed for 5,000 more books, magazines, movies, and CDs to be added.


Arline Ely, Our Foundering Fathers (Kirkland: Overlake Press, 1975); "Local Woman's Club Plan Home for Library," East Side Journal, May 22, 1924, p. 1; "Contract Let for New Library and Club Building," Ibid., January 15, 1925, p. 1; "Large Turnout Attends Laying of Cornerstone," Ibid., March 19, 1925, p. 1; "Kirkland Library Business Good; Badly in Need of New Books," Ibid., December 6, 1934, p. 1; "Library Problem Unsolved," Ibid., May 31, 1945, p. 1; "Fund Drive for New Library to be Started Next March," Ibid., October 6, 1955, p. 1; "First Kirkland Library Proved Determination of Women's Club," Ibid., July 19, 1956, p. 10; "Library Will Use Third More Space," Ibid., November 25, 1956, p. 1; "Interesting Facts Concerning Public Library Revealed in Progress Report," Ibid., February 6, 1958, p. 6; "1963 Was Year of Change for Kirkland City Library," Ibid., February 27, 1964, p. 10; "Does Kirkland Need Library," Ibid., September 24, 1964, p. 10; "Dedication Sunday for Growing Library's 3rd New Building," Ibid., April 28, 1966, p. 1; "$212,000 Library Dedicated," Ibid., May 5, 1966, p. 14; "Kirkland Library Joins County System" The Seattle Times, January 11, 1968, p. 4; "Yes Vote for County Libraries -- Eastsiders Opt to Join King County System" Ibid., May 23, 1990, p. F-1; "A New Library, Brick by Brick -- Bricks for Books?" Ibid., September 23, 1993, p. B-2; "With New Library, Kirkland Moving Up in Culture World" Ibid., January 19, 1995, p. B-1; "Nothing Dusty About Stacks at Kirkland's Shiny New Library" Ibid., January 19, 1995, p. B-1; Peyton Whitely, "Sculptures Draw Visitors -- Inspiration Made this Library More than a Stop for a Good Book," Ibid., March 10, 1997, p. B-3; Delivering on a Promise to Voters: KCLS Capital Improvement Plan 11 Year Report (King County Library System, September 2015); further information provided by the Kirkland Heritage Society.

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