Vashon Library, King County Library System

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 3/01/2017
  • Essay 20308

The Vashon Library's service area includes Vashon and Maury islands, which are connected by a natural isthmus. Vashon-Maury Island's population was about 10,600 as of the 2010 United States Census. Summer residents swell this number. Vashon residents are relatively geographically isolated -- reaching any public library other than their own requires a ferry ride -- and have a strong sense of community. Many residents are intensely engaged in civic life and deeply dedicated to protecting and maintaining civic amenities such as their library. In addition to serving Vashon's research and reading requirements, the Vashon Library functions as an important community center, a nexus of information, and a forum for public meetings. Circulation at the library is high relative to its size and the island's population.

Vashon-Maury Island

The land that would become known as Vashon-Maury Island was occupied by the S'Homamish people for thousands of years, until the 1854 Treaty of Medicine Creek called for their relocation to the Puyallup Reservation. The land was logged beginning around 1860, and by the 1920s most of it was being cultivated.

Steamers from the Mosquito Fleet served small communities that dotted Vashon's shore. Island produce, eggs, and poultry furnished the Seattle and Tacoma markets. By the late 1890s, small brick factories and a shipyard and dry dock were important island industries. One of Vashon-Maury Island's earliest rural communities was the settlement called Burton, located on Quartermaster Harbor near the island's south end.

Books at Burton

Vashon's first library service was quaintly picturesque: Residents of the community of Burton began exchanging used magazines by depositing them on a roadside log, from which fellow Burtonites could peruse and borrow them. This casual exchange of reading material inspired the Vashon Island Women's Club to found the Burton Rental Library in 1916. During its early days the library's collection was nomadic, moving to a variety of locations including, for a time, a small shed on the Burton dock. Eventually the Burton Library shared a space with the Burton post office.

On November 3, 1942, a majority vote of residents in unincorporated areas of King County directed the creation of a rural library district to serve county residents living outside Seattle's city limits. (Seattle residents received library services from the Seattle Public Library.) Accordingly, on January 4, 1943, the Board of County Commissioners established the King County Rural Library District, which later became known as the King County Library System (KCLS). Participating communities (many of which had existing independent libraries) were provided with books and with librarians, whose salaries were paid from countywide taxes. Patrons could also access books from other KCLS libraries at no charge.

Almost immediately, the Vashon Island Women's Club applied and received approval for KCLS library services. Some sources state that the club members assumed that when the library became part of the new King County Library System the collection would remain at Burton, where it had been maintained for nearly three decades. But that was not the plan. Under some duress, the Burton Library donated its 2,000-volume collection to the new library, which was in the planning stages and was to be more centrally located, off the main highway in the town of Vashon.

Vashon Memorial Library

Island residents formed and incorporated the Vashon Island Memorial Library Association. Vashon Memorial Library opened as part of KCLS on March 6, 1944. It was initially located in temporary quarters in the town of Vashon while a new library building was planned, sited, and constructed.

For the new library, the library association raised funds and purchased land on Bank Road in Vashon. Local businesses donated lumber and/or provided it at cost. Construction firms contributed their services, and local clubs donated furnishings and landscaping. The new cottage-style building measured just 960 square feet. It opened on March 8, 1946.

The library's name honored Vashon's World War II veterans. A KCLS report said it was the first World War II memorial in King County. It was also the first new library constructed as part of the King County Library System.

Librarian Marjorie Stanley

Marjorie Stanley (1891-1981) became the Vashon Library's first librarian when the library first opened in its temporary quarters in 1944 and she remained librarian in the new building until her retirement in 1961. Trained as an interior decorator, Stanley had grown up in the Burton community. Her affinity for the island, combined with her love of books, led her to apply for the job. Stanley served readers while simultaneously acting as the community's unofficial historian. The books column Stanley wrote for the Vashon Island News-Record ran for decades. The column spotlighted literary achievements and Vashon community life.

According to contemporary reports, Marjorie Stanley cultivated a relaxed atmosphere and eschewed the traditional shushing librarian stereotype:

"The new library has blond shelving, turquoise curtains, spacious windows, brown and gold asphalt tile flooring, fluorescent lighting and an acoustic ceiling. It also has an unusual collection of pottery on the top of the shelves, trailing bits of ivy and other greenery. ... [Stanley] lets dogs in with the children, plays nursemaid to the tiny tots when they come in the mornings ... a group of six that live nearby often drop in to share her lunch" (Welch).

Burton: The Little Library That Could (for Awhile Anyway)

While island residents in general were pleased with their new library, some from Burton found the cross-island trip inconvenient and regretted the loss of their local library. With the approval of KCLS director Ella McDowell, Marjorie Stanley shared the Vashon Library's collection with Burton residents, hand-carrying volumes to patrons there and reestablishing the Burton Library as a modest single shelf of books in donated space. By 1947, the KCLS annual report noted that the Burton Library had moved from a store to a church, an indication of Burton's reluctance to relinquish its library and of its ongoing status as part of the King County Library System.

The Burton Library finally closed in October 1975. At the time, it had the eighth-lowest circulation of the 40 KCLS libraries. The Vashon Library's circulation was nine times that of Burton's. Burton residents greatly lamented the closure of their library, which KCLS leadership felt was compelled by budgetary restraints.

Move to Ober Park

By the 1970s, the Vashon Library was in great need of a larger more modern facility. A 1980 KCLS levy lid lift provided funding for new construction.

In July 1980 architect Robert M. Barger and Elaine Day LaTourelle & Associates were awarded the contract to design the new library. Vashon residents, in particular the library board, engaged in heated debate on the question of where the new library would be located, eventually settling on Vashon's Ober Park.

KCLS negotiated an agreement with King County Parks that enabled construction of a modern library building at the park. Located on the northern border of the town of Vashon along the Vashon Highway, Ober Park was formerly the site of the Vashon School (1887), and a second school building constructed in 1909. Both structures had been used for community services until 1971, when they were demolished and a new community building and park were constructed. The park's name honors John Elliot Ober (1897-1952), a Vashon postmaster, Boy Scout Scoutmaster, and Veterans Memorial Foundation leader.

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on December 19, 1982. The Vashon Memorial Library closed on December 10, 1983. (The building subsequently became the Vashon Senior Center.) During the week that followed, library staff and volunteers transported books and materials to the new building at Ober Park. The new 6,196-square-foot library opened on December 19, 1983. An all-day open house and dedication ceremonies were held on Saturday, January 14, 1984, to celebrate the new Vashon Library.

Bigger and Better

In 2004 King County voters approved a $172 million capital bond to expand the King County Library System, including the construction of a new 10,000-square-foot library for Vashon. In September 2008, KCLS initially identified a lot containing a cinderblock structure, formerly part of the K2 sports-equipment factory, as the most favorable site for the new facility. That property was beyond walking distance from the town of Vashon and many Vashon residents strongly disapproved of the plan. Most wanted the library to remain at Ober Park, closer to playground facilities, the Vashon Teen Center, and activities in town. The KCLS Board agreed, deciding to remodel and greatly expand the existing library building at the park. Six million dollars were earmarked for the project.

The expansion, designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, brought the facility to a total of 10,000 square feet, nearly doubling its size. During construction, the Vashon Library operated out of a temporary location in a former auto-parts store at Vashon Plaza, a few blocks from Ober Park.

The renovated and expanded library opened on March 29, 2014. KCLS owned the building, and the land was leased from the Vashon Park District. The library featured floor-to-ceiling west-facing windows that flooded the interior space with natural light and offered patrons views of Ober Park and its playground. Several work/study rooms lined one side of the building, which also featured a large meeting room. A long counter provided multiple electric outlets for laptop-computer use. The children's area was greatly enlarged. Since the library design used few interior walls, it was airy and spacious. The building was topped by a "green roof" planted with low-growing vegetation to absorb rainwater and better manage drainage and stormwater runoff.

One of the remodeled library's unique features was a special electrical panel where Vashon Fire and Rescue could hook up an emergency generator, allowing the library building to function as a community shelter in the event that the rest of the island loses power. The electrical panel was funded by a special gift to the library.

The Vashon Library benefits from an enthusiastic support group, the Vashon Friends of the Library. The group sponsors most of the library's special programming. An ongoing used-book sale near the library's entrance funds Friends activities. Group members march yearly in the parade held during Vashon's Strawberry Festival, the island's premier event.

Sources: Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "King County Library System" (by Paula Becker), (accessed January 10, 2017); "About Vashon Library," King County Library System (KCLS) website accessed January 11, 2017 (; "Engage: Vashon Library 2007 Community Study," KCLS website accessed January 11. 2017 (; Bruce Haulman and Terry Donnelly, "Ober Park," Vashon History website accessed January 14, 2017 (; "2010 Census," Vashon History website accessed February 4, 2017 (; Burton Library Association binders (red and gray), Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum, Vashon, Washington; Marjorie Stanley Scrapbooks, Volume 1, Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum; Binder 58 ("Library"), Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum; Douglass Welch, "Burton Has 'Happiest Library in the State'," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 11, 1947, news clipping in Binder 58, Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum; Tom Swint, "Vashon's Marjorie Stanley," The Seattle Times, September 29, 1971, magazine p. 11; Leslie Brown, "Library Board Tells KCLS to Reconsider Ober Park," Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber, February 4, 2009 (; Leslie Brown, "Library Staff Gear Up for a Big Move," Ibid., January 9, 2013 (; Leslie Brown, "Branch Library Slated to Move to Its New Location in Early February," Ibid., January 15, 2013 (; Susan Reimer, "Vashon Library Construction Booking Along," Ibid., November 21, 2013 (; "Library to Open on Monday, March 6," Vashon Island News-Record, March 2, 1944, p. 1; "King County Public Library Annual Report for 1946" and "King County Public Library Annual Report 1947," King County Archives, Seattle, Washington.

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