Woodinville Library, King County Library System

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 4/12/2017
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20335

The north King County community of Woodinville, located just east of Bothell, had a small one-room library in its local elementary school in the mid-twentieth century, but that had closed by 1964. With funding from a 1988 library bond measure, the King County Library System (KCLS) opened Woodinville's first modern library in 1993, following several years of discussion about where it would be located. The attractive 15,000-square-foot library at 17105 Avondale Road NE has ably served the community ever since.


Woodinville got its start as a rural logging and farming community in the late nineteenth century and grew slowly; by 1929 it had an estimated 780 people. In those days it was not uncommon for communities in King County to form small local libraries, and Woodinville was no exception. By 1940 it had a little library (mainly a small collection of books) in a room at the Woodinville Elementary School on NE 175th Street, just east of the intersection with the Woodinville-Snohomish Road. The library, however, gradually edged toward disrepair and it closed in 1964.

Woodinville in 1964 was still an unincorporated rural community, and at first there was little interest in a new library. Still, the community recognized that suburban sprawl wasn't far away and was moving in its direction. In 1968 the King County Library System bought approximately 1.5 acres in Woodinville on the west side of Avondale Road NE between NE 168th and NE 173rd streets with the thought that a library would eventually be built there.

By the 1980s Woodinville was rapidly morphing from rural enclave to Seattle suburb, and the need for a library became more urgent. In November 1986 two Woodinville residents, Maxine Keesling and Carolyn Causey, went to a KCLS Board of Trustees meeting to request that the board put Woodinville at the top of its list of new libraries being planned in the county. The board suggested that Keesling and Causey form a "Friends of the Library" group to help establish Woodinville's library needs. This led to the formation of the Woodinville Friends of the Library (later Friends of the Woodinville Library) in 1987, and this organization began laying the groundwork for a library in Woodinville.

Avondale Road or Bassett Pond?

In 1988 King County voters approved a $67 million bond measure to build or improve about 20 libraries in King County. The Woodinville Friends of the Library had worked to support the measure, which included building a new library in the community. Woodinville was near the top of the list on KCLS's construction schedule. Although the Avondale Road site was readily available, by this time there was a second potential site that many found more attractive. In 1983 King County had purchased 32 acres at Bassett Pond, just north of NE 165th Street and east of 178th Avenue NE, with plans to develop a park. But the county discovered that the property was mostly wetlands and unsuitable for development. However, there was hope that nine acres located on a knoll could be developed. Early in 1990 the KCLS Board of Directors approved this site for the library, a decision enthusiastically supported by the Woodinville Friends of the Library.

However, a subsequent inspection determined that even these nine acres were unsuitable for development, and in April 1990 KCLS withdrew the site from consideration. An uproar ensued, with Bassett Pond proponents insisting that the property was suitable for the library and asking what the county really did want to use it for. (If there were any other plans, they had not come to fruition by 2017, with the property remaining the same undeveloped wetland it was 27 years earlier.) Once again the Avondale site was front and center as the likely library site. The Woodinville Friends of the Library group, concerned that the site was too small, was less enthusiastic about this location. KCLS had similar concerns, and in June 1990 bought three more acres adjacent to the existing site, tripling the size of the property. Now there was enough room for a library.

Some in the community continued to argue for the Bassett Pond knoll, but others just wanted to get on with construction. The planned completion date had already slipped from 1991 to 1992 and all sides knew that, if they kept debating, Woodinville stood to lose its position near the top of the construction list. KCLS decided it was time for action and moved forward with the plans to build the library on Avondale Road NE. KCLS Director Bill Ptacek (b. 1951) explained in the summer of 1990, "We've looked all over the place. It was the last place left. There's not much dry property in Woodinville" ("Which Site ...").

Building the Library

Groundbreaking for the new library was held on May 1, 1992, and construction proceeded so smoothly that the project was completed early. Despite the siting debate and delays, the Woodinville Library was still the second library to be completed with 1988 bond-measure funding. (The Federal Way Library was first.)

Ledcor Industries, a construction firm with offices in both the United States and Canada, was the general contractor for the project. Buffalo Design Inc. of Seattle was the project architect. The cost of constructing and furnishing the 15,000-square-foot building came to $3.8 million. KCLS spent an additional $1.9 million for books, tapes, and other materials to stock the library's collections. The building itself was made from a prefabricated frame, which cut down on engineering and construction costs as well as construction time.

Designers faced the challenge of how to make the frame look attractive. They accomplished this by adding a large, handsome, wood-framed entryway that contrasted with the building's concrete masonry. On the exterior they used navy blue and teal glass-bonded ceramic tiles, partially made from recycled car windshields. The interior furnishings were finished in dark cherry wood, and the library had a gray carpet with a striking red, blue, and green geometric design. A small bronze sculpture of a running horse welcomed visitors to the reading area at the building's south end, an attractive space with floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides where the reader could look out and reflect on the library's quiet wooded setting.

A Big Beginning

By the first week of January 1993, volunteers were helping to stock the library, which opened a month ahead of schedule on February 1, 1993. Library openings are generally a major event in any community, and Woodinville's was no exception. About 1,200 people visited the library the first day and they checked out more than 7,000 items. By 4 p.m. that afternoon it was taking 15 minutes to get through one of the three checkout lines. A formal dedication was held on February 27.

The library was staffed by 20 full- and part-time employees under the direction of Managing Librarian Don Julien. The Woodinville Library was designated a "resource library." As one of the King County Library System's larger libraries, it had access to materials that weren't available at smaller ones, such as reference books that covered topics ranging from surgery to car repair. The library subscribed to 400 magazines and had access to hundreds more on microfilm. Nearly 100,000 items were available, including 63,000 books, and there were 22 computer terminals with online access to a public catalog and a comprehensive reference library. Other areas in the building were wired for additional computers as needed.

Keen interest in the new library continued well beyond opening day. In March 1993 the Woodinville Library proudly reported that in its first month of operation 17,058 patrons had checked out 62,293 items, about 63 percent of the available items. And just weeks after the dedication ceremony voters in Woodinville, which officially incorporated as a city that March, approved a measure annexing the Woodinville Library into the King County Library System with a remarkable 95.6 percent "yes" vote. This ensured that the library would remain part of KCLS, with its countywide tax base and resources, rather than requiring the new city to finance and operate the library on its own.

Internet Computers and Audio Books

Over the next four years the Woodinville Library added word processing to its computers, and in 1994 it began offering Internet access. The library survived the "Great Computer Crash of 1996," in which a 17-year-old hacker shut down the entire KCLS computer system for nearly two weeks in January and another five days in February. (This crash was a serious matter. Returned books piled up in libraries, library users had to physically search shelves for books, and librarians had to check books out manually. It was a throwback to at least 20 years in the past.) The next year the library navigated the delicate issue of censorship when it installed software on computers in the children's section to restrict access to age-inappropriate websites.

The library continued to grow in use and popularity. As of its fourth anniversary in 1997 the Woodinville Library had circulated 2.5 million items since it opened, and nearly 40,000 people had attended more than 1,000 programs there in those four years. The programs included concert series, computer classes, and a plethora of children's programs.

Audio books arrived on MP3 players at the Woodinville Library (as well as other KCLS libraries) in December 2001. KCLS was the second of more than 1,300 library systems in the U.S. to introduce these small, three-ounce devices capable of holding the contents of an entire book -- something that in an earlier era occupied 20 or more cassette tapes that had to be played on bulkier, heavier tape recorders. Demand for the MP3 audio books was so high that after one month the countywide waiting list had 753 names and was estimated to be four months long.

Something for All

The Woodinville Library underwent a number of practical and cosmetic changes during the first decade of the twenty-first century. In 2003, self-checkout stations were installed, speeding up the checkout process for the visitor and allowing librarians more time for other duties. The library workroom was remodeled in both 2004 and 2005, while the library itself was renovated in 2008. The physical changes were relatively modest. Nothing was added or removed but the interior was brightened with new wall colors (pale beige and pale green), new carpeting, and lighter-colored wood in place of the cherry-wood furniture. Smaller module desks replaced a long circulation desk and two moveable kiosks were installed as self-checkout stations.

By the time of its 20th anniversary in 2013, the Woodinville Library had programs as varied as story times for toddlers, topical programs for adults, a men's book club, and various arts and cultural activities for youth. The library reported that in 2012 alone it had hosted 382 programs, which included outreach visits to the community using Library2Go vehicles. These specially equipped vehicles traveled to daycares, community centers, and senior centers in Woodinville, as well as Carnation and Duvall, providing library materials to those otherwise unable to visit a library. The Woodinville Library also held career and employment classes for adults at the Redmond WorkSource, and planned to begin sending mobile learning labs into the community to make computer workshops available to area residents. Laura Boyes, a library cluster manager, explained, "We strive to meet the needs of the community and expand our reach to those who can't get to the library or who are unaware of our services" ("Happy Birthday ...").


 HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Woodinville -- Thumbnail History" (by Phil Dougherty), http://www.historylink.org (accessed February 18, 2017); Clair Enlow, "Woodinville Library Houses Books, Readers With Care," Daily Journal of Commerce, May 19, 1993, p. 3; Elizabethe Brown, "Bibliophiles Will Love New Library," [Bellevue] Journal-American, February 24, 1993, p. 7; Nick Perry, "Demand Hot for Libraries' MP3 'Books,'" Ibid., January 4, 2002, pp. A-1, A-4; Darrell Glover, "17-Year-Old Charged in Library Computer Crash," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 22, 1996, pp. A-1, A-7; Giselle Smith, "Friends of the Library Push King County for Woodinville Facility," Woodinville Citizen, June 17, 1987, pp. A-1, A-10; Bob Baumgartner, "Wetlands an Issue at Library Site," Ibid., March 28, 1990, pp. A-1, A-2; Liz Wimmer, "Warm Community Welcome for Long-Awaited Woodinville Library," Ibid., February 10, 1993, pp. A-1, A-12; Jeannie Hellman, "County Waiting to Build on Woodinville Library Site," Woodinville Weekly, November 18, 1986; Joan Good, "Proposed Library Site on NE 165th Withdrawn From Consideration," Ibid., April 10, 1990; Joan Good, "Library Activists Cry Foul Over Wetlands Blind," Ibid., May 22, 1990, p. 6; Joan Good, "New Site Chosen for Woodinville Library," Ibid., June 26, 1990; Anna Dwyer, "The Books Are Going In," Ibid., January 11, 1993, p. 1; Anna Dwyer, "Hundreds of Families Use New Woodinville Library," Ibid., February 8, 1993, p. 2; Anna Dwyer, "Bookin' It in Woodinville," Ibid., March 15, 1993; "Library Celebrates," Ibid., February 3, 1997; Andrew Walgamott, "'Bess' Selected as Internet Filter for Children at Libraries," Ibid., April 7, 1997; Deborah Stone, "A New look for Woodinville Library," Ibid., November 24, 2008, p. 5; Deborah Stone, "Happy Birthday, Woodinville Library!," Ibid., January 28, 2013, pp. 1, 11; "Woodinville Library, 2008 Community Study," King County Library System (KCLS) website accessed January 28, 2017 (https://w3.kcls.org/community_studies/Woodinville%20Library%20Community%20Study.pdf); "About Woodinville Library," KCLS website accessed March 8, 2017 (https://kcls.org/about-woodinville-library/).

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