High Point Branch, The Seattle Public Library

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 9/26/2002
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3965

The history of the High Point Branch, The Seattle Public Library is one of turbulence, from the housing boom and mass migrations of World War II to the immigration and urban violence of the 1990s. Starting in a spare room with a few thousand books and then moving into a vacant housing unit, the branch has provided library services to a wide range of residents, particularly children. In 2004, High Point received its own building with room for 27,000 books.

Working and Reading During the War

At the beginning of World War II, tens of thousands of workers flooded into Seattle to take jobs at the Todd Shipyard on Harbor Island and at Boeing Airplane Co. The United States government built several temporary housing projects for the war workers including a 1,300-unit development in West Seattle at High Point. The Seattle Public Library's West Seattle Branch alone served the entire area west of the Duwamish River, and given the need, the library board decided to open a station at High Point.

The management of the High Point housing project provided a cloakroom in the administration building for the use of the library. Beginning on November 3, 1942, librarians from the West Seattle Branch checked out books to patrons three afternoons a week. During the first month, 1,628 books were circulated including "late novels, books on the war, gardening, home decoration, child care and a well-rounded group of technical and mechanical books for the war workers" (Annual Reports). In 1944, High Point got its own grade school and the use of High Point Station went up.

Here to Stay

High Point was supposed to be a temporary solution to the housing shortage, but the demand for homes continued through the late 1940s. Residents had to be defense workers or veterans in order to move in and most stayed only long enough to buy their own homes. Librarians noticed that as families moved in, they increasingly asked for books for younger children.

In 1952, High Point was converted to low-income housing and the community changed. Families on public assistance and retirees predominated. Patronage dropped off in the evenings because of fear of crime and the station changed its hours to daytime, but served the neighborhood eight-and-a-half hours each week. Circulation varied according to the number of vacancies in the project. In September 1956, 800 families made their homes at High Point. Six months later, there were 1,200 families.

Out of the Closet

The tiny station in the cloak room was inadequate for the demand. The library board rented an empty unit from the Seattle Housing Authority at 6338 32nd Avenue SW for $1 per year. The space was just 24 x 33½ feet and had room for some shelves, two tables, and a checkout counter. The new station opened on April 15, 1961. The following year, High Point was designated a branch library and its management was transferred to the library's branch department. In 1963, the branch received its first telephone.

Just when High Point moved into new space, the Southwest Branch opened and some of the patrons began using that facility. Circulation began to drop in the 1960s as the post-war baby boom waned and as school libraries improved. The transient nature of the community meant that some families moved without returning books and could not be traced.

In the early 1970s, half the units in the High Point project were vacant at any given time, but residents and particularly children relied heavily on the little branch. In May 1974, the library acquired two other units in its building and expanded to 1,200 square feet. Beginning in about 1976, more immigrants, particularly from the Pacific Islands and Asia, found homes at High Point and they used the library to learn English or to get information in their native languages. In July 1981, community pressure kept the branch open when the library board considered closing it to save money (closing the central library one morning a week saved more money than closing three small branches).

Libraries for Latchkey Children

In February 1989, High Point was one of four neighborhood libraries to start a program -- Seattle Public Library's After School Happenings or SPLASH -- targeting latchkey children. After school each day, students could go to the library and do homework, hear stories read, and participate in crafts. Volunteers came in to help. Circulation of books increased dramatically. Although every book in the library system was available through the branch, the focus of the collection was on children and young people. In 1994, the Rosen Family (Alaskan Copper and Brass Co.) helped the after-school program by giving $6,000 for homework material for at-risk children. Within the neighborhood, frequent incidences of crime, violence, and gang activity, particularly in the early 1990s made the branch an oasis for children.

In 1996, High Point was remodeled and then became the beneficiary of Microsoft Corporation's Libraries Online project and received six brand-new computers. As many as 54 children (from six different nations) could be found on a summer day waiting for the doors to open. Seattle Mariners Second Baseman Joey Cora provided some excitement when he helped unveil the terminals. The program included computer classes for adults too. Every afternoon during the school year, the building is crowded with schoolchildren doing homework with the help of volunteers. In 1998, the branch added evening hours again and the collection numbered 10,000.

Libraries For All

The 1998 "Libraries For All" bond issue provided $196.4 million for a new central library and new or upgraded branches. On June 19, 2004, High Point received a new building at 3411 SW Raymond Street with 7,200 square feet (in contrast to the 1,200 square feet of the old facility), and room for 27,700 books. The new facility cost $3.3 million to build and was designed by Miller Hayashi Architects. 

According to the 2000 census, the neighborhood around High Point numbered 6,140 persons, with one in four being Asian and one in five being African American. Almost 12 percent of the population identified themselves as Hispanic, and 30 percent listed themselves as white. Approximately 38 percent of the population was 19 years of age or younger and almost 69 percent of the neighborhood were renters.

Branch Librarians

  • Cecilia Wilson (clerk in charge), 1963-1977
  • Regional Management, 1977-1990
  • Christy Tyson ,1990-2005
  • Theresa Mayer, 2005-2008
  • Sibyl de Haah, 2009



Liz Szabo, "Program Targets Technology Gap," The Seattle Times, June 27, 1996, p. D-1; Don Duncan, "Latchkey Children Enjoy Library Program," Ibid., September 26, 1989, p. D-3; Darrel Glover, "Cora Assists At Computer Unveiling," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 2, 1996, p. B-1; "High Point Station Library -- Papers," folder, Seattle Public Library Archives; "High Point Library Stays Alive For '81," West Seattle Herald, ewsclipping, Ibid.; "West Seattle Library -- Annual Reports 1933-," folder, Ibid.; "Branch History," folder, High Point Library; "Profile of Demographic Characteristics, 2000 U.S. Census, Census Tract 107," p. 325, City of Seattle Website accessed August 31, 2004 (http://www.cityofseattle.net/); ) "Seattle Public Library Directory of Staff, 1967-1970" (bound together, Seattle Room Collection, The Seattle Public Library); Seattle Public Library uncataloged archival materials, Box 4, "Personnel Staff Day," folders "Staff Directory 1950," and "Staff Directory 1956," and "Staff Directory 1960-1969," and unmarked folder containing staff directories 1970-1977, Seattle Room, Seattle Public Library; Karen Spiel, email to Paula Becker, February 14, 2009, in possession of Paula Becker, Seattle, Washington.
Note: This essay was updated on April 28, 2009.

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