Governor Clarence Martin signs House Bill 259 authorizing voters of counties, cities, towns, and school districts to establish and maintain free public libraries and establishing professional criteria for librarians on March 20, 1935.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 9/08/2011
  • Essay 9920
On March 20, 1935, Washington governor Clarence Martin (1887-1955) signs into law House Bill 259.  The new law explicitly declares the creation of free public libraries as an essential part of the state's provision for public education, defines the ways in which such libraries may be established, and creates a state board to certify librarians, The law also repeals and updates earlier state laws governing libraries.

The bill was introduced by Snohomish County representative Neal J. Boyle (b.1883).  It passed the house on February 2, 1935, and the senate on March 12, 1935. The bill defined "library" as "a free public library supported in whole or in part with money derived from taxation" and a "regional library" as "a library maintained by two or more counties" (Sec. 2).    

Strength in Numbers

The provision for the creation of regional library systems meant that existing libraries, such as those founded by women's organizations in many small towns and nurtured by dedicated volunteers operating on minimal budgets, could band together and take advantage of each other's collections and/or new collections and services to benefit all members. These existing libraries could benefit from economies of scale while maintaining ownership of their own facilities and collections. Counties wishing to create regional libraries were only bound by the edict to operate "under the terms of a contract to which all will agree" (Sec. 5).

The law also gave legislative bodies (such as town or county governments) the power to receive library services under contract from existing libraries, rather than organize their own independent libraries. This included the right to contract such services from a library that was not owned by a public corporation (such as a town or county), but was still maintained for public use. This clause covered free libraries operated by individuals or groups as a public service.  Before legislative bodies could contract with such libraries, the law required that a state-certified librarian inspect the operation to ensure that it maintained proper standards.

The new law directly expanded the availability of books to students in Washington public schools, empowering school districts to contract with existing libraries. Fees for these contract services could be paid out of district funds.

Operating Instructions

Under the law, governing bodies for libraries consisted of five trustees. In cities and towns, these trustees were to be appointed by the mayor with the consent of the town council. In counties, the board of county commissioners was to appoint library trustees.  In school districts, the trustees were to be elected by public vote.  Terms for the initially appointed or elected trustees were to be terms of one, two, three, four, and five years. Thereafter, as trustees terms expired, one trustee per year was to be elected or appointed to a five-year term. Library trustees were not permitted to receive salaries for their services.

Once libraries were established or library services contracted for, the appropriate legislative body was empowered to appropriate operating funds on an annual basis.  Such funds could only be used for library purposes.  Each library's board of trustees had exclusive control of expenditures.  Libraries were not permitted to incur debt.

Certifying Librarians

Under the legislation, the state created a board to certify librarians. This board consisted of the state librarian, the director of the University of Washington library, and one other member appointed by the governor from a list of three possible candidates nominated by the executive committee of the Washington Library Association.

The board was instructed to grant certifications without exemptions to any applicants who had graduated from library schools that were accredited by the American Library Association. Other applicants were to be certified if the board "has satisfied itself by examination that the applicant has attainments and abilities equivalent to those of a library school graduate and is qualified to carry on library work ably and efficiently" (Sec. 11).

Applicants who had not graduated from an American Library Association-accredited library program but who had worked in Washington as a full-time librarian or full-time professional assistant for at least one year prior to the law's enactment were granted certification without having to go through an examination.  Such individuals, however, were only certified to work in exactly the same capacity as they had prior to the law's enactment.

After January 1, 1937, no community of more than 4,000 was allowed to employ as a librarian or in any other full-time professional library position anyone who lacked state certification.  The same law applied to libraries directly operated by the state, such as those in state schools. The state law library and county law libraries were exempt from the certification requirement.

Taking Care

The law also specified that anyone intentionally injuring or destroying library property would be guilty of a misdemeanor.  The same was true for anyone who willfully refused to return a book or other library property for more than 30 days after its due-date.

Once the law was enacted, trustees of all existing free public libraries in the state were required to bring their library into adherence.  With the exception of regional libraries, libraries operating under the requirements of the law could only be abolished by a public vote of the citizens of the town or county in which the library was located.  Books from such libraries were required to be placed in either the county library or, if the county library itself was abolished, in the state library.

Sources: 1935 Wash. Laws, Chapter 119; "Bills Passed By Senate," The Seattle Times, March 13, 1935, p. 4.

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