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The Washington State Library
The Timberland Regional Library is the product of a library demonstration which culminated in a successful vote to establish the district permanent] y in the fall of 1968. The di.strict, which .is an inter-county rural l.ibrary distr.ict, originally was comprised of the un.incorporated areas of Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason,
Pacif.ic, and Thurston counites. Prior to several annexations in the early 1980's, cities were not an integral part of the district; however, cities and city library facilities were largely responsible for the rapid implementation and success of this new library service unit.
The Timberland Demonstration, wh:i.ch lasted from the fall of 1964 to the fall of 1968, and the district's subsequent evolution are a fasc.inating study of organizational development. Equally fascinating is the development of public library service planning at the state level which enabled and nurtured the formation of the Timberland Regional Library and other multi-county library districts. The main contributors to public library development included a strong Washington State Library, independent municipal lihrClries, and county library systems. The logical starting point for a study of Washington libraries is the history of the Washington State Library. Once this library and its function are
more clearly understood, we can trace the development of all units
of public library service from their origins to their present
Public library service in Washington can be traced to the
March 3, 1853 passage of the Organic Act establishing the
Washington Territory. Section 17 of the Act included the
appropriation of $ 5,000 fI ••• to be expended by and under the
direction of the Governor of Washington, in the purchase of a
library ...• fI (1)
The library referred to in the Organic Act was not for
public use. - According to subsequent passages, it was " ... to be l!>
kept at the seat of government for use of the Governor. Legislative
Assembly, Judges of the Supreme Court. Secretary, Marshall, and
Attorney of said Territory •... fI (2) Such provisions for Territorial
library service were not unique to the WashiIlgton Organic Act.
Similar language is found in the legislation establishing the
Territories of Wisconsin in 1836, Oregon in 1848, and New Mexico in
In keeping with the spirit of the actions of the United
States Congress, the first Washington Territorial Legislature,
meeting in regular session in 1854, passed a series of
library-related enabling acts. Among these acts were provisions
for the appointment of a Territorial Librarian. the definition of
the duties associated with the position, and the provision for
continued library funding. In the early years of the Territorial
Library, the Governor was responsible for appointing the Territorial Librarian. This librarian was in charge of maintaining the library collection for use by Washington Territorial officials. Little concern was afforded public use of the Territorial facility, although public access was granted during the first regular session of the state legislature. (4)
For a number of years, laws governing the Washington Territorial Library received little attention. There were minor changes enacted that affected access to library materials, but no substantive changes occurred.
During the fourteenth session of the Territorial Legislature in 1866, all library laws were reviewed. This review resulted in a number of significant changes. Among them was the method used to select the Territorial Librarian. This position would now be filled through ballots cast by both Houses of the Legislative Assembly. The Territorial Librarian previously had served at the pleasure of the Governor. (5)
The most significant change in library law during the fourteenth session of the Territorial Legislature was one that allowed to all the public the right to borrow materials from the Territorial Library in Olympia. (6) This change, coupled with a further provision for opening the library " ••. for use of the public
every Saturday from the hour of nine o'clock in
the forenoon till four o'clock in the afternoon ••. ," (7) was a most important step in library development in this State. In allowing
greater public access to the material available in the Territorial Library, the legislature was acknowledging a responsibility for public library service development. The language in this 1866 chapter of session law was changed several times over subsequent decades but the direction of library development would not be reversed until well into the 1900's.
Washington achieved statehood in 1889. an accomplishment which resulted in a complete review of Territorial Laws. During the 1889-90 session of the State Legislature, several new features were added to the legal provisions for the Washington State Library. A most important addition was the establishment of a State Board of Library Commissioners to be comprised of the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Attorney General of the State. (8) This policy-making body for the State Library was the first of many such groups to be established for that purpose.
It is important to follow carefully the evolution of the various boards attached to the Washington State Library throughout its history. In many cases, the changing direction of or charge to the various groups preceded significant directional change for this branch of state government.
Again, it was a number of years before notable changes were made to Washington State library statutes. In fact nothing of consequence was changed until the 1901 legislative session. During the 1901 session of the Washington State Legislature, the Washington Library Commission was established. (Note that this
Commission was Ln addition to the State Board of Library
Commissioners.) Membership of the Washington Library Commission
included two persons appointed by the Governor (one of whom was to
be a woman), the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the
President of the State University, the President of the
Agricultural College and School of Science, and a member chosen by the Federation of Women's Clubs. (9) This membership, especially
that of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the
representative chosen by the Federation of Women's Clubs,
foreshadowed events of the future.
The Washington Library Commission had as its charge the
development of public library service in Washington State. This
included providing advice to all free public libraries and/or
communities wishing to establish them. It also included the
development of the Free Traveling Library System. (10)
The Free Traveling Library System was a number of small
collections of library books placed in rural communities without
public library service. The system was established under the
guidance of Mrs. Franz Coe of Seattle who recognized the need for
library service in all areas throughout the state. The Traveling
Libraries eventually were passed to the control of the State
Federation of Women's Clubs which did in turn " •.• on September 25,
1901, present to the State Library the beginnings of a system of
Traveling Libraries in the shape of eleven small collections." (11)
By the end of 1904 the number of Traveling Library collections had
increased to fifty-seven and, in 1906, peaked at one-hundred and
The 1903 Regular Session of the Washington State Legislature
resulted in a number of changes to Washington Library laws
affecting the Washington State Library. During this session, the
Board of Library Commissioners (est. 1890) was reorganized as the
State Library Commission. This new commission was made up of the
Governor, the Justices of the Supreme Court, and the State Attorney
General. It was the responsibility of the newly organized State
Library Commission to oversee the activities of the State Library
and all its various departments. This included library extension
work and the activities of the Traveling Libraries. (12)
The State Library Commission was not the only new body to
emerge from the 1903 legislative session. The 1903 legislature
also called for the reorganization of the State Library Commission
(est. 1901). The State Library Commission thus emerged as the
State Library Advisory Board. Its membership consisted of the
Superintendent of Public Instruction, two persons chosen by the
Governor, one at the recommendation of the State Historical
Society, and one based upon the recommendation of the State
Federation of Women's Clubs. (13)
Although not apparent in 1903, the diverse interests of the
membership of the State Library commission and the State Library
Advisory Board set in motion the mechanism for the 1907 division of
Washington State Library into three unique and separate bodies:
the State Library, the Washington State Law Library, and the
The Law Division of the State Library was removed and placed
under the direction of the Acting Director of that department. The
State Law Library in its new form was still technically under the
control of the entire State Library Commission; in fact, however,
the Justices of the Supreme Court, acting as a sub-unit of the
State Library Commission, assumed control of this new unit of
specialized library service. It is interesting to note that they
alone were responsible for the appointment of the State Law
The control of the Traveling Library System was vested in a
superintendent appointed by the full State Library Commission.
This superintendent assumed the duties which previously had been
associated with an assistant state librarian in charge of that
department and was accountable to the State Library Commission. (15)
The restructured Washington State Library was to remain
under the control of the State Library Commission which had been
established four years earlier.
No further changes were made during the 1907 legislative
session. In fact, despite several attempts to make changes in
library structure over the next several years, none took place
place until 1921.
During the period from 1907 until 1921 the most sought-after
change in State Library law was in the composition of the
legislative bodies of the three library units. An excellent
example of state-wide concern is found in the Governor's message to
the Fourteenth Legislature. Dated January 12, 1915, it included
the following passage:
"Under existing laws the State Library is in
(the) charge of a commission consisting of nine
members of the Supreme Court, the Attorney
General, and the Governor.
At a meeting of the
Commission held some months ago it went on
record asking the Legislature to be removed of
The Law Library is in (the) charge f!;
of the Supreme Court and it appears to me proper
that it should be.
I feel, however, that the
members of the court ought to be relieved of the
duty of having charge of the general library of
There is also a new law which
created a State Library Board and gave the
members of this board
connection with the State Library.
ought to be repealed and a new board created
having full charge of the State Library. By
following this course we would be placing in the
hands of one Board the duties now performed by
two non-salaried commissions or boards." (16)
The problem the Governor addressed in his message to the
legislature in 1915 was placed before the State Library Commission for consideration. It was the feeling of the Commission that the Advisory Board should examine the situation and prepare recommendations. The Advisory Board did produce a series of recommendations. These were adopted at a meeting held January 24-25, 1917, and presented to the Washington State Library Commission on February 9, 1917. The conclusion of the Advisory Board's report states that:
"In brief, the Advisory Board has found that primarily our state supported library activities in Hashington needs greater financial support, a greater measure of responsiveness to visible needs and opportunities on the part of the library commission •••• These are the needs. In the judgement of this Board a new commission law
is not a prime need.
The consolidation of two
members, into one of five, or the elimination of both with the transfer of their combined duties
to the State Board of Education seems to us too obviously advantageous to require argument." (17)
It was not until 1921 that the legislature acted upon any portion of the recommendations that were contained in the report of the Advisory Board to the State Library Commission. In that year, however, both the State' Library Commission and the State Library
Advisory Board were abolished. (18) They were replaced by two new governing units, the Library Law Committee and the State Library Committee.
The Library Law Committee was comprised of the Justices of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of State, ex-officio. It was the duty of this committee to act on behalf of the State Law Library. It was at this point that the State Law Library finally was separated from the Washington State Library; a process which began in 1903 by including Supreme Court Justices as members of the State Library Commission. (19)
The State Library Committee was formed to act on behalf of the State Library and the State Traveling Library. Its membership included the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Commissioner of Public Lands, and the State Treasurer, ex-officio. (20) The membership of this committee was most important. Although eventually it would be abolished, the committee was directly responsible for placing control of the State Library under the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The committee structure put into place during the 1921 session of the Washington State Legislature remained intact until 1929. In that year the State Library Committee was abolished and the Superintendent of Public Instruction was given charge of the State Library and the State Traveling Libraries. Control of the latter was short-lived, as funding for the Traveling Library System was withdrawn in that same year. By 1931 it appeared that the
State Library would meet a similar fate. Fortunately, members of a
regional library ~riented organization, the Pacific Northwest
Library Association mounted a strong support campaign for continued
funding of the Washington State Library.
In 1931, Washington members of the Pacific Northwest Library
Association recognized the precarious position of the Washington
State Library. Because of that awareness they reorganized the
Washington Library Association. WLA, as it was known, originally
had been established in 1905 as a support group for Washington
State Library activities. It later gave up its identity and in
1909 became a member of the larger Pacific Northwest Library .,
Association. The 1931 reorganization effort was for the purpose of
adding strength and support to legislation favoring libraries in
Washington state. WLA was successful in the period 1931 through
1941 in keeping the Washington State Library alive; however, funding
for that state agency was severely restricted. As later will be
seen in the examination of city and county library laws, the
Washington Library Association was also most successful in its
efforts directed at their development in the period 1931 to 1947.
From 1931 through 1935, the Washington Library Association
devoted its efforts to studying library laws of other states and
developing proposals for library legislation and development in
'vashington state. Because of these efforts, legislation was passed
in 1935 that provided for county, regional, and school district
libraries and their associated boards of trustees. A period of
renewed interest in statewide library service began. The Washington State Library, however, still was not granted sufficient funding and continued to function without a governing board.
Unfortunately, the provisions of the 1935 Library Services Act were not sufficiently detailed in areas of library finance; they proved unworkable. Modifications were made and legislators were educated regarding the need for these "new" units of library service. Finally, thoroughly defined laws affecting all types of libraries in Washington state were enacted in 1941.
An important change in the direction of the Washington State Library occurred duringJti the 1941 legislative session .. _A law
was passed that re-established the Washington State Library Commission. Chapter 5 Section 1 of the Session Laws of 1941 read:
"A State Library Commission is hereby created which shall consist of the Superintendent of
Public Instruction who shall be chairman of said commission and
commissioners appointed by the Governor, one of
whom shall be a library trustee at th~ time of appointment and one a certified librarian •.•• " (21) The Washington State Library now resumed its course of
promoting public library development.
1. 10 U.S. Statutes at Large, c 90 p , 172.
3. Charles W. Smith, "Early Library Development in
Washington, The Washington Historical Quarterly, 1926, p. 247.
4. Laws of Washington Territory, Vol. 1.
5. Laws of Washington Territory, Vol. 14.
8. Laws of Washington State, 1889-90.
9. Laws of Washington State, 1901.
10. Ibid. II. Washington State Library Commission, Report 0 n a Survey of State Library Supported Activities, paper prepared for the Library Commission, by the State Li.brary Advisory Board, (Olympia, Washington: Public Printer, 1917) p , 18.
12. Ibid. p. 58.
13. Laws of Washington State, 1903.
16. Governor's Message to the Fourteenth Washingt on Legislature, 12 January, 1915, as quoted in Washington State Library Commission, Report on a Survey of State Supported Library Activities, paper prepared for the Library Commission, by the State Library Advisory Board, (Olympia, Washington: Public Printer, 1917) p , 50.
17. Washington State Library Commission, p.34.
18. Laws of Washington State, 1921.
) 21. Laws of Washington State, 1941. (
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