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Brief History of the Library : 125th Anniversary of The Seattle Public Library

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The Seattle Public Library celebrates 125 years

The Seattle Public Library - 125 Years

Changing lives. Creating the Future.

2016 marks the 125th anniversary of the first public library to be opened in Seattle. After it was adopted as a department of the city in 1890, the Library opened its first reading room in the Occidental Building in Pioneer Square on April 8, 1891. Read an overview of the Central Library’s history here.

To honor this milestone, we will post a series of articles on our blog about the Library’s history and life in the 1890’s. We also encourage our patrons to share their favorite memories of SPL on social media using the hashtag #SPL125. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Some important SPL milestones:


  • 1891: The first public library opens in Seattle
  • 1899: The Library purchases its first non-English books (novels in German)



  • 1901: Fire destroys the library's first permanent home in the Yesler Mansion, which inspires a $200,000 gift from Andrew Carnegie to rebuild
  • 1903: Seattle selects a Beaux-Arts design by P.J. Weber for its new Central Library Carnegie
  • 1904: Andrew Carnegie donates $15,000 for the construction of the Carnegie Free Public Library on Market Street in Ballard
  • 1904: The Library began sending books in braille by request to blind people in Washington
  • 1905: Construction begins on Central Library Carnegie downtown
  • 1905: SPL opens a small, one-room library on Green Lake
  • 1906: The Central Library opens at its current location in downtown Seattle
  • 1906: University branch library opens in the University Pharmacy at UW
  • 1907: When Ballard is annexed, its public library becomes a branch of The Seattle Public Library
  • 1908: Andrew Carnegie donates $105,000 to build three new libraries
  • 1909: A small public library opens in Columbia City Hall



  • 1910: University branch library opens in its current location
  • 1910: Green Lake branch library opens
  • 1910: West Seattle branch library opens
  • 1911: Andrew Carnegie gives the Library $70,000 to construct two new branch libraries
  • 1911: The Library opens a deposit station in a pharmacy in the South Park neighborhood
  • 1914: The Henry L. Yesler Memorial Library opens in the Central District
  • 1914: The Queen Anne branch library opens
  • 1915: The Columbia branch library opens
  • 1917: Andrew Carnegie donates $35,000 to build a library in Fremont
  • 1918: The Library closes for five weeks due to a flu pandemic



  • 1921: The Fremont branch library opens
  • 1928: Greenwood-Phinney branch library opens



  • 1930: Bookmobile service begins
  • 1934: The Henry family donates property on Capitol Hill for a branch library location
  • 1939: Lending of phonograph records begins



  • 1942: The High Point Library opens in the cloakroom of the High Point Housing Project
  • 1942: The Library sends 500 books to regional Japanese-American internment camps
  • 1942: The Library debuts two radio shows, one for children and one for adults
  • 1943: Holly Park Station opens to serve a housing development for defense workers
  • 1944: King County Library System opens a North End branch in Broadview
  • 1944: The Library teams up with Montlake Community Club to open a small branch
  • 1945: The first Beacon Hill Library opens
  • 1945: The Ravenna Community Club raises money to open a deposit station
  • 1946: Film library opens with 57 documentary films
  • 1949: The Wilmot Memorial Library opens in Wallingford



  • 1954: The first Capitol Hill branch library opens
  • 1954: Seattle annexes the Lake City area and takes over its library from King County
  • 1954: The Northeast branch library designed by Paul Thiry opens in Ravenna
  • 1954: The Library launches its first TV show, "The Challenge of Books"
  • 1955: After annexing Broadview, Seattle reopens the library there as the Oakview branch
  • 1956: Seattle passes $5 million bond for the construction of an expanded Central Library



  • 1960: A modern, 206,000 square foot Central Library opens
  • 1961: The High Point Library moves to a larger space
  • 1961: The Southwest branch library opens
  • 1961: An hour long history of the library is produced and airs on KING-TV
  • 1962: The Beacon Hill Library moves to a larger space
  • 1963: The Ballard branch library moves to a larger space on 24th Ave. NW
  • 1963: KOMO Radio station gives approximately 22,000 pieces of popular sheet music of the twenties and thirties to library
  • 1964: The Magnolia branch library opens
  • 1965: The African-American collection is seeded by a donation of books from the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority
  • 1968: Borrow-by-Mail service available at 25 cents per card
  • 1969: Stones removed from Central Library fountain due to widespread protests in downtown Seattle



  • 1970: Married women are first allowed to have a Library card in their own name
  • 1972: 8-mm films are made available for borrowing
  • 1973: The Station House Branch (Madrona- Sally Goldmark) opens in the former Fire Station No. 12
  • 1975: The Yesler Library in the Central District is renamed Douglass-Truth in honor of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth
  • 1976: The Quick Information System opens to take questions by phone
  • 1978: Computer-assisted reference services are first implemented
  • 1978: Materials in Vietnamese and Arabic are first added to the collection
  • 1979: A renovation funded by a federal grant adds work spaces and a media center to Central Library, as well as improved access to art and music materials
  • 1979: Televisions with cable are installed at four branches



  • 1980: VHS tapes and video discs are first made available to check out
  • 1981: The Rainier Beach branch library opens
  • 1981: The Library begins using electronic mail
  • 1982: An Apple II microcomputer is installed as the first public computer
  • 1984: The Library is unsuccessfully challenged by an anti-pornography group for collecting Playboy magazine
  • 1988: The transition to a computerized circulation system is complete



  • 1995: The Library launches its first website
  • 1998: Seattle passes a $196.4 million bond to double the square footage of neighborhood libraries and build a new Central Library downtown
  • 1999: Holly Park Station relocates to become the NewHolly branch library