Washington State Library

The Washington State Library is a government agency that operates public libraries in Washington state's prisons and mental hospitals, and maintains collections related to the state government. Based in Tumwater, it is a service of the Washington Secretary of State and was founded in 1853 as the Washington Territorial Library.[1][2] The library has a collection of 2.25 million physical items and other online resources available to residents of the state.[2]

Washington State Library
TypeState library
LocationTumwater, Washington, US
Coordinates46°59′10″N 122°54′24″W
Size2.25 million items
Other information
DirectorCindy Aden


The Washington Territorial Library was established on March 2, 1853, with the signing of the Organic Act by President Millard Fillmore to create Washington Territory. The law included an appropriation of $5,000 for the territory library that was used by appointed Territorial Governor Issac Stevens to buy and ship 2,130 volumes from New York City to Olympia.[3][4] The first shipment of books departed from New York City on May 21, 1853, aboard the Invincible, which traveled around Cape Horn and South America to San Francisco. The books were transferred to the Tarquinia and arrived in Olympia on October 23, 1853,[4][5] a few weeks before Governor Stevens arrived from his overland trip and took office.[6][7] The library was opened to public use beginning in 1855, after an amendment to the territorial library law was passed by the territorial legislature.[8]

Prior to achieving statehood on November 11, 1889, the Territorial Library reported a collection of 10,448 volumes.[9] The new state legislature passed a bill creating the state library on March 27, 1890.[10] The state library's collection was organized under the Dewey Decimal Classification system in 1898, and a card index was created in 1901.[11] The library occupied the Joel M. Pritchard Building on the State Capitol campus in Olympia from 1958 until it was damaged by the 2001 Nisqually earthquake and evacuated.[12] At its greatest extent in the 1990s, the library contained 547,000 books, periodicals, and documents.[4]

The library was moved to a temporary location in Tumwater in December 2001, while the Pritchard Building underwent already-planned renovations and served as the temporary chambers for the state senate.[13][14] The general collection was downsized by 260,000 books, which were donated to local libraries.[15] The state government proposed closing the state library as part of its 2002 budget, saving $9 million in annual expenses,[16] but the library was saved by eliminating the state library commission and merging operations with the Office of the Secretary of State effective July 1, 2002.[17][18] The state government attempted to eliminate the state library a second time in December 2002, with collections transferred to local universities and colleges,[19] but was saved by downsizing its staff and reorganizing under the Office of the Secretary of State.[15][20] The library has since expanded its digital collections, which include scanned copies of older state newspapers and books.[15]

In 2019, the state legislature approved a $2 fee on recorded documents to fund the construction of a new library and archives building in Tumwater. The $108 million project would construct a joint facility on the South Campus near the former state library.[21] The Washington State Archives are currently housed in a building on the capitol campus that was constructed in 1962 and deemed too small to hold the state's records.[22]

Branches and services

The State Library maintains branches at several state agencies, as well as in correctional facilities and mental hospitals:[23]

Computer network

The Washington State Library coordinates library access to the Washington K-20 Network.[24]

List of librarians

  • Bion Freeman Kendall, 1853–1857
  • Henry R. Crosbie, 1857
  • Urban East Hicks, 1858
  • Andrew Jackson Moses, 1859
  • James Clark Head, 1860–1861, 1863, 1865
  • Thomas Taylor, 1862
  • John Paul Judson, 1864
  • Samuel Nelson Woodruff, 1866
  • Henry Lensen Chapman, 1866
  • Levi Shelton, 1867–1869
  • Jeremiah D. Mabie, 1869–1870
  • Sylvester Hill Mann, 1870
  • Champion Bramwell Mann, 1870
  • Issac Van Dorsey Mossman, 1870–1873
  • Benjamin Franklin Yantis, 1873–1875
  • Frederick S. Holmes, 1875–1877
  • Elwood Evans, 1877–1879
  • Walter W. Newlin, 1879–1880
  • James Peyre Ferry, 1880–1881
  • Eliza Des Saure Newell, 1882–1887
  • Eleanor Sharp Stevenson, 1888–1890[25]


  1. "Wyman names Cindy Aden as new WA State Librarian". Washington Secretary of State. June 13, 2016. Retrieved January 9, 2018.
  2. "Washington State and Territorial Library: An Historic Overview". Washington State Library. Retrieved January 9, 2018.
  3. McDonald, Lucile (July 19, 1959). "Treasured Collections Installed In State Library's Washington Room". The Seattle Times. p. 7.
  4. "Territory's First Library Custodian Met Violent End". The Seattle Times. March 8, 1953. p. 7.
  5. Roach, Matthew (May 29, 2013). "The Voyage of the "Unknown Steamer"". Washington State Library. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  6. "Oh, the places you'll go!". Washington State Library. September 25, 2013. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  7. Reynolds & Davis (2002), p. 3
  8. Smith, Charles W. (October 1926). "Early Library Development in Washington". The Washington Historical Quarterly. University of Washington Press. 17 (4): 246–247. JSTOR 40475043. OCLC 2392232. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  9. "Chapter VIII: Commissions" (PDF). Session Laws of the State of Washington, 1889–90. Washington State Legislature. March 27, 1890. pp. 254–259. Retrieved February 4, 2018.
  10. Kaiser, John B. (1917). Report on a Survey of State Supported Library Activities in the State of Washington Made by the State Library Advisory Board. Olympia, Washington: Frank M. Lamborn. p. 44. OCLC 8081060. Retrieved January 12, 2018 via HathiTrust.
  11. "Historic Sites of the Washington State and Territorial Library: 1853 to the present". Washington State Library. 2012. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  12. Condon, Patrick (October 25, 2001). "Library set for move to Tumwater". The Olympian. p. B1.
  13. Ammons, David (December 2, 2002). "Not much room to negotiate as Capitol squeeze continues". The Seattle Times. Associated Press. p. B3.
  14. Guiterrez, Scott (January 19, 2004). "State library survives transformation". The Olympian. p. B2.
  15. Koepp, Autumn (January 28, 2002). "Reading the library its last rites? - Locke proposes closing facility to save money". The Seattle Times. p. B1. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  16. Ammons, David (April 24, 2002). "Her library is safe, so leader is going". The Seattle Times. Associated Press. p. B2.
  17. "Washington State Library Merges with Secretary of State's Office". American Library Association. September 2002. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  18. Condon, Patrick (December 4, 2002). "Locke has library on the block, Reed fears". The Olympian. p. B1.
  19. Condon, Patrick (December 19, 2002). "State library would stay open, but not to public". The Olympian. p. A1.
  20. Drew, James (April 25, 2019). "New state library-archives building and the $2 fee to pay for it are closer to reality". The News Tribune. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  21. "Secretary of State shows off reasons the state needs a new building for its archives". The Olympian. January 29, 2019. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  22. "Branch Libraries". Washington State Library. Retrieved January 9, 2018.
  23. "Washington Public Libraries and the K-20 Network". Washington Secretary of State/Washington State Library. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  24. "Territorial Librarians". Washington State Library. Retrieved January 12, 2018.

Further reading

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