Thursday, October 23, 2014

Libraries (or Love of Books and Reading)

With October 2014 being National Book Month I started thinking about those top 10 lists on books.  And so, I found that 
in a recent survey of the top 10 cities for book lovers, Spokane rated 9th.  I thought it was surprising that Seattle didn’t make this list, especially with its close proximity to universities, businesses especially the tech industry.  And then, there is the beautiful main library which made the top 10 libraries in Seattle with all its many branches  where many readers first begin to feed the need for books, and more books.  But surprisingly, Seattle did make the top 10 lists  and for bookstores!  So why not readers?

But even more surprising was the historical timeline on the Pierce County Library System for the Gig Harbor Pierce County Library.  The sub-title “Highlights in the history of the Gig Harbor Library”.  Their history starts with the incorporation of Gig Harbor; it overlooks all the access to books and reading the  early settlers and residents provided the community.  

The early Scandinavian settlers in Little Norway brought books with them and before their first school was built in 1900, met in various homes for social gatherings including music, reading, church services and other social activities.

The Gig Harbor Grange #445 helped work to establish the Pierce County Rural Public Library in the 1930s prior to the ballot measure being placed on the ballot in 1944..

And, of course, we mustn’t overlook Home and its contributions to education, newspapers and reading in their community.  Their newspaper covered local, national and even international news and included a list of books and pamphlets for sale.  Although Home is known mostly for scandal surrounding President McKinley’s assassination and anarchist views, their contributions to early education including reading should be more widely explored. 

The Gig Harbor Fortnightly Club started a library in 1908 where the library was first housed in the basement of the Uddenberg residence.  Each Saturday afternoon, members took their turn acting as librarian.  The club and its funds were used to purchase books and to maintain the library, and books were also donated by interested friends.  Today, as then, there was a volunteer group aptly named “Friends of Gig Harbor Library” who assist in activities such as book sales (sorting, crating, stocking shelves, set-up, clean-up, and of course, the sales themselves).

1907 Fortnightly Club Members

The Gig Harbor Fortnightly Club moved their first library from Uddenberg’s basement to the home of Dr. Tymms where it remained until 1914.  It’s next home was in the Kendall’s store, and in 1919 moved once again, this time to the telephone office owned by Mrs. J. D. Fuller until 1921, then another move to the Sweeney Building.  In 1935 c., Jeanne Sellers Roby wrote in a letter to the Editor of the Peninsula Gateway, “At present, our school libraries are rapidly growing, and becoming a real credit to the districts supporting them, and the Tacoma libraries are no longer nearly two hours away by steamers that made two or possibly more round trips, and stopped everywhere —or so it seemed to passengers.  So, with increasing difficulties of housing and restocking their library, the Fortnightly Club is now regretfully laying aside their commendable pioneer venture.”  

In 1962 the Gig Harbor Yacht Club, then six years old, purchased the building. The club (Fortnightly Club) members then reestablished the practice of meeting in the members’ homes and could then turn what was used for the building’s expenses to better advantage of the community. “Probably the most photographed check in local history” was then presented to Ruth Bogue, president of the Gig Harbor Library Board. The check was for $3,000. 
Public Library before it was moved 5/1/1953 - Frank Shaw Collection

Skip forward to November 7, 1944 and the residents of Pierce County pass a ballot measure creating the Pierce County Rural Library District.  In May 1946, the first library station in the new district is opened in Gig Harbor.  It was located at the head of the harbor in what was referred to as “John Finholm’s Shed and housed 200 books.  Laura (Mrs. Harold) Smythe and Miss Lucy Goodman act as the librarians and it is open six hours every Wednesday.  John Sweeney ran electricity over to the ‘new’ library from his home at no charge, Spadoni Brothers provided oil at a minimal charge.  Others throughout the community also stepped in to provide various volunteer gifts of labor and materials to improve the building and to keep the library operating.  Laura Smythe remained as librarian for 10 years, and then in 1956 became the assistant librarian aboard the bookmobiles where she continued until 1976.
1946 Library Group

Bookmobiles - what a wonderful service to so many people in rural communities and especially the children and for schools with limited resources and small libraries of their own.  Once again, according to Gladys C. Para’s January 8, 1986 article in the Peninsula Gateway “Library opened in Gig Harbor”, Gig Harbor had the first regular bookmobile run .  Imagine 11 stops two days a month on the Peninsula.  The stops were determined wherever five or more families living 2 or more miles from the community library asked to be put on the regular schedule.  They carried approximately 2,000 books, a librarian and assistant librarian to book lovers living in the greater Gig Harbor community.  This service was eliminated by Pierce County Library in 2012.

In the 1960s, the Gig Harbor Library moved to a downtown area building and when the new Gig Harbor City Hall (now Timberland Bank building) was built, the library moved into the former city hall (now housing Gig Harbor Visitor’s/Chamber of Commerce) where it remained until 1981.  

1981 saw the community become rather frustrated when at first the Gig Harbor Library did not renew its contract with the Pierce County Library System.  Then more frustration, when the library decided to move outside the city limits to Point Fosdick and change its name from Gig Harbor Library to Peninsula Library, and where it rejoined the Pierce County Library System.  In 1988 the City of Gig Harbor annexed the area where the library was situated.  1990 the Pierce County Library District Bond Funds are used to build a 15,000 sq. ft. building at 4424 Pt. Fosdick Drive NW.  2005 sees the library close for remodel and reopen.

April 2006 sees the Gig Harbor Peninsula Library become the first branch to install Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing internet access for personal laptops in the Pierce County Library System.  

So Gig Harbor may not show up on any of the top lists for readers or libraries, it has a long history and love affair with books.  Think about it - Gig Harbor, a city of 7,798 people, has three book stores:  one prior owned books, one new books and one a combination of both.  The love affair continues!

  • 1946 770
  • 1960 1,094
  • 1980 2,429
  • 1990 3,236
  • 2006 6,765
All photographs are property of Harbor History Museum unless otherwise noted 

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

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