Libraries Where You Least Expect Them: Library Stations of the 1920s

2016 marks the 125th anniversary of The Seattle Public Library. After it was adopted as a department of the city in 1890, the Library opened its first reading room in Pioneer Square on April 8, 1891. To honor this milestone, we will be posting a series of articles here about the Library’s history and life in the 1890s. 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

Library Deposit Station No. 1, Weeds Pharmacy
Library Deposit Station No. 1, Weeds Pharmacy

Imagine being able to check out your next library book at your neighborhood pharmacy, candy store, or even your local department store. In the early 20th century, the library depended on exactly this model. They were referred to as deposit stations to reach underserved populations who weren’t able to make it to an official library. These stations were scattered across pharmacies, fire stations, schools, hospitals and other locales throughout the city and offered mini-library collections catered to each location.

Although the library started opening small neighborhood reading rooms in the early 1900s, library stations really gained full steam in the 1920s with the creation of the Deposit Station Division which was placed under the management of librarian Harriet Leitch. By 1926, the library had 50 stations in operation at a variety of locations including: Greenwood Pharmacy, Sears Roebuck, Imperial Candy Company, Bon Marché, Seattle General Hospital, fire stations, the local jail, Cloverdale Grocery in South Park, the City Engineer’s camp at Skagit River, and Pike Place Market.

The Pike Place Market Station, which opened in 1922 was described in the library’s annual report as “a cheerful room overlooking Puget Sound. Here are books of all classes and borrowers of all nationalities. Housewives carry away the family supply of books in their market baskets with their cabbages and potatoes. Stall owners borrow books to help in gardening and fruit growing. This little library is used as an information bureau and its dictionaries, maps, and directory are in constant use.” The December staff report for the same year noted that the library was sometimes so busy during the weekend that Miss Nation, the librarian, had to “forage for extra chairs from the nearby rest room.” The report also noted that frequent visitors to the station included “tourists camping in Woodland Park, sailors on leave, and visitors who noticed the library in passing” who were issued temporary cards for their visit.

The Market Station remained in operation until 1926 when it closed due to its limited audience and declining usage. In 1933, the library closed all remaining stations as a result of budgetary restrictions during the Great Depression. Luckily, the closures were relatively short-lived. When World War II began, the need for expanded service was renewed as war workers flooded Seattle. In 1942, the library introduced its first new station in a decade at the High Point Defense-Housing Project in West Seattle where it served war workers and their families.

Want to learn more about library stations? Visit the Seattle Room at the Central where we have a scrapbook of material dedicated to the subject along with all of the library’s annual and department reports discussing the activities of the Deposit Station department. You can also find the photos featured in this post along with other photos of our branch libraries online in our digital collections.

~posted by Jade D.

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