‘Bainbridge Public Library: Built by and for the people of Bainbridge Island’

This week, Bainbridge Islander reporter Tad Sooter delved into the history of the Bainbridge Public Library, which celebrates its 50th birthday on Saturday (Mar. 17), starting at 10 a.m.


On an August day in 1960, several thousand islanders flooded the Winslow shipyard’s administration building to support a cause that had kept Bainbridge buzzing that summer.

Inside, crowds perused tables heaped with used household items for sale, as two auctioneers took bids on big ticket items. Notable amid the goods offered that day were two live sheep, a 500 gallons of furnace oil and a generous side of beef. One discerning shopper carried away a stuffed seal.

This was the first-ever Bainbridge Rotary Auction, and it was organized for a single purpose: to help pay for a new public library. The club added nearly $6,000 from that sale to a pot of community money that soon reached $35,000.

On March 17, 1962, the new Kitsap Regional Library branch opened on Madison Avenue, with a building and property furnished entirely through donations. As library supporters look back on 50 years of history this month, they see a legacy created and sustained by members of the community, whose contributions keep the library’s lights on and doors open.

“It speaks to the willingness of people on this island to step forward and build something if they don’t have it,” Bainbridge Public Library volunteer board President Pat Miller said. “There’s a lot of pride in that I think.”

The library will celebrate its anniversary with an open house on Saturday, and 1960s-themed events throughout the spring.
The open house will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the library, 1270 Madison Ave. Visitors can join in activities and view history exhibits illuminating the library’s past.

In a way, the past 50 years are only the latest chapter in the history of Bainbridge libraries.

The first public book collections appeared on Bainbridge nearly 150 years ago, according to “They Like Noble Causes,” islander Barbara Winther’s 2000 book about the Bainbridge Library.

One library was serving the boomtown of Port Madison by 1863, and several schools housed collections by the turn of the century. Winslow Public Library took root in the Good Templars building in 1913. The Rolling Bay Library opened a year later with a single room for books and became an island staple.

As popular as the Rolling Bay Library was, it wasn’t prepared to meet the wholesale growth Bainbridge faced in the late 1950s. Main roads were paved, the new state ferry system shuttled a stream of cars and people to Winslow from Seattle, and the recently built Agate Pass Bridge linked the island to the mainland. There were about 3,000 books in the Rolling Bay collection and nearly as many households on island.

“I think everybody on the island knew they needed a bigger facility to serve the growing population,” said Charles Browne, a library board member and archivist, who helped assemble historical records for the 50th anniversary celebration. “I think that was the main pressure.”

In early 1960, a few dozen islanders held a public meeting at the Winslow City Hall and agreed to incorporate the Bainbridge Public Library. The fledgling organization had no money for a library but they set about searching for a location anyway.

Fortunately, a suitable parcel was sitting vacant at the corner of Madison Avenue and High School Road. Luckier still, it’s owner, Edmund Stafford, was willing to donate it, provided it be used for a cultural facility. The property was a remarkably good site for a library, within an easy walk of public schools, several churches and Winslow’s commercial core.

“It’s hard to imagine a better location,” Browne said.

With a site selected, the association chose architect John Rudolph to draft designs for the building, and turned to the daunting task of raising money. The group sent fliers to every home on the island, soliciting support and the campaign gradually gathered steam. Money trickled in from service clubs, pancake breakfasts and Campfire Girl craft sales. The first Rotary Auction in 1960 was followed by another the following year, laying the foundation for an island tradition.

The library broke ground in 1961 and opened a year later. It was an airy building with a modern, pavilion-like roof. About 8,500 books lined its shelves the first year.

The success of the community effort was summed up in a plaque installed on the north wall of the building, inscribed with the words of island newspaperman Walt Woodward: “Bainbridge Public Library: Built by and for the people of Bainbridge Island.”

“It’s been fascinating to learn how the people of the community came together to support the library,” Browne said. “In the following 50 years, it’s all been supported by islanders. That’s the model that’s been used.”

The model has seen the library through decades transformation. Community donations paid for a 2,400 square-foot library expansion in 1982, to make room for a larger collection of books. The breathless pace of island growth led to another 7,000 square-foot expansion in 1997. The roughly $2 million remodel, paid for by a three-year capital campaign, added computer work stations, public art displays and a contemplative haiku garden, which garnered national recognition.

Donations continue to pay for everyday expenses. While the tax-supported Kitsap Regional Library system supplies books, technology and staff, the volunteer board maintains the buildings and grounds. Roof repairs and parking lot repaving projects are paid for by the community, which means endless fundraising by the board’s committees and groups like the Bainbridge Friends of the Library.

Support also comes in the form of volunteer hours. About 250 islanders lent time to the library last year.

As KRL’s budget tightens and demands for services rise, Bainbridge Library Manager Rebecca Judd said cooperation with the community is as vital as ever.

“The public-private partnership is unique,” she said. “But it’s also what makes our library special.”

Time and technology continue to redefine the role of Bainbridge’s library.

In 1962, its circulation hovered at 43,000. Last year, the library checked out more than 500,000 items and served more than a quarter-million people. These days, patrons are as likely to cradle laptops or scroll on e-readers as they are to thumb through books.

Community support remains one constant. Volunteers seem as impassioned today as they did in the summer of 1960, when islanders sold livestock and taxidermy to build a library that could meet the demands of the future.

“They have a sense that this is our building, and we have to take care of it,” said Elaine Molina, a 20-year Friends of the Library volunteer. “That shows.”

Library party
Bainbridge Public Library celebrates its 50th anniversary Saturday with a day-long open house, beginning at 10 a.m. Events with 1960s themes will continue through spring. For a full listing of activities and events, visit www.bainbridgepubliclibrary.org.

Top image: An artist’s rendering of the 1962 Bainbridge Public Library building, designed by architect John Rudolph. Photo courtesy of the Bainbridge Public Library.

Above: Flyer from the 1960 rummage sale to help build the library. Image courtesy of the Bainbridge Public Library.