The Legion Public Library, the predecessor to the San Juan Island Library District, opened on February 4, 1922 in the American Legion building with books donated by the Bellingham American Legion and local citizens. The American Legion Save-N-Auxiliary in 1924 began donating $100 per year to buy new books and continued this annual donation for fifty-nine years.
In 1935, concerns about the safety of the American Legion building prompted a search for new quarters. The community constructed a one-story, concrete-block building with funds from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a depression-era program established to provide work for the unemployed. The 30’ x 85’ building, owned by the Town of Friday Harbor, cost less than $7,000 and was divided into two rooms. One room served as the Town Council meeting room and the other room served as the library, for which the town provided free rent and utilities.
By the late 70’s, the island’s population had grown substantially while the library’s income failed to keep pace. This financial pressure spurred the creation of a “Friends of the Library” group to help support the library. Even with this support, continuing financial problems and insufficient space prompted the creation of an island-wide library district. Voters approved the newly named San Juan Island District in 1982, with an annual taxation rate of $0.50 per thousand dollars of assessed property value. The newly created Board of Trustees immediately began looking for larger quarters to house the library.
The San Juan Island Library District purchased the present site, a 4,500 square foot former restaurant in 1983 and installed the library with minimal remodeling of the site. The first substantial remodel of the building was undertaken from April through September of 1988, during which the library occupied temporary quarters in the Moose Lodge. Funds for the remodel came from library savings and bank financing. The remodeled building was dedicated in October 1988.
In 1992 the SJI Library Board of Trustees initiated a long-range planning process to ensure the library’s future viability. The result was a document entitled “Imagining the Future: San Juan Island Library Long Range Plan 1993-2000” which outlined the library’s priorities in the final years of the century. One of the goals of this plan was to expand the library’s existing facility. After close examination of the available funding options for expansion, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution that authorized a tax lid lift to be placed on the September 14, 1993 ballot.
This lid lift (which passed with a 59% approval rating) enabled the library to collect the money necessary for the library expansion. In 1994 construction began on the library addition/renovation, which doubled the size of the library, from 4,500 sq. ft. to approximately 9,600 square feet. The expanded library reopened in February 1995.
Ten years later, in 2005 the interior of the library was remodeled to create sufficient shelf space for its expanded collection, to provide a quiet area for study, to enlarge the community meeting room, and to improve the space for the children’s and teen’s collections.
In August, 2011, 56.4% of voters approved another levy lid lift, increasing the levy rate from $0.26 per thousand of assessed valuation to $0.39 per thousand of assessed valuation.
For more in depth information about the Library’s history and also the Communication Loss of 2013 please read the following excellent essays by Board of Trustees Member Lynn Weber/Roochvarg:
These essays were written as part of The Writing our History Project, a countywide collaborative of local researchers and writers working together to create a body of well-researched and broadly accessible essays on the history of Friday Harbor and San Juan County. We are fortunate to be partnering with HistoryLink.org for the distribution of this important work.
Foyer and Teen section May 2005