Northwest NEWS

April 23, 2001

Front Page


Bothell Library: From 300 volumes to 180,000 items

by Robin McClane
   UW News Lab
   From its beginning in 1905 in a corner of the Odd Fellows Hall, to its current home in a spacious, well-appointed building of its own, the Bothell Library has been an important part of the community.
   What once was a small logging village at the north end of Lake Washington has evolved into a busy suburban town, and the 300 volumes of 96 years ago have grown to 180,000 items. During the century's first decades, the library was open a handful of hours each week, and to borrow a book cost from two cents a day to 25 cents a week. In 2001, the Bothell Regional Library is open seven days a week, and there is no charge to simply check out a book, record, compact disk, tape or video.
   The library has had several homes and many proprietors. Several librarians earned that title by being the owners of books they were willing to lend to others. Unfortunately, more than once, the library's collection left town when its owner did. By 1925, though, the Bothell Library was a permanent town institution with 1,000 volumes and growing.
   In 1946, the Bothell Library joined the King County Library System, and as the area grew, the library continued to be loved by its constituents.
   On Valentine's Day in 1963 the "Friends of the Bothell Library" was formed, and since then, they have constituted an important element of the library's support system.
   In July of 1969, through the hard work of library supporters from throughout the community, a new library building was dedicated with great fanfare. The growing north-end community now had its very own 8,000-square-foot building for a collection that had grown to 40,000 volumes and 140,000 items overall.
   In 1967, just two years before Bothell's new library was opened, current managing librarian Ruth Bacharach moved to the Seattle area with her family. She worked as a part-time children's librarian at the Shoreline branch library, and after her family had grown, she applied for a full-time position at the Bothell branch.
   She had always wanted to work in a library in a small town, she said. While in school at the University of Michigan, one assignment had been to design a library. Bacharach's design was round.
   When she came to the Bothell facility in 1992, she got her ideal: a round library in a small town.
   "It was fated to be!" she exclaimed.
   When plans for the current building, which opened in 1995, were begun in 1993, Bacharach sat on the design committee.
   "I got to help set the lay-out and help pick the colors," she said. "It was really fun. I also participated in the hiring. We doubled our staff."
   The six-year-old facility, at 22,000 square feet, is almost three times the size of the old building. Inside, it is bright and inviting, home to many computers, most of which are in use at any given time.
   The children's section is both large and cozy, with well-stocked low shelves and lots of places for parents and children to enjoy a book together.
   The library houses microfiche machines, comfortable places to study or read, and two small study rooms where people can talk without disturbing others. The meeting room that holds 70 is in constant demand, Bacharach said.
   "We are becoming more family oriented," she said, as she pointed out the display case filled with one young man's "Star Wars" collection.
   Use of the case is also in high demand, another example of the library's and community's commitment to each other.
   "We have a fabulous Friends of the Library group," said the managing librarian. "We are most proud of our volunteers who come from the community.
   In March, we had 32 volunteers who worked 272 hours. We like them; they like us. The people are really, really proud of this library."
   According to Bacharach, the Friends of the Library have raised money for several works of art housed at the facility, including a west-facing stained-glass window that glows warmly in the afternoon sun, and Children's Librarian Dr. Margaret Read McDonald's favorite piece, what she calls the "book bear."
   The latter, a bronze bear cub by Issaquah sculptor Robert Cooke, languishes on a low ledge by the window in the children's section, inviting them to come join him with a good book.
   "The children love to sit on him," McDonald said. McDonald, an internationally known storyteller, has been at the Bothell Library for 25 years.
   Through the King County Library System and her own connections, there is always something fun for children happening there.
   "I'm a professional storyteller," she said. "So we get lots of storytellers to come here."
   The King County Library System provides a series of six-week programs throughout the year, McDonald said. Events usually focus on the season or a holiday; right now, poetry is featured, in honor of National Poetry Month.
   Her favorite library offering, though, comes during the summer.
   "We have a family night held out in the courtyard," she said, noting that the multigenerational event is a highlight of the season, allowing everyone to enjoy a pleasant evening on the lawn.
   There are weekly story times for children, with the material geared to three different age groups, and presented at different times.
   Infants from birth to 23 months can come and enjoy "Mother Goose on the Loose" with their favorite grown-up on Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m.
   Toddlers, aged two to three years, can come with an adult to enjoy a 30-minute program of stories and songs at 9:30 a.m. each Tuesday.
   On Wednesdays, preschool kids have three story times, depending on their age. The sessions are 45 minutes each, with the fun at 9:30 or 11 a.m. for children two and a half to five, and at 1 p.m. for big kids aged four to six. The preschool times also include a craft.
   The library also offers programs for older children, teens and adults.
   Kids eight to 12 can come learn about managing money and checking accounts on April 25 at 4 p.m.
   Earlier in April, a presentation of "Shakespeare's Top 10" by actors from the Seattle Shakespeare Company was given for teens, and those age 11 and up had the opportunity to come and learn Ukrainian egg decorating, courtesy of Friends of the Library.
   The Friends group is also the sponsor of the up-coming used-book sale.
   "We have a strong Friends group," McDonald said. "People donate books, and if we need them, we add them to our collection. If we don't, we sell them."
   On April 28, a huge variety of books, all donated by the public, will go on sale in the library's meeting room, with all proceeds benefiting the Bothell Regional Library.
   There is a preview sale for Friends members April 27 from 6 to 8 p.m. with memberships available at the door.
   Bacharach said that the Bothell Library also serves significant Spanish- and Russian-speaking populations. The library carries a variety of literature in those languages to meet those needs.
   Another program geared to non-English-speaking community members is called "Talk Time." Every Monday evening from 6 to 8 p.m., or Thursday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon, those who would like the opportunity to practice speaking English are given the opportunity.
   Unlike most library programs, no pre-registration is needed for Talk Time.
   Computer classes at all levels and on a variety of programs are offered on a regular basis. They range from basic skills classes and introduction to the Internet, to advanced Excel and Word.
   Coming up in May are classes in financial management for women, and watercolor painting.
   There also will be a talk with the title "Symphony of Spirits: Encounters with the Spiritual Dimensions of Alzheimer's" being presented on May 6 at 2 p.m.
   The library asks those who plan to attend any classes to sign up in advance. Call (425) 486-7811.
   Bothell is one of five regional libraries in the King County system. As a regional facility, other libraries look to it for assistance.
   "They come to us for help," she said. "We also have a business-reference library, though some things are now available online.
   "I think we have a fabulous staff that brings enthusiam and real delight in working in the library," she said. "They are great to work with."
   Bacharach would like to expand the library services to the public.
   She would like more computers and the chance to get library staff members out into the community.
   She especially wants to send workers from the children's and young-adult departments into local schools.
   The Bothell Regional Library is an institution that has grown with the community it serves. While the faces and buildings have changed since 1905, its mission to serve the people of north King County remains intact.
   Robin McClane is a student in the University of Washington School of Communications News Laboratory.