2024 marks the 20th anniversary of several Seattle libraries built, expanded, or renovated thanks to the Libraries For All campaign that so many Foundation donors supported – including the world-famous Central Library.
The Rainier Beach Branch reopened on January 17, 2004, after a Libraries For All expansion added room for books and materials, more natural light and comfortable spaces, and better technology and infrastructure. To celebrate 20 years in the branch and Seattle’s ongoing support for libraries for all, we visited Rainier Beach to talk to patrons and staff about what this library means to the community.
“It means an awful lot,” said Maureen, a regular patron who lives nearby. She knows the branch staff well and has asked them for everything from assistance using a computer to personal comfort during a difficult emotional time. “The courtesy, the public relations – really just the respect. You never know when a person might just need to say hi to somebody.”
Gwen and her daughter Marigold live in the neighborhood but only started visiting the branch recently. They now come in about once a week. “It has the largest kids’ section, so we love to pop by after school,” said Gwen. Marigold loves to comb through the books to find the most appealing covers. That afternoon, she picked out one from her favorite early reader series, “Magic Animal Friends.”
Another regular patron, Linh, asked the branch staff for translation assistance. They placed a call to another librarian, at the Beacon Hill Branch, who spoke Vietnamese. “The collection of Vietnamese books, and that every time I want to order a movie, the staff helps,” Linh said through the translator about what he values most about the branch. “And the water fountains!”
As a longtime Rainier Beach resident and member of the nearby community center’s advisory council, Justina has observed the library’s evolution over the years. “This branch was such an invaluable resource, and still is,” she said. She noted its wide variety of uses by fellow patrons, especially by young people using the public computers after school or attending Story Time programs. Justina herself has benefitted from more reliable Internet service and free meeting room space, which she has used to register voters. “It’s not just nice to have in the neighborhood. It’s an essential space in the community,” she said.
Branch manager Michael McCullough knows this library better than perhaps anyone – he started on staff at Rainier Beach in 1988. He said there are some different patron needs than other branches. Rainier Beach is highly used for printing and for checking out audio and visual materials more than physical books, for example. The 24/7 pickup locker outside, installed with Foundation support during the pandemic, is most often used late at night or early in the morning. McCullough said this is because many patrons have demanding work or childcare schedules.
“We have patrons who come here not just for traditional library services,” he said. “We often have people in critical situations, or who need to fax or scan paperwork to their job, timesheets, or unemployment benefits so they can get paid. We’re often the only place they can come.”
Photos by Anthony Martinez