Black Diamond Library, King County Library System

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 6/08/2016
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 11239

The Black Diamond Library has been a civic institution in this small King County mining town since 1917. That year, volunteers gathered book donations and started a library in a room in the town's Pacific Coast Hotel. The library was soon moved to the waiting room of the abandoned railroad depot. However, the library closed in 1943 because nobody was available to run it. It reopened in 1945, as a branch of the King County Rural Library District (now the King County Library System, KCLS). In 1957, the Black Diamond Library moved out of the depot and into a small cottage donated by the school district. It remained in the cottage until 1968, when the library moved into a room in Black Diamond's new municipal building. In 1990, Black Diamond voters overwhelmingly approved full annexation into KCLS. The library moved out of the municipal building into a leased space in 1991. In 2008, KCLS opened a new 5,000-square-foot Black Diamond Library.

A Coal Town and Its First Library

In 1880 the Black Diamond Mining Company, out of California, sent a crew to explore reports of coal veins in the Cascade foothills of southeastern King County near the Green River. They discovered a lucrative seam. In 1882 the company sent 181 miners and their families to develop and work the mines in the new company town of Black Diamond (a common slang term for coal). The mines were connected to the port of Seattle by a rail line. Miners, many of Welsh or Italian descent, poured in. By 1900 the population had grown to nearly 3,500. The Pacific Coast Company bought the town and the mines in 1904. The town went through several periods of labor unrest but thrived on the coal industry until the 1930s, when demand for coal weakened. The Pacific Coast Company later shut down the mines.

The town shrank, but persisted. Black Diamond was incorporated as a city in 1959, and its 1960 population was 1,026. In recent decades, it has slowly been absorbed into the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area and the population has grown to a level higher than during the coal boom, with an estimated population of 4,376 in 2015. The city is now a relatively far-flung suburb of the metro area, yet it still retains much of its rural, forested character and its citizens have kept alive its mining heritage.

Black Diamond's first library, in 1917, was decidedly modest. It consisted of a room in the Pacific Coast Hotel, a 67-room establishment built that year by the Pacific Coast Company to house miners. This room was filled with books, mostly donated. Ann Steiert, who would later serve on the town's library board, remembered volunteers "going door to door," asking for donations of old books (Davidson). She also recalled that when she visited the library as a girl, her mother required her older sister to chaperone, since most of the library patrons were men (Wilson). Over time the book collection increased, and at some point the library outgrew its tiny room. The books were moved over to the old railroad depot, called the Pacific Coast Coal Depot, which was no longer being used by the railroad. The former waiting room became the Black Diamond Library.

Part of the King County Rural Library District

However, in 1943 -- with many residents off to war -- the library shut down because no one was available to operate it. The books were moved to a school basement. The newly established King County Rural Library District, later to be known as the King County Library System (KCLS), soon stepped in and offered bookmobile service twice a month to the residents of Black Diamond. The bookmobile (affectionately nicknamed Belinda) gave many book-loving Black Diamond residents a taste for what they might gain by being associated with the county library system.

In August 1944 a Black Diamond teacher identified only as "Mrs. Cobb" approached the King County Rural Library District about "establishing a permanent library in the community" ("History of the Libraries"). The county district agreed to help and several representatives came out to Black Diamond. They reported that the women of the community were still papering the walls. They also reported that the old, stored books were largely unsalvageable. New books were acquired with help from the district, and local volunteers continued to spruce up the former library space in the old railroad depot. It reopened on June 22, 1945, as a branch of the King County Rural Library District. It was one of many small rural libraries utilizing the services of the county library district.

The new library thrived in its new affiliation. In 1948, a library board was formed, consisting of Wilton Poolman, Mrs. George Manowski, Mrs. Howard Botts, Ruth Zumek, and Frank Guidetti. In an April 29, 1949, letter the board informed the district that the library had added a new room for nonfiction books. The old depot, despite the scrubbing and painting by volunteers, was rustic by library standards. The board said it had to spend "$37.78 on felt paper to cover the walls and on Masonite to cover rough tables" ("History of the Libraries"). The library went through several librarians until Victoria Niemczyk took the job in 1949. In 1956, Jewell McCloud took over and remained the librarian for 19 years.

From the Teacher's Cottage to the Municipal Building

In 1957 the board acquired a new space -- a little house on Lawson Street known as "the Teacher's Cottage." As the name implies, it had for many years been the residence of the town's schoolmarms, yet by 1957 the Black Diamond School District no longer needed it and donated it to the library. Members of the local Parent Teacher Association installed new sheet rock and linoleum. All the books were moved out of the depot and into the cottage. It opened on February 22, 1957, a night that McCloud reported was "the busiest night" she could remember, with 216 books checked out ("New Location"). There was room for more than 3,000 books. It was also reported to be "cleaner and warmer" than the old depot location ("New Location").

On January 5, 1959, a huge fire next door to the library destroyed the Black Diamond Presbyterian Church, but the little library escaped with only minor damage. Just weeks later, on January 20, 1959, Black Diamond voted to incorporate as a fourth-class city. This meant that the new city needed to further formalize its relationship with the county library district. The city signed a formal contract for KCLS to provide the staff and services to run the library. Black Diamond was now one of many small King County incorporated towns that owned its own library, yet contracted with the district to staff and operate it. With this cooperative arrangement, Black Diamond was able to have far better library service -- and access to many more books -- than it could ever provide on its own. The local collection was growing, too, and another room was added to the cottage to handle it.

In 1966 Black Diamond voters passed a $51,000 bond issue for a new municipal center. It included a City Hall, a courtroom, and a new library space of 2,420 square feet. It was built, fittingly enough, on the site of old library/cottage. The books were moved into what a library bulletin called "easily the outstanding structure of the community" ("King County Library System -- Black Diamond Library"). The new building was dedicated on April 28, 1968, as a crowd of 200 looked on. Mayor Louis J. Zumek and former mayor Lloyd W. Hagen delivered remarks. The new library had space for 10,000 books. The bulletin described the building as follows:

"Large, dark red brick, the basic building material, provides a low-maintenance building. An entrance corridor and the washroom facilities are shared with the city offices. The interior is brightly lighted, carpeted and heated electrically. Well-selected and attractive furnishings, shelving and a book collection of over 12,000 volumes complete the library facility, of which all the community residents are justifiably proud. A 35 percent increase in circulation immediately evidenced itself, with steady growth continuing. Library service facilities have been assured for the Black Diamond area's future" ("King County Library System -- Black Diamond Library").

Annexation to the King County Library System

In 1975, both McCloud and her longtime friend and assistant librarian, Ruth Zumek, wife of the former mayor, retired. The Seattle Times called them "mainstays for nearly two decades at the Black Diamond Library" (Mahoney). Alice Norton, a native of nearby Ravensdale, came on as assistant librarian that year and became the head librarian in 1977. She would run the library for the next 20 years. Occasionally, the local library board wasn't entirely certain that people appreciated what they had. Board member Ann Steiert complained to a newspaper columnist about the "poor patronage of the library by local citizens," and that the "bulk of the readers are from out of town" ("Library Lonely"). However, this problem was evidently short-lived. A 1976 feature story in the Auburn Globe-News reported that the "town's library -- half paid for by King County -- is well-patronized" (Smull). By 1989 Black Diamond city officials said they were running out of room at the municipal building -- and pondering a new future for the library. Instead of owning the library and contracting with KCLS to operate it, city officials determined that full annexation to the King County Library System "will save the city thousands of dollars" (BD Looks").

This was a move that many small cities had been making over the last decade. It would remove the library totally from the city budget and fully merge it into the county library district. The Black Diamond Library board and the Friends of the Library were in favor of the move, since it would further improve library services. Steiert was quoted in a local paper as saying, "A town without a good library isn't worth a diddley" ("BD Looks"). Black Diamond officials put library annexation on the ballot in 1990. Black Diamond voters approved the measure by an overwhelming 83 percent yes vote. It was one of 10 King County cities that voted to annex into KCLS in 1990.

As a result, the Black Diamond Library moved out of the municipal building in 1991 to a new space: a 2,000-square-foot ground-floor leased space owned by Mario Sorci at 24301 Roberts Drive. It had room for more than 16,000 items and a reading room. An opening ceremony on May 19, 1991, included music by the Brillig String Quartet and a performance of a Ken Kesey short story by the Book-It theater troupe.

Black Diamond was growing substantially -- between 1990 and 2000 it more than doubled its population to 3,970 -- and the library was serving many patrons from outside the town as well. After more than a decade in the building, it was becoming evident that the leased space was insufficient. As a result, KCLS set aside funds in the early 2000s to plan and build a new 5,000- square-foot Black Diamond Library. King County voters also passed a $172 million library bond issue in 2004, which included funds for the ongoing maintenance of the new Black Diamond facility. Planning for the new library began in 2005.

A 2006 study prepared by KCLS reported that the leased space was open Mondays through Saturdays, held 23,000 titles and had four public Internet stations. Yet because of the growth in population, this was insufficient. "Four computers do not meet the after-school needs of children doing research, typing assignments or using the computer for recreational use. Collection size is limited ..." ("Black Diamond Library 2006 Community Study"). The new, larger library would address these problems.

The New Library

Groundbreaking for the new library, located at 24707 Roberts Drive just east of the existing leased location, took place on October 8, 2007. The contractors were BNBuilders, Inc. and the architects were the Miller-Hull Partnership. A 2015 KCLS progress report stated:

"[T]he architects drew from historical guidelines, which reference the late 19th Century vernacular architecture that was prevalent in the city of Black Diamond at the time. Design elements such as the wood structure, proportions, site planning and building cladding reflect the historical guidelines. A warm color palette was used to provide a welcoming interior. Large windows on the south and east sides of the building allow for views of downtown Black Diamond and Mount Rainier, which may be enjoyed from the main reading area in the library" ("Delivering").

The new Black Diamond Library opened on May 24, 2008, with 150 people at the dedication. It included two pieces of artwork by Lockwood Dennis, based on historic Black Diamond themes. "The new library include[d] more materials, computers, space for children and teens and a community meeting room" ("Delivering"). Six months after the library opened, circulation had increased by 30 percent and patron visits had increased 22 percent.

As of 2016, the Black Diamond Library was home to nearly 28,000 titles. Between 3,500 and 4,000 visitors walked through the doors every month and its meeting room was a popular spot for a wide range of classes, workshops, and programs.

"When that first room was designated at the hotel, no one ever imagined that it would last for so many years and grow into the great service that is is now," wrote Steiert in 1995 ("Our Library"). Nor, probably, did anyone imagine that the Black Diamond Library would go on to call so many different buildings home -- six in total. Yet through those changes, its support in the community remained constant. Every year for more than half a century, Friends of the Black Diamond Library has raised funds for the library with an annual Plant Sale. Approaching its centennial year, the Black Diamond Library continued fulfilling the mission it took on in 1917 -- to be Black Diamond's repository of culture and knowledge.


Sources:

"Black Diamond Library 2006 Community Study," King County Library System (KCLS) website accessed May 23, 2016 (https://w3.kcls.org/community_studies/Black%20Diamond%20Community%20Study.pdf); "About Black Diamond Library," KCLS website accessed May 22, 2016 (http://kcls.org/about-black-diamond-library/); "Delivering on a Promise to Voters: KCLS Capital Improvement Plan 11-Year Report, September 2015," KCLS website accessed May 23, 2016 (https://w3.kcls.org/pdf/11_year_report.pdf); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "King County Library System" (by Paula Becker) and "Black Diamond -- Thumbnail History" (by Alan J. Stein), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed May 22, 2016); "King County Library System: Black Diamond Library," Library News Bulletin -- Washington State Library, Vol. 36, No. 1 (January-March 1969); "Black Diamond Public Library in New Location," Enumclaw-Courier Herald, March 14, 1957, p. 16; "BD Looks at New Library System," Ibid., November 9, 1989, p. A-2; Melissa Davidson, "Achievement of a Lifetime," Ibid., May 13, 1998; Bill Smull, "Jewel in the Rough: Black Diamond," Auburn Globe-News, July 4, 1976; Sally Gene Mahoney, "A Different Retirement Story," The Seattle Times, April 11, 1975, p. D-1; Black Diamond: Mining the Memories, An Oral History Life in a Company Town, ed. by Diane and Cory Olson for the Black Diamond Historical Society (Seattle: Frontier, 1988 and 2003); Black Diamond Library Scrapbook, in the collection of the Black Diamond Library, Black Diamond, Washington; Black Diamond Library Vertical File, in the collection of the Black Diamond Library; "History of the Libraries, Black Diamond," in Service Needs Assessment 1996 (King County Library System, 1996), 5-6, Black Diamond Library Vertical File; Ann Steiert, "Our Library," undated clipping (ca. 1995) from the Black Diamond Historical Society Newsletter, Black Diamond Library Vertical File; R. Dianne Wilson, "Library Lonely, Empty Place Without Large Number of Patrons," newspaper clipping, origin and date unknown (ca. 1975), Black Diamond Library Scrapbook.


Related Topics:   Education | King County Library System

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