The town of Ballard was home to a community library almost from its founding in the 1860s. Ballard’s first library building, designed by Henderson Ryan and built with funds donated by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, opened on Broadway (Market Street) in 1904. In 1907 Seattle annexed Ballard and the library became the Ballard Branch of The Seattle Public Library. In 1963 the Ballard Branch moved into a new building at 5711 24th Avenue NW.
The "Libraries For All" building, 15,000 square feet and designed by the architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, replaced the 1963 structure. The new library building also includes a 3,100-square-foot Neighborhood Service Center. A Seattle Center/Community Center levy passed by Seattle voters in 1999 funded the service center. A large covered patio area outside the entrances to the library and the service center was designed to serve as an informal community meeting place.
Ballard book lovers were spared the experience many other Seattle neighborhoods endured: that of trekking to another branch during the period their new branch was constructed or remodeled. The 1963 building remained open until the new building was ready for the books to be transferred.
The Seattle Times quoted Seattle officials as describing the 10.9 million dollar building as “one of the most environmentally friendly public buildings in the Northwest” (May 15, 2005). The branch was built from recycled materials with environmentally friendly adhesives, sealants, and paints, and it is partially solar-powered. Light enters the building through nine large skylights and many windows. Frosted windows on the east side of the building diffuse the sunlight, giving the branch a misty, cloud-like feeling. An installation of clear glass sea jellies undulate above the children’s area. A view of the plant-covered roof and the Olympic Mountains beyond are available to patrons via a periscope. Anemometers (wind sensors) on the roof collected data on area wind conditions.
The new building is more than twice the size of the old and includes a larger children’s area, an area for teenagers, a community meeting room, much more computer space, an expanded collection, and an underground parking lot. In 2004 the Ballard Branch circulated 683,300 books and materials, more than any other branch of The Seattle Public Library.