King County Board of Commissioners establishes the King County Rural Library District on January 4, 1943.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 4/19/2011
  • Essay 9797

On January 4, 1943, the King County Board of Commissioners establishes the King County Rural Library District as directed by a majority vote of rural residents on November 3, 1942. The new district's goal is to provide library services to rural county residents, who lacked access to existing libraries. The new library district is funded by the property-tax base of King County's unincorporated areas (50 cents per $1,000 valuation), and by contract fees with cities and towns throughout the county.

W.P.A Library Demonstration Projects          

The nationwide push toward the establishment of rural library districts grew out of library demonstration programs funded and executed by the W.P.A. (Works Progress/Projects Administration) between 1935 and 1942, including one in the state of Washington. The aim of these demonstration projects was to reduce the number of people in the United States without library service. 

Under the supervision of professional librarians, book and equipment purchases (primarily bookmobiles) were made using federal and state funding, and these materials were taken to areas (primarily rural) that had no library services. Library demonstration projects often consisted of a few shelves of books in a corner store or other community gathering spot, and of periodic visits by a bookmobile.

The Library Habit

Once borrowers were registered and the habit and opportunity of library use had been established in a community, that community was expected to assume responsibility for building and managing its own collection. W.P.A.-funded books were gradually withdrawn and shifted to another community. 

This idea was good in principle, but unrealistic without a means of funding permanent library services.  As the W.P.A. wound down, the need for library service in rural areas was clear, and state legislatures, including Washington's, began creating the legal framework under which such services could begin to be established.

Rural Library Districts

Washington’s state legislature passed an act to establish rural library districts and to provide these districts with the power to create boards of directors and generate revenue. There were no dissenting votes in either house.  On March 12, 1941, Governor Arthur B. Langlie (1900-1946) signed the bill into law.  The Rural Free Public Libraries act defined “library” as “a free public library supported in whole or in part with money derived from taxation,” “regional library” as “a free public maintained by two or more counties or other governmental units,” and “rural county library district” as “a library serving all the area of a county not included within the area of incorporated cities and towns” (1941 Washington Laws...). 

Rural county library districts were to be established by a majority vote within the proposed district. Once established, they were directed to operate as a public corporation, with a board of library trustees appointed by the board of county commissioners of that district’s county. They were to make a property-tax levy of not more than two mills per annum.  In 1943, the state refined the language surrounding the property-tax levy to permit rural library district trustees to issue interest-bearing warrants.

Rural King County Voters Speak

On July 20, 1942, the King County Board of Commissioners received a petition signed by 121 citizens and taxpayers requesting that the board call an election for the purpose of proposing the establishment of a rural library district in King County. The petition, sponsored by the King County Parent-Teacher Association, proposed setting up a number of rural library substations to be operated by volunteers in the communities where they were situated. They would use books obtained on contract from The Seattle Public Library.

On August 24, 1942, the board passed Resolution No. 8504, directing that the proposition be placed on the ballot at the next general election.

On November 3, 1942, King County voters living outside incorporated cites and towns approved the rural library district proposition. The vote was 8,213 for, 6,718 against.  With this direction, the King County Board of Commissioners established the King County Rural Library District.  Rural residents of Spokane, Clark, Thurston, Pacific, and Grays Harbor counties also voted to establish rural library districts in the same election.

Board Of Trustees

On January 11, 1943, as required by state law, the Board of Commissioners appointed board of library trustees.  They were:

  • Inez Moen Hansen (1902-1988) of Seattle (one year term)
  • Rev. Gerald Fitzgerald (1899-1957) of Seattle (two years)
  • Lloyd E. McElvain (1901-1995) of Burton (three years)
  • Marguerite Wilkie Nelson (1910-1999) of North Bend (four years)
  • Judson T. Jennings (1873-1948) of Bellevue (five years). 

Inez Hansen chaired the King County Parent-Teacher Association and had spearheaded the petition process. Judson Jennings was the longtime Seattle Public Library city librarian.

King County tax revenues grew in subsequent years, and with them, the library district, commonly known as the King County Library System. 

A 1977 report succinctly summed up the division between King County and the King County Rural Library District:

"Rural Library Districts which are special purpose districts are established by petition and subsequent voter approval.  In this manner, the King County Rural Library District was established in 1942.  The Rural Library District is an autonomous district with its own funding powers and administrative authority.  It is quite separate from King County, a countywide, general purpose government. ... The Board of Trustees of the King County Rural Library District administer the operations of a separate special purpose jurisdiction much like boards of commissioners of utility districts, and thus is a truly independent body" (p. 4, 6).


"History," King County Library System website accessed March 25, 2011 (; Donna Gordon, Program Analyst, “Seattle and King County Library Services Issues Study,” June 1, 1977, Document 3480, Series 872 Documents Collection, RG 30, King County Archives, Seattle, Washington; 1941 Washington Laws, Chapter 65, "Rural Free Public Libraries"; 1943 Washington Laws, Chapter 251, "Rural County Library Districts"; Board of Commissioners of King County, Washington, Resolution 8604, "Resolution Establishing King County Library District," passed June 4, 1943, and Board of Commissioners of King County, Washington, Resolution 8607, "Resolution Appointing Members of Library Board," passed January 11, 1943, King County Archives; "Rural Library Plan Approved," The Seattle Times, July 20, 1942, p. 7; Libraries on Wheels," Ibid., October 3, 1942, p.6; "2-Mill Library Tax Is Studied," Ibid., October 27, 1942, p. 21; "Rural Library Levy Waits," Ibid., January 4, 1943, p. 12; "Rural Library Tax Approved By Senate Vote," Ibid., March 10, 1943, p. 2; "County Library Plan Presented To Council," Ibid., June 17, 1943, p. 4; "Rural Patrons To Use Library," Ibid., August 31, 1943, p. 2; "Miss Karpenstein In Library Post," Ibid., September 2, 1943, p. 13; Edward A. Chapman, “W.P.A. Library Demonstrations Serve Millions of Readers,” Bulletin of the American Library Association, April 1938, p. 225; Edward Barrett Stanford, "Library Extension Under The WPA An Appraisal Of An Experiment In Federal Aid" (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1944); Bartley Dobb, "A Study Of The King County Rural Library District" (master's thesis, University of Washington, November 28, 1967).

Related Topics:   Education | Government & Politics | King County Library System

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