Youth Services Center Library, King County Library System

  • By Fred Poyner IV
  • Posted 1/27/2017
  • Essay 20245
See Additional Media

The King County Youth Services Center (YSC) in Seattle opened the first library to serve its resident youth population in 1972, following four years of planning. The effort to serve both incarcerated and sheltered children was coordinated between five local agencies, including the King County Library System (KCLS) and the King County Juvenile Court. Representatives from each agency served on an advisory committee to develop and share resources for the new library's operations, with a primary focus on supporting the YSC school program for children living on site. The agencies provided support in different ways, from administrative support to space for the library and staffing with librarians. Over the subsequent decades, the library, which is located in the same building that houses the Juvenile Detention Center and other court services, has served both children incarcerated by order of the juvenile court and children involved in other legal proceedings and in need of shelter. In the years following its dedication, the library was relocated twice within the YSC building while continuing to serve generations of young people during their stays within the center.

A Dual-Purpose Youth Facility

King County's first Youth Service Center building (in the original name "Service" was written in the singular) was completed in 1952. From the start the center, located on East Alder Street in Seattle's Central Area, served not only as a youth detention facility but also as a haven for children in special circumstances with no place else to go. As a detention facility it held youths determined by a judge to be "delinquent" because they had violated a criminal law (and in some cases youths awaiting a delinquency determination). But it also held children, some quite young, who needed shelter because they were taken from parents deemed by the court to be unfit (classified as "dependent" children, with the legal proceedings known as dependency cases) or for some other reason had no parent or guardian available to care for them. The center included separate living quarters for boys and girls; the Juvenile Court; school facilities for the children held there, including classrooms, a woodworking shop, and a gymnasium; and an infirmary.

Demand for youth services increased over the next decade of operations, with limited space and the dual purposes of the facility often competing for resources and leading to overcrowding. A Seattle Times article from 1965 stressed the urgency of the situation and illustrated the need for a new center building:

"Hundreds of children each year are taken to the Youth Service Center at 1211 E. Alder St. because of such crises. There they must stay until the Juvenile Court finds a more permanent place for them. Through no fault of their own, and usually completely bewildered, they are locked in with other boys and girls, many of whom are there for delinquency. No one connected with the Youth Center and the Juvenile Court approves of this procedure, but there is only so much space ... [and] there are almost 4,000 dependent children in King County each year" (Alexander, 10).

It was not just dependent children, but also those admitted as delinquents, whose numbers increased. In 1968, 2,493 children were admitted to the detention facility over the year, an increase of more than 33 percent over the 1,852 admitted in 1960, with a similar rise in "the average daily population in the same period of time, from 113 to 160 children" (Klepeis, 1359). Much of the demand placed on staff was to fill basic needs first, such as beds, daily meals, and medical care.

The center also lacked an adequate library for the children held there. A 1955 article in The Seattle Times had mentioned the existence of a children's musical library supported through the seasonal sales of a Christmas holiday bazaar. Otherwise a minimal paperback collection, furnished by the Special Education Department of the Seattle Public Schools and available in the YSC living halls, constituted the only reading resources provided on site. The need was keenly felt, as Staff Superintendent Lucile Hoelzle (1902-1994) explained in 1965: "We could use books that are newer or more appropriate ... the children really search for a book they'd like to read" (Alexander, 11).

Several factors came together in 1968 to move the concept for a new library forward. Agnes M. Griffen (b. 1935), the newly appointed Institutional Libraries Coordinator for KCLS, submitted a proposal that called for KCLS to form a new advisory committee. The committee would be composed of representatives from KCLS and four other local agencies to put together plans for both short- and long-term library services inside the YSC. Representatives from the five partner agencies -- KCLS, Seattle School District No. 1, King County Juvenile Court, the Seattle Public Library, and Intermediate School District No. 110 -- met for the first time in March 1968 to begin planning for the future YSC library.

Then in November 1968, amid public concern over growing juvenile delinquency, King County voters approved a $6.1 million bond issue to modernize and expand the aging Youth Service Center. The approval signaled to the assembled committee members that the time had come to incorporate a library into the new expansion.

A Unique Library for Younger Patrons

The YSC library that KCLS and its four partner agencies worked to plan would be unique in one respect. Unlike all other KCLS libraries, rather than being open to the general public, it was designed specifically to serve the young residents of the YSC. The advisory committee that was formed by the five agencies coordinated with the assistant administrator for Child Care Services, John Liljegren (b. 1929), during the four years the design and construction of the new facility was underway.

An article published following the library's opening described three service goals that guided the planning for the library:

"[1] To supplement the school curriculum by providing a variety of motivational materials and activities for teachers and students to use; [2] to provide study space and supplementary materials for a few extension school students who had been released from detention and were continuing their studies with Youth Service Center staff because they were expelled from or had dropped out of the regular school program in their home communities; [3] to provide materials and activities for recreational purposes after school hours for the children in the school program and those in detention who were not in school" (Klepeis, 1360).

These goals helped to inform the new library's layout, collections, policies, resources, and accessibility. A common thread linking all three goals was the desire to use reading as a means to promote education and enjoyment within the center's population. The goals also reflected the critical nature of the school program at the center. Under center guidelines, all children detained for 10 days or more were eligible to attend the school, regardless of their school district. By 1971, the youth center continued to reflect a demand for school and related services, with 600 students enrolled in the school program during the year, averaging 60 students at any one time.

Although the center population remained high, the makeup of the population was changing. Through new screening measures, children in need of protective shelter (most of them under the age of 13) were now generally being placed in receiving or foster-care homes, instead of being confined along with youths in detention who were on average older. In spite of the shift in age groups living on site, demand was still high for services for both boys and girls: "the junior boys unit in 1970 remained 100 percent over capacity for the entire year and continued operating at over capacity in 1971" (Klepeis, 1360).

As plans went forward to secure a 1,600-square-foot space for the library, KCLS and King County Juvenile Court agreed to split the salary cost for a full-time librarian provided by KCLS. However, additional funds were needed to help secure a variety of books, both instructional and recreational, to stock the new library's stacks. In 1970 and 1971, under the direction of KCLS librarians Jan Knape (1938-2015) and Kathleen Sullivan (1925-2005) and with the help of Sister Beatrice Marie Farrell (1918-1991) of Immaculate Conception High School in Seattle, the advisory committee was successful in securing $15,000 in two Title II Special Needs Project grants from the U.S. Department of Education to purchase books, magazine subscriptions, and a music collection of phonograph records. The diverse subjects covered in the collection ranged from science and art to comic books, popular culture paperbacks (based upon Daniel Fader's selection lists in Hooked on Books), personal grooming, car magazines, riddle/joke books, and remedial language arts. These materials were supplemented by both KCLS and the Seattle Public Library providing access to their larger collections through an inter-library loan program for the students.

Under the terms of a final agreement between the five partner agencies completed in July 1971, the Juvenile Court agreed to provide the physical space, furnishings, equipment, utilities, and maintenance costs for the library. The two school districts would help administer the grant funds, as well as provide teachers with library experience to help students. KCLS provided young-adult and children's librarians to assist the full-time librarian.

On June 11, 1972, the new Youth Services Center Library was dedicated in the new center building. Around the time that the new building opened, King County also changed its name from the 1952-era "Youth Service Center" to the pluralized "Youth Services Center," to better reflect the goal of court services combined with resources for incarcerated youth.

Teaching Library Skills

From the opening in 1972 until 1980, KCLS librarian Susan Brooks Madden (b. 1944) presided over the groups of students from the center who visited the YSC library during the week. The two-room library space was open seven days a week, with recreational reading available on weekends. By the late 1970s, KCLS had become the sole organization responsible for the library operations, while the King County Juvenile Court continued to provide the space and support of the physical plant.

A planned expansion that began in 1989 required the library to be relocated into a much smaller, 400-square-foot single room for the next four years. Shortly after the space transition, in 1990, Jill Morrison (b. 1955) became the sole full-time librarian at the YSC Library, a position she continued to hold in 2017. November 1993 saw the library re-installed into a new, larger 1,000-square-foot windowless single room.

Under Morrison's leadership, youth at the center continued to visit the library in groups of up to 14 twice each week, each group accompanied by a living-hall staff person. As originally intended in 1972, the library in 2017 continued to offer a combination of both educational and recreational reading materials, with a collection of 10,000 books and magazines. Programs aimed at teaching basic library skills, including "how to use items in the space," remained a mainstay of the library's operations, so that when students were released from the detention facility, they could use the skills at their community libraries (Morrison interview). Nine personal computers were also available, with access restricted to the KCLS library catalog to search library collections (no internet connection). Pre-screened volunteers along with a part-time librarian and librarian assistant provided additional staffing for the library.

One account by a library volunteer from 2004 described the types of reading activities the children at the center could engage in with library staff:

"My experience at the library included assisting kids during their library visit in a number of ways -- reader's advisory, working with the kids during library skills sessions, and checking out books. Of all of these experiences, working through problems with the kids during library skills sessions was most rewarding. Some of the library skills sessions were on the computer and others were using print sources like newspapers and encyclopedias" (Streby).

Planning a New Facility

Owing to the age and condition of the existing facility, on December 14, 2009, the King County Council approved the Superior Court Targeted Juvenile and Family Law Facilities Master Plan (FMP), which outlined a plan for replacement of the existing Youth Services Center. The plan called for keeping the facility at the same location, and "affirmed the goal of co-locating... in a single facility" all King County juvenile offender cases along with some other types of cases involving children, including dependency and family law matters ("Report to the King County Council ...," 1). Among problems impacting the building were a lack of drinkable water, a lack of visitor-friendly waiting space (especially for young children); plans also reflected a desire to reduce the overall number of detention beds from the existing 212 to around 100 for resident detainees.

In 2012 King County voters approved a $210 million levy for the construction of a new Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC) on the East Alder Street site. Plans for the project, scheduled to be completed in 2020, included a 137,000-square-foot courthouse with 10 courtrooms; a juvenile detention facility occupying 81,800 square feet, designed so that the amount of detention space could be reduced in the future; a Youth Program Space 10,200 square feet in size to allow for detention functions to be transitioned to non-detention-oriented youth programming; more than an acre of public open areas; and a 360-stall parking garage. The plans called for almost 1,800 square feet of the interior space to be devoted to a new library, including support space such as a librarian's office and a workroom. KCLS would continue to provide library services to the sole library within the King County Library System not accessible to the general public.


Margaret Alexander, "Dependent Children," The Seattle Times, December 12, 1965, Sunday magazine, pp. 10-11; "Ornaments to Toys," The Seattle Times, October 16, 1955, Sixth Section, p. 10; Eleanor F. Klepeis, "A Case Study in Library Cooperation ... The King County Youth Service Center," Library Journal, April 15, 1973, pp. 1359-1363; "Children and Family Justice Center," January 28, 2016, King County website accessed December 6, 2016 (; Fred Poyner IV interview with Jill Morrison, Youth Services Center Librarian, December 5, 2016, Seattle, transcript in possession of Fred Poyner IV, Issaquah, Washington; Jill Morrison, email to Fred Poyner IV, December 9, 2016, in possession of Fred Poyner IV; ; Alexa Vaughn, email to Fred Poyner IV, December 8, 2016, in possession of Fred Poyner IV; Cheri Streby, "My Volunteer Experience at the Youth Services Center Library," The Silverfish, June 2004, Association of Library and Information Science Students (ALISS) website accessed December 7, 2016 (; "Report to the King County Council in Response to Motion 13106," King County website accessed December 5, 2016 (; "Youth Services Center (Juvenile Court)," April 4, 2014, King County website accessed December 6, 2016 (

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You