The first two attempts at a library in Spokane didn’t last. The first, in 1880, lasted less than two years. The second, in 1883, lasted three. Unlike today, both entailed some form of membership fee for their users.
Finally, in 1891, the beginnings of a permanent library for Spokane took shape. The Sorosis Club, a women's organization, joined forces with the Carpenters Union, a group of interested business and professional men, and created the Union Library Association. It began with 300 volumes and grew to 1400 within six months.
When the Library faced financial trouble in 1894, the City took possession of it, and it became the Spokane City Library. The $1.00 per year membership fee was abolished and the Library at last became a free public Library supported by taxes. The Library was housed in City Hall and paid the now-incredible rent of $600 per year until 1901, when a new building was sought where “ladies and children would not be compelled to run the gauntlet of two blocks of saloons, variety theaters, gambling halls and houses of ill fame.” (Spokesman-Review & Spokane Daily Chronicle, Feb. 7, 1901)
By the early 20th century, the Library had outgrown its City Hall location. Spokane sought the assistance of Andrew Carnegie, who ultimately donated substantial money toward the project, while Spokane resident A.B. Campbell donated the land. Christened the Carnegie Library, it was Spokane’s first building to exclusively house the city library. The cornerstone of the Carnegie Library was laid September 12, 1904. By 1926, the Library had three branches--East Side, North Side, and Heath. The Carnegie building housed the Library until 1963.
The old East Side branch still stands. Today it's a court reporter's office.
In the late 1950s, many began to recognize that the Library had outgrown the Carnegie building. For the last several years of the 1950s, calls for a new library periodically appeared in the local newspaper. Finally, in 1961, the City obtained the downtown Sears building for use as a new Library. The building was renamed the Comstock building, and the Library moved its collection there in early 1963. The Comstock Library opened for business on April 6, 1963.
The Comstock Building--home of the Downtown Library from 1963 until 1990.
In the late 1980s, the Library once again outgrew its location, which had become old and worn. The decision was made to demolish the Comstock building and construct a new, modern facility on the same site. On September 18, 1990, voters passed a bond issue that would ultimately fund the construction of six new libraries--the main branch downtown and the East Side, Hillyard, Shadle, South Hill, and Indian Trail branches. Construction began on the new Downtown library in 1992. During that time, the Downtown library’s collection moved temporarily across the street into a space in what was, at the time, a department store. The Downtown building was completed in 1994, and the collection was moved into the state-of-the-art facility that houses it today. Construction of the five new branches followed. All were completed by 1998.
The main Library in downtown Spokane.
The voters' approval of the libraries that stand today is a testament to what truly keeps the Library afloat--people, both customers and staff. The Library's dedicated staff has served Spokane ever since the Library's formation in the late 19th Century. But the Library thrives only with the support of the citizens it serves. We at the Library are truly grateful to the people of Spokane for their loyal, continued patronage.