Submitted by Holly Paxson, Lacey Timberland Library Manager for the Lacey’s 50th Anniversary Committee

The North Thurston Library Association formed in 1963 with the purpose of bringing a library to the Lacey community. Three years later the North Thurston Library moved out of temporary headquarters in a bookmobile into its new storefront location at 4140 Market Square in Lacey. So many patrons flocked to use the new facility that it needed to be expanded just two years later in 1968. At the same time, the Timberland Regional Library District was being formed and is now the current provider of library services to communities in Pacific, Lewis, Grays Harbor, Mason, and Thurston counties.

lacey library history
The bustling library is stretched to capacity in Lacey Village, 1988. Photo courtesy: Lacey Museum.

After ten years of ever-increasing use, the library moved into a 4,800 square feet space in the Lacey Village Shopping Center. By 1979, despite its small size, the Lacey Library was the second busiest in Timberland Regional Library’s five-county service area and had once again outgrown its shopping center location. After failed bond initiatives in 1979, Lacey officially voted to become part of the Timberland Regional Library system. Officials of both the city and library began looking for ways to fund a new facility that would serve Lacey and the surrounding area into the future.

In the late 1980s after yet another unsuccessful bond initiative, the City of Lacey purchased 2.7 acres of land from Saint Martin’s Abbey for $379,600 for the purpose of building a new community library next to Lacey City Hall. The City Council also approved a funding formula to finance a 20,000 square foot facility. The City would provide half the needed funds and the remainder would come from grants and private donations. A daunting goal, considering the project’s price tag was over $2 million. As fundraising started in earnest in 1989, skeptics doubted the ability of such a relatively small community to fund this huge project.

lacey library history
An editorial cartoon that originally ran in The Olympian newspaper in 1988 demonstrates the skepticism with the ability of the grassroots campaign to raise the capital needed for the library. Photo courtesy: Lacey Museum.

Once the architectural plans were approved, fundraising kicked off in January 1989. With a theme of “The Future is an Open Book,” the community raised over $150,000 by March and was in position to apply for federal grants with the matching money. In June the City was awarded $242,000 in grant dollars, but still had to raise more than $500,000 from the community to make the project a reality.

Community fundraising took many forms, from the traditional to the outright zany. North Thurston Public Schools students raised $6,000 by participating in a Read-A-Thon. The Lacey Police Officers’ Guild pledged $10,000. The Friends of the Lacey Library pledged $5,000 from book sale proceeds, while students at Nisqually Elementary bought classroom privileges, including the right to chew gum.

lacey library history
Market Square library storefront, 1966. Photo courtesy: Lacey Museum.

Roxanne Cobb became known as the “can lady” as she worked with students to collect aluminum cans for cash recycling. A community talent show fundraiser featured Thurston County Commissioner Les Eldridge reciting limericks, KGY Radio’s John Tennis doing stand-up comedy, and the Lacey Librarians performing “Conan the Librarian.” An Invisible Parade announced on a local radio station invited businesses and organizations to pay an entry fee to have their imaginary float described on the radio. The successful event had unintended consequences when local phone banks crashed with so many people calling in to find out where the parade was taking place.

lacey library
The Lacey Timberland Library just before its grand opening in March 1991. Photo courtesy: Lacey Museum.

In April 1990 after over a year of dedicated, passionate grassroots fundraising, City officials broke ground on the new Lacey Timberland Library. Over 1,200 families and businesses donated to the library building fund. Individual donations, including children who brought in their piggy banks, ranged from as little as one dollar to more than $3,000. Donations from businesses ranged from $50 to $25,000. All told, the community privately raised over $550,000. By March 1991, the 20,000 square feet longhouse-style library nestled among the trees, officially opened to the public who had been so instrumental in making the project a reality.

In 2016, in addition to celebrating Lacey’s 50th anniversary as a City, the Lacey Timberland Library marked its 25th anniversary in its current facility. To celebrate, the Library created and sealed a time capsule with documents, photos and comments from patrons, past and present, to be opened in 2041 at the Library’s 50th anniversary. Until then, the City of Lacey and Timberland Regional Library continue in a successful partnership that provides users of all ages the opportunity to read, learn, explore, and grow together.

“The Library Story” Lacey Library Scrapbook, Lacey Museum

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