Remembering Wilmot Library

Wilmot50Do you remember the Wilmot Library? In 1948, Wallingford resident Alice Wilmot Dennis offered a house at 4422 Meridian Avenue N to Seattle for a library. Dennis was a former teacher and the daughter of Green Lake pioneer Lemuel Alan Wilmot. The gift stipulated that it be used as a library for at least 30 years and be named for her late sister, Florence Wilmot Metcalf. Seattle Mayor William F. Devin and State Senator W. Ward Denison dedicated the Wilmot Memorial Library on September 9, 1949

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Susan Scott of Secret Garden Bookshop sends us this remembrance:

“When I was quite young, in the mid-1950s, I spent a great deal of time with my grandparents, who lived just three doors down from the Wilmot Memorial Library -a precursor to today’s Wallingford Branch. It was then housed in a bungalow, with, as I recall, the adult collection in the living room, children’s books in the dining room, and mysteries and westerns back in what had been the kitchen.

My grandparents were voracious readers, so my grandad was a regular visitor, checking out tall stacks of books each time, which he always deliberately kept a day or two past their due date; he thought the library could use the money. In those days, long before computers, you checked out a book by writing your library card number on the narrow card in the book’s fly-leaf pocket, handing it to the librarian, then receiving a rubber-stamped date-due card in return.

My grandad had grown impatient with this system, particularly since he checked out so many books at one time, and had eventually badgered the good librarians into keeping his card under glass at the big front desk. He just collected the cards and handed them over to the obliging ladies of Wilmot. If they thought he was a pain in the neck, they were too nice to say so.

At a very tender age – those were simpler times – I was allowed to visit the library alone, since it was so nearby. And when it was time to check my books out, I’d been instructed to explain that my grandad’s card was “there” under the glass – I could barely reach high enough to point – and I was allowed to use it. This worked well unless there was a new employee, who had not yet been introduced to the eccentric borrower down the block, let alone his very young granddaughter. Then the whole story had to be explained all over again and a co-worker fetched to corroborate, before I’d be allowed to leave with my books.

I took to looking straight to the desk when I walked in, to see if I needed to gird my 4-year-old self to break in another rookie on this visit.

Eventually, I asked one of the library ladies if I couldn’t have my own card. “Well, you could,” she said, “but you’d have to be able to write your name.” Well, that was no problem, I quickly explained – I’d been able to write my name for ages. She looked at me skeptically, but took out the form, it was duly filled out, and on my next visit to my grandparents, I skipped happily down the street to pick up my newly minted Seattle Public Library card. As it was handed over, the librarian told me I was the youngest person in town to have one!

Naturally, I was very proud at the time, and as the years have gone by, of course there has always been a library card in my wallet. My first job was at the Northeast Branch, not so very many years later. And now, as a bookseller, I haven’t strayed too far from these bibliographic beginnings. But my favorite part of the story is the flexibility of all the parties involved – most especially the library staff. Our much faster paced, more standardized and regulated world today rarely affords an opportunity for this kind of institutional improvisation. But when it does, I always say the same thing: This is the way the world should work.”

Read more about Wilmot Library at History Link

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