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ONE CALL FOR ALL | Bainbridge’s library: A community treasure

      - Joel Sackett photo
— image credit: Joel Sackett photo

With more than 250,000 visitors and half a million books checked out a year, the Bainbridge Public Library is arguably one of the island’s most busy and well-loved community centers.

But there’s a big difference between that center, the building and the books inside.

Unlike other libraries in the Kitsap Regional Library system, the Bainbridge branch has a unique relationship with its island patrons.

“The most unusual thing about the library … is that the community of Bainbridge Island actually owns this entire building, which is not true for many other libraries and other libraries in the Kitsap Regional system,” said Linda Meier, president of the board of directors for the Bainbridge Public Library. “So we as community people are responsible for keeping this place open.”

The Bainbridge library is a partnership of both the public and private — the KRL system provides books, staff and materials, which are funded through tax dollars. But it’s the people of Bainbridge Island who own the building and grounds and make up the more than 200 volunteers, including the all-volunteer board of directors, that keep the library functioning.

“If you think about it as a shell,” Meier said, “the community of Bainbridge provides the shell, the building, and the regional system provides everything that goes inside.”

That relationship between the private and public sphere can sometimes be confusing when it comes to donating money.

“If people give money to the regional system, that doesn’t necessarily stay on Bainbridge. It can go into any of the libraries in the entire system,” Meier said. “If you donate money to the Bainbridge library, it stays here.”

And by giving through One Call For All, islanders can ensure their donations go straight to the Bainbridge library — roughly a quarter of the library’s operating budget for the buildings and grounds comes from One Call For All funding.

“Through the generosity of One Call donors the library board is able to meet the needs of this facility and keep it available for the public,” said Branch Manager Rebecca Judd.

“The kind of most critical point for us as an organization to impart is just how much the donations by individuals through One Call For All works to keep our doors open,” added board member Sarah Morgans.

“Without that sort of support there’s no way we could continue to do the work that we do to keep the library a vibrant space.”

And through the years, the community has time and again helped keep the library looking sharp.

When the current library reopened its doors in 1997 after extensive renovations, Junkoh Harui, of Bainbridge Gardens, and the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community donated the Japanese garden that envelopes the library’s western façade. Since then, private donations have helped maintain those facilities, as well as the building itself.

In fact, the purpose of the first Rotary Auction, in 1960, was to raise funds for a new library.

Last year, the library celebrated its 50th anniversary at its location at the corner of High School Road and Madison Avenue, but the concept of a library on the island began almost one hundred years before.

As the Civil War ravaged the country, islanders in Port Madison donated a space and books for a library in 1863. More than 50 years later, in 1916, the first library building was built in Rolling Bay. Almost one hundred years since then, the Bainbridge library has moved, grown and revitalized to become the building islanders know and love.

“It gets used on a regular basis by lots and lots of people and it’s really important that it continues to exist in a viable, financially secure basis and that we continue to have all these facilities available to us,” Meier said. “I think anybody that you talk to says, ‘Oh, I just love the library.’ I mean really, without exception and it’s just — this place is a real treasure.”

Judd agreed.

“The library is, we hope, really at the heart of the community,” she said. “People love the library. It’s a community of readers.”

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