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West Linn library set to celebrate 75th birthday

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Library Director Holly Mercer admires a new mural created to honor the library's 75th birthday. When the West Linn Public Library first opened in 1939, it offered a total of 300 books for a local population of 1,956. It was open just 12 hours each week, jammed at the top of the newly constructed city hall building — a small operation for what was then a small town.

Much has changed since then, and the library now approaches its 75th birthday March 1 as a full-fledged staple of an ever-growing city. To celebrate the milestone birthday, the library will host a birthday party March 1 from 1 to 3 p.m., complete with live music and the unveiling of a new mural with a historic theme.

“We’re honoring our past, but looking into our future,” Library Director Holly Mercer said. “The library has such a strong foundation and we’re going to continue to thrive in the future, but we’re also going to honor where we’ve been.”

The mural, which was designed by local artist Jennifer Gillia Cutshall, is made entirely of “word clouds” to form the shape of a tree. It stretches more than two floors next to the staircase leading down to the children’s area, and is meant to serve as a constant reminder of how far the library has come.

“The end result is a community mural,” Mercer said. “Because the mural is made up of words that the community submitted, saying what’s important to them and some of their favorite literature.”

After the dedication of the mural at 1 p.m., the party will continue with live music and a children’s craft session hosted by Gillia Cutshall.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - This mural, which was painted by local artist Jennifer Gillia Cutshall, is a tree created with word clouds. It is meant to honor the library's roots while celebrating future growth.

Throughout the afternoon, the Friends of the Library group will also be holding a used book sale with all books marked at 75 cents to honor the library’s birthday.

It will be the type of full-fledged affair that was once impossible in the library’s early days. In its earliest days at the top of city hall — which is now the home of the police station — the library’s collection grew from 300 books to more than 12,800, far too large for the space to handle.

In 1978, the library moved to the community room at the Bolton Fire Station. It was supposed to be a temporary move, but ended up lasting 10 years — and storage was still a major problem.

“They were in the community room, and it was only 1,500 square feet,” librarian Cheryl Miller said. “And it was so cramped that they were storing boxes of books in the attic, and they even had to store in the bathroom at some point.”

Library programs were held in the fire station’s engine bay, requiring the fire trucks to be moved outside.

It wasn’t until 1987 that voters approved a $1.2 million bond measure to construct a new library. The city purchased 1.5 acres on Burns Street in 1988, and a new 10,000-square-foot library finally opened in 1989.

“That 10,000 square feet must have seemed huge,” Mercer said. “But it didn’t take long to outgrow even that space.”

Still, it was more than a decade before another $3.9 million bond measure was approved to expand the library to its current size of 28,000 square feet.

That final expansion allowed the library to bloom, adding two conference rooms, computer labs, a children’s area and an art gallery to augment a collection of books that now registers at 86,000. With more than 25,000 people now living in West Linn, the library has 17,709 borrowers to its name.

“In our long history, people have always loved coming to the library,” Mercer said.

For more information on the birthday celebration, visit westlinnoregon.gov/library/75th-birthday-party.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Library Director Holly Mercer's favorite part of the mural is a dog painted near the children's room.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - The library will officially unveil this mural during its 75th birthday party March 1.