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My First Library

Published onMar 29, 2024
My First Library

I grew up in the south end of Seattle between South Park, White Center and Burien, in a small community called Boulevard Park. It was a real community because it had a stop light and a barber shop, a grocery store and a dime store. And a library.

The Boulevard Park branch of the King County Library System began life in a corner of the parking lot of the Mansfield Grocery Store on South 120th and Des Moines Memorial Drive, ten miles south of the Central Public Library in downtown Seattle. It was a 12 foot by 18 foot building, built in 1937 by a group of women who called themselves The Wednesday Social Club and had met regularly since 1927.1

The Wednesday Social Club’s motto was "All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance,” a dry but functional quote by Edward Gibbon, author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I have to believe that if anyone knows what they’re talking about regarding the growth and decline of organizations, Mr. Gibbon certainly can claim his place among them. The Boulevard Park Library was the first library to join the King County Rural Library District (later, the King County Library System) when that entity was established in 1943. But in 1937 it held a mere 500 books.  Five hundred books. There are Little Free Libraries that circulate more books than that.

Newly published books in 1937 when the library was built include Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien and And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street the first book by a new author who called himself Dr. Seuss.

By 1952, the Wednesday Social Club decided the library had outgrown its tiny space and needed to move. Not far though. Just several feet to the east, into a slightly larger building, still in the same grocery store parking lot. They didn’t want to give up the foot traffic, I guess. 

I got my first library card at the Boulevard Park Library in 1965 at the age of four. The criterion for getting a card was simply that I had to be able to write my first name. At the time, my family called me Rory. It was the Gaelic pronunciation of Roderick, my middle name. Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.”

Image of old Boulevard Park Library Card, with faded, printed name: Rory.

Boulevard Park Library Card provided by author.

I still print in all capital letters.

When I was ten, the library moved once again, just up the street to a 6,000 square foot building with a capacity of 20,000 books. It seemed huge to me. The Wednesday Social Club, by that time, had changed their name to the Boulevard Park Library Guild to better reflect the growth of their vision. 

The Boulevard Park Library was our family’s Friday Night Lights. We didn’t go to football games. We didn’t go out to the drive-in movies. My mom and dad piled my sisters and me into the Chevy station wagon and we headed down Des Moines Way to the library where we could stock up on adventures and mysteries and humor and picture books for the week. 

Mrs. Howe, our librarian, knew us well and hailed us when we came in like we were Norm in the 1980s television show, Cheers. Mrs. Howe herself reminded me of Eve Arden, the witty comic actress who starred in the 1950s television show Our Miss Brooks, and later in The Mothers-In-Law in the 1960s. But you, my readers, will more likely remember her as Mrs. McGee, Principal of Rydell High School in the 1978 film version of the hit musical, Grease. 

Black-and-white photo of actress Eve Arden holding an Emmy Award. She is a white woman with short, curly hair, wearing a black dress with a large striped scarf tied in a bow.

Eve Arden with Emmy Award

Editor’s Note: We have verified that television and movie actress Eve Arden has never worked for the King County Library System. 

I’ve lost touch with the old library. Partly because I moved 100 miles north back in 1979, and partly because I still have a book I never returned. The library underwent three more remodels, in 1991, 2002 and 2019 to become a beautiful, welcoming community hub.  You can see some photos of the 2019 remodel here:

I looked at the old neighborhood on Google Maps and I saw that the grocery store has been replaced by a Dollar Tree and the old dime store is now a coffee shop. The barber shop is also a coffee shop and standing next to the Dollar Tree is yet another coffee shop. The original library is a boarded-up building that still sits in the parking lot.  Everything changes, either advancing or retrograding. And in the center of it all, the library remains.

I hope the advances made possible by the library's several upgrades still serve the community well. I hope the Boulevard Park Library is still the beating heart of the community, circulating knowledge and entertainment and advancing people's lives like it did in Mrs. Howe's and my time.

"All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance.”

—Edward Gibbons

Neil McKay poses for a black-and-white headshot wearing glasses and a hoodie. He has shoulder-length curly hair.
Neil McKay (he/him) works for the Whatcom County Library System as Online Experience Coordinator. He is host of the podcast “WCLS in Whatcom County Presents: Library Stories” ( and serves on the Whatcom READS steering committee ( He has written for several magazines and newspapers, some of which no longer exist, and he has performed at poetry readings across Washington state. Most recently, his poem “The Salmyn” was included in Washington State Poet Laureate (2021-2023) Rena Priest’s anthology, I Sing the Salmon Home (Empty Bowl Press, 2023). The opinions expressed are his own.
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