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Black and white photo of the old San Juan Island Library


The Legion Public Library, the predecessor to the San Juan Island Library District, opened on February 4, 1922 in the American Legion building. Books were donated by the Bellingham American Legion and local citizens.


In 1935, concerns about the safety of the American Legion building prompted a search for new quarters. The community constructed a one-story, concrete-block building with funds from the Works Progress Administration, a depression-era program established to provide work for the unemployed. The 30’ x 85’ building, owned by the Town of Friday Harbor, was divided into two rooms. This was the site of the Library for 50 more years!


By the late 1970s, the island’s population had grown substantially, while the library’s income failed to keep pace. This financial pressure spurred the creation of a Friends of the Library group. Even with this additional support, continuing financial problems and insufficient space prompted the creation of an island-wide library district.


Voters approved the newly named San Juan Island Library District in 1982. The Library became a junior taxing district and began to receive a sizable portion of its operational funding from San Juan Island property taxes. The newly created Board of Trustees immediately began looking for larger quarters to house the Library and approved the purchase of the present site at 1010 Guard Street. This 4,500 square foot building was a former restaurant. It was remodeled in late 1988 to accommodate more specific library needs.


SJI Library Board of Trustees initiated a long-range planning process to ensure the library’s future viability. The result was a document entitled “Imagining the Future: San Juan Island Library Long Range Plan 1993-2000” which outlined the library’s priorities in the final years of the century. One of the goals of this plan was to expand the library’s existing facility. This remodel and expansion was completed in 1994 and doubled the size of the building to its current size (9,600 square feet).


The Library was once again remodeled to create sufficient shelf space for an expanded collection, to provide a quiet area and meeting room, and to improve the youth library spaces.


Despite creative and thoughtful reorganization of the spaces, the Library building at 1010 Guard Street is, once again, exceeding its space capacity. The building infrastructure does not have the strength for the addition of a second floor and is too small to allow further expansion on top of the current building due to minimum parking regulations.

In 2018, the Library completed a feasibility study and a series of community input meetings. The Library’s Board of Trustees moved to proceed with the goal of constructing a new library facility. The property, located at 660 Spring Street (the former site of the Life Care Center in Friday Harbor), was purchased by the Library District in late 2019 with funds from a limited obligation bond and community donations. Fundraising to build a new library facility at 660 Spring Street began in 2022. If successful, a new, modern San Juan Island Library will open in 2025!