History of FVRLibraries

Early libraries in our area

The very first library in the Pacific Northwest was established by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1833 at Fort Vancouver. Requests for books and periodicals were sent to the company’s headquarters in London. This subscription library remained in operation for 10 years and books were loaned throughout the region. After it was discontinued, other efforts were made to provide a subscription library in the area. One was located on the grounds of St. James Mission in 1865, organized by the Vancouver Catholic Library Association and later run by the Vancouver Library Association. This library moved several times; it was located over Maxon’s Store in 1878, then Weigels Store the following year.

Meanwhile, one other early library was established in Union Ridge (now called Ridgefield) in 1868, as a Sunday school library.

The first free public library in our area was started in 1891, when the Women’s Christian Temperance Union petitioned the City of Vancouver for a tax-supported library. The City Council approved this and appointed a board of trustees. In 1908, a Carnegie grant was secured for construction of a library building. Vancouver Public Library opened on December 31, 1909 on the corner of 16th and Main Streets, on a lot donated by L. M. Hidden.

During the early 1900s, many other libraries were established throughout the region.

Formation of Clark County Libraries

In November 1940, teachers from several school districts in Clark County got together to discuss combining funds to buy and share books among the schools. Vancouver Public Library staff agreed to select, process, and distribute the books, which would be owned by the schools. Soon there was interest in expanding this resource, so there would be books for adults, too. This set the stage for developing regional library services.

Eva Santee

Eva Santee was hired as librarian for Vancouver Public Library in 1940. “Library service for all,” was her motto as she began to expand the reach of the library to underserved areas. In 1941, Eva worked with Washington State Library to secure a Works Progress Administration grant that provided funding for a bookmobile, driver, librarian, and collection of books. Vancouver Public Library contributed space in its basement and additional books from its collection. The rural schools book pool was also incorporated into this collection and there were other contributions from the community to help pay for the service. Bookmobile service throughout the county began on November 18, 1941, and was an enormous success. Skamania County expressed interest in participating, so service was expanded to cover both counties.

Knowing the WPA grant funding would end, interested residents circulated a petition during the summer of 1942 asking the Clark County commissioners to place a measure on the ballot to establish a rural library district. This request was granted, and that November the voters approved formation of Clark County Library, the first rural library district in the state. A board of trustees and librarian were appointed and the new system went into operation in April 1943. Local taxes now paid for bookmobile services and Clark County residents also had access to Vancouver Public Library.

The war had an impact on the formation of libraries in Vancouver. Vancouver Housing Authority included libraries in its projects. There were six neighborhood libraries that were soon integrated into the Clark County Library system. Also, a library was opened in Battle Ground on April 1, 1944, as part of the Clark County Library system, and the independent Washougal library joined the system in 1944.

Formation of Fort Vancouver Regional Library District

By 1945, Eva Santee was leading discussions about forming a larger library district by merging Vancouver Public Library and Clark County Libraries. It took five more years, but Eva stuck with it and on July 1, 1950, Fort Vancouver Regional Library District was born. Skamania County joined FVRLibraries in 1952, expanding the district’s service area to 2,500 square miles. The district had six outlets at that time: Battle Ground, Fruit Valley, McLoughlin Heights, Stevenson, Vancouver, and Washougal. Other milestones from Eva’s time include:

  • The replacement of Vancouver Public Library, which moved in 1963 from the Carnegie building on Main Street to a larger, modern building at 1007 E. Mill Plain Blvd. Funding for this library was obtained through a bond measure that passed on the third try.
  • A library opened in North Bonneville in 1954. A new site for the Battle Ground library was acquired in 1958 and the new facility opened in 1959. The operation of the library in Ridgefield was turned over to FVRLibraries in 1961.

Eva Santee retired in 1967.