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South Hill Library is a Newcomer

by Carl Vest

The South Hill library, a Branch of the Pierce County Library System, is a very busy place.  In fact, it’s one of the most extensively used branches of the system.  In 2011 some 34,000 people used the facility, checking out over one million items.  To use one of the 62 computer stations you have to sign-in and literally stand in line.  In a historical sense, however, the library is a newcomer to the Hill.

The Pierce County independent Rural Library District was not established until 1946, even though Pierce County had been in existence for over a century.  When the system was started some library locations were stated but the initial library planners did not include South Hill for a specific branch.  It was not until 1968 that the County published a plan to develop new library locations.  In that work recommendations were made for expansion through 1985.  The report suggested new facilities in the Lakes District, Gig Harbor, and the Lower Peninsula.  Again, South Hill was not included.
A bookmobile system provided Limited library services to South Hill during the early days of District operations.  By 1981, for example, South Hill had two scheduled routes.  One operated on the first and third Thursdays, while the second was on the second and fourth Saturdays.  In combination these mobiles stopped at eleven locations on the Hill.  The stops included both commercial and residential areas and connected many people to the library system.

The first public library facility opened on South Hill in November 1982.  While it was a lending library it was not a dedicated standalone facility.  Rather, the operation was a store-front venture, located at 12020 Meridian, Suite E, in the Plaza II Shopping Center.  It was a small area of 3,237 square feet, open only 27 hours a week, and had the equivalent of two employees.  Today, that space is occupied by the L.A. Tanning salon.

The library that we know today was opened in 1990.  It was the result of a County bond issue in 1986.  When construction was completed it replaced the store front undertaking which had then been in place for some eight years.  In 2006 voters again approved a levy to improve the Branch.

Before the establishment of a library local South Hill citizens used a variety of ways to get library services.  If a family member worked in the Tacoma area near a library then that person usually served as the family procurer of reading materials.  Those fortunate enough to work for one of the various schools used the school collection whenever possible. But by far the most commonly used library was the one located in Puyallup.  To the early South Hill residents the Puyallup library, at 324 South Meridian, was the most accessible, well established, and friendly.  While it was independently owned by the City it also served County residents.

So, while the current library is only 20 years old, it is a well-established part of the South Hill community.

Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.