History and Timeline Print

White Horn School

Origins Community libraries have existed in Whatcom County for over a century. Early libraries were started by women's clubs in Blaine, Ferndale, and Sumas, and the public library is one of Lynden's oldest institutions. In the early 1940s, the County Grange successfully promoted the establishment of a rural county library district in Whatcom County to provide library services to people in areas with no easy access to city libraries. Funding for the Library System is provided from the property tax base of unincorporated areas.  Library service was extended to incorporated areas outside Bellingham as the small cities contracted for service, beginning with Sumas in 1947.  Residents in every small city voted to annex to the library district in the 1980s and 1990s.

November 7, 1944 Residents in unincorporated Whatcom County voted by more than a 2 to 1 margin to tax themselves for library services. Members of the County Grange became the first trustees.

1944 The City of Bellingham and Whatcom County Library entered into an agreement to serve county residents who lived outside of the city limits. The agreement with the Bellingham Public Library has been maintained almost without interruption since that time.

1945 Early branches were established with buildings provided in Birch Bay, Deming, Glacier, a grocery store on the Guide Meridian, Laurel, Lummi Island, Mountain View, Pleasant Valley, Point Roberts, Van Wyck, and Wiser Lake.

1947 The City of Sumas became the first city to join the Whatcom County Library District, providing a building for that purpose. The first bookmobile was purchased and Bookmobile service began at Birch Bay Area Whitehorn school.  Bookmobile service continues to the present day.

1954 First outreach service began with visits to the county hospital.

1958 A second bookmobile was purchased to expand Bookmobile Service to more areas.

1961-1981 The cities of Blaine, Lynden, Everson and Ferndale joined the Library System by contracting for library service. In Everson and Lynden, new libraries were built.

1966 Outreach Service to nursing homes began.

1971 Library service to the county jail began.

1972 The Whatcom County Library System's administrative services moved from the basement of Bellingham Public Library to its current location on Northwest Drive.

May 20, 1980 A measure to raise the library district tax lid, which had dropped significantly below $.50 per $1,000 of assessed value due to increasing property values, was approved by more than 60% of voters.

1980s This decade was a time of tremendous growth when citizens in Ferndale, Nooksack, Blaine and Sumas voted to become permanent parts of the Library District through annexation. The Maple Falls Branch opened in 1982.

1984 The first Whatcom County Library Long Range Plan was written.

1988 Blaine Library moved into a new location increasing library space from under 1,200 to over 5,400 square feet.  This was funded in part through federal LSCA (Library Services and Construction Act) funds.

1990 Sumas Library moved to a new building shared with the Senior Center and built by the City, increasing library space from 600 to 2,400 square feet.

Washington State Library Commission awarded WCLS and Bellingham Public Library almost $100,000 to begin automating circulation jointly.

1992 The Friends of the Deming Library opened a new building, built and owned by the Friends, which increased library space from 400 to 2,500 square feet. Friends of Island Library purchased and remodeled a former house, moving the Island Branch to a larger space.  The citizens of the city of Ferndale took on a bond to enable the library to move into a new building.  Library space increased from 2,800 to 9,300 square feet.

1994 A special excess levy was passed by county voters to authorize purchase of computers and software to allow fast and easy access for all residents of Whatcom County through a shared automation system with the Bellingham Public Library.

1997 City of Lynden annexed to the Whatcom County Library System and with wide support from the city and residents began work toward a new library. Friends of the Everson Library completed an expansion which increased library space from 2,800 to 4,300 square feet.

2000 Library use exceeded one million items!!!

2003 The new Lynden Public Library opened and included the System Reference Center, which relocated from the Northwest Drive office.

Rory became the library's mascot.

A new integrated library system was purchased jointly by Bellingham Public Library and Whatcom County Library System, allowing seamless resource sharing between the two libraries.

2004 Whatcom County Library Foundation was established with $25,000 in funds from the Pen Foundation for the PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award, "In appreciation of your resolve to defend the First Amendment right of freedom to read against the threat of government intervention." The Foundation adopted the "Begin With Books" project and made plans for fundraising for broad system and individual branch project support.

2005 Deming Friends tookon a major and much needed library expansion project.

2006 The City of Ferndale received an anonymous donation for one million dollars to be used toward a new library building.

2007 Land was purchased on Kendall Road (SR 547) for relocating the Maple Falls Library through the determined efforts of the Friends of the North Fork Library.

The Library Board passed its first Strategic Plan, which included individual branch library plans and listed accomplishments. Five priorities were listed for the coming five years: Advocacy, Usership, Facilities, Innovation, and Finances.

2008 WCLS and Whatcom Community College received federal grants though Institute of Museum and Library Services funds administered by the Washington State Library to help establish Whatcom READS! One Book Together, a community-wide reading and discussion program. All academic and public libraries in Whatcom County joined together to support and direct the programming. Local independent bookstore Village Books owners Chuck and Dee Robinson became Community Partner for the program. Friends of the Bellingham Public Library and the Whatcom County Library Foundation provided additional funding.

Downloadable audiobooks were added through the library's web page, books available from any computer to your listening device.

2009 WCLS celebrated the birth of library lion mascot Rory’s cubs, Bubby and Cubby, created by library staffer Margaret Pepper and named through a public contest.

Whatcom READS! One Book Together inaugural year featured Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

The Friends of the Deming Library completed a 5000 square foot addition to the existing 2500 square foot library--the motto for the project was "We did it once, we can do it again!"

The voters of Whatcom County passed a levy lid lift in November choosing that WCLS should maintain library services for the next 5 to 6 years depending on local and national economic factors.

2010 The Friends of the North Fork Community Library broke ground to build the relocated Maple Falls Library across from Kendall Elementary School on land purchased by WCLS. 

Whatcom Libraries Collaborate! One Card Program began. An initiative to foster better access to library resources and greater community impact, this program allows Whatcom County residents to use their existing library card to borrow from and return materials to any public or academic library in Whatcom County. “Connections” between public libraries and academic libraries also allow reserved public library materials to be checked out at academic libraries. Participating libraries are: Whatcom County Library System, Bellingham Public Library, Bellingham Technical College, Northwest Indian College, Western Washington University, and Whatcom Community College.

Whatcom READS! was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant for “The Big Read” featuring Tobias Wolff’s Old School. Whatcom County Library Foundation adopted Whatcom READS! as an ongoing funded program of the Foundation.


On February 28, 2011, the North Fork Community Library opened, built in less than a year through the volunteer efforts of the Friends of the North Fork Community Library that own the building on land purchased by WCLS. The grand opening event celebrated the countless hours of donated time and materials from volunteers and contractors. In April 2011, The Friends of the North Fork Community Library received the Distinguished Service Award from the Washington Library Association for their efforts. Friends of the North Fork Community Library also won the 2011 WCLS Outstanding Friends Service Award.

WCLS, working with the Friends of the Sudden Valley Library, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Sudden Valley Community Association to establish a new library in the “Middle Barn” of the community center.

2012  Everson McBeath Public Library celebrated its 35th anniversary.

The City of Ferndale received a $500,000 Washington State Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) grant for the new Ferndale Library, which was matched by an anonymous donation to the Whatcom Community Foundation.

The Lynden Library received the 2012 Mora Award from REFORMA: The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services for its outstanding efforts promoting family literacy through its El Día de los Niños/El Día de los Libros program.

The Friends of the Point Roberts Library won the 2012 WCLS Outstanding Friends Service Award.

WCLS, Washington State Department of Transportation, and the East Whatcom Coalition for Safe and Healthy Communities began discussions on pedestrian safety near libraries in Deming and Kendall.

WCLS adopted the 2013-2015 Strategic Framework, with a new vision of “An engaged community where curiosity is cultivated, literacy flourishes, and democratic ideals thrive,” and new mission of “Connecting information, ideas and community.”  The Strategic Framework focused on four areas:  Access, Advocacy, Community Building, and Early Learning.

WCLS implemented several new service initiatives, including:

  • Elimination of fines on children’s materials checked out on children’s library cards
  • Online credit card payment option for fines and fees
  • eBook and eAudiobook services including Freading – 20,000 digital titles easily accessible through WCLS.org
  • Reorganization of fiction into genrè:  Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Western, and Christian Fiction all easily identifiable in local branches
  • Little Libraries, which offer withdrawn books in reception areas and public gathering places, and act as a portal to WCLS
  • The Pop-up Library, which travels to community events and locations to connect library materials and services with specific community interests and registering new library users.

 Whatcom READS! 2012 secured  Humanities Washington grant funding for the year and featured author Elizabeth George and her novel In the Presence of the Enemy.

2013 Director Joan Airoldi retired after a decade of dedicated service to WCLS. Her retirement was marked by an un-party which focused on providing donations to the Whatcom County Library Foundation.

After an extensive search process, the Library Board of Trustees offered the position of Executive Director to Christine Perkins, then Assistant Director at Bellingham Public Library and former Director of Burlington Public Library.  Perkins was chosen from 4 finalists of 39 applicants in a nation-wide search.

Whatcom READS! brought David Guterson to Whatcom County in February to discuss his book Snow Falling on Cedars, and included an appearance at the new Jansen Art Center in Lynden, WA.

Digital options increased, with the advent of Zinio eMagazines, HelpNow online homework tutoring, language learning with Mango and Powerspeak, Microsoft IT Academy, Freegal, and others.  WCLS began offering online library card registration through YourLibraries.org.  Washington State Library rolled out the “Library Now” mobile app.

Everson Library received Allen Grant funds to reconfigure space and/or services to enhance community engagement.

Ferndale voters gave 62% approval to a $550,000 bond to complete funding for the new 15,000 square foot library on Main Street. Construction began in fall 2013.

Friends of the Point Roberts Library met their 2013 goal of raising $300,000 toward renovation.

Island Library on Lummi Island closed for renovations during the summer.  The WCLS Bookmobile served Island patrons during the renovation. The newly renovated Library reopened with a Grand Gala in November.


2014 Whatcom READS! brought Cheryl Strayed to Whatcom County to discuss her book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, with appearances at the Mount Baker Theatre and the Bellingham Cruise Terminal. New partnerships were formed with Fourth Corner Quilts and Mallard Ice Cream.

On April 12, WCLS celebrated the grand opening of South Whatcom Library.  Possibly the only active library to operate out of a former horse barn, it serves the populations of Sudden Valley, and the many residents of South Lake Whatcom – from Geneva to Glenhaven.  In July, the discovery of powder post beetles in the structure forced the temporary closure of the Middle Barn, but WCLS continued to offer library service in the Sudden Valley YMCA lobby.

The Friends of the Island Library (FOIL) won the Washington Library Association’s Distinguished Service Award in 2014, in honor of their advocacy efforts on behalf of the Island Library during the 2013 renovation project.

A collaboration between WCLS, the Friends of the Ferndale Library, the City of Ferndale, and private donors, the new Ferndale Public Library opened to a grand celebration on November 15, the culmination of over a decade of planning.

2015 In February the South Whatcom Library moved to its temporary location in the Sudden Valley Adult Center.

On May 4, after a months-long search, WCLS was pleased to welcome Michael Cox, Deputy Director. Michael comes to us from the Pueblo City-County Library District in Colorado, where he was the Director of Public Services.