South Tacoma celebrates new library upgrades


By Mario Lorenz


The South Tacoma Business District Association and residents in the area are thrilled with the addition of the wing at the South Tacoma Library. Here, library associate Wendy Leitner Zeitner tends to the shelves.
Credit: Mario Lorenz

What does Cheryl Towne, the managing librarian at the South Tacoma Branch of the Tacoma Public Library, have in common with Michael Sullivan, Tacoma’s most revered historian? They are both accomplished historians and researchers. In fact, says Towne, “You don’t have to know everything to be a librarian, just where to find it.”

Towne is the managing librarian at two libraries, the Swasey branch and the South Tacoma branch. The library closed last fall for a projected 90 days and then the South Tacoma Branch re-opened on December 1, 2018.

With capital funds received from the City of Tacoma, the redo of the South Tacoma Branch began. It was closed for just short of three months in the fall of 2018. A new roof, windows, furniture, carpet, and paint inside were just a few of the upgrades. The old door that faced South 56thwas removed. The outdoor alcove was repurposed, walls made straight across the outside area, and a nice new teen area emerged. The shelving was re-arranged, now lower in height so the whole inside of the building is much lighter, brighter, and airy.

The South Tacoma Library was the first branch of the Tacoma Public Library system. In 1905, the Women’s Temperance Union opened a modest reading room in a storefront to divert young men from the brisk saloon business in the South Tacoma area, and in 1906 a board of trustees was appointed and officially made South Tacoma the first branch in Tacoma. It was funded by one of the last grants from the Carnegie Foundation. Andrew Carnegie, a philanthropist, donated millions of dollars to establishing libraries around the country, and these grants helped the South Tacoma Library and the original section part of the downtown branch become a reality. The original South Tacoma library building had no restrooms, and magazines were stored in the basement because they were short on space. By 1958 this building was declared unsafe, and the city approved a bond for $116,000 to build a new 3,600 square foot building as a dual-purpose building to be shared with the fire department. This building had a courtyard in between which allowed for an outside story time, and planting area.

In 1988, a $15.8 million bond was passed. After being closed for 15 months, a renovated library was re-opened. The courtyard was removed to add space to the library, and a parking lot was added.

The South Tacoma Branch is one of eight Tacoma Public Library branches. Your Tacoma Public Library card comes with unlimited access to thousands of books, e-books, online resources, and year- round programs, and also offers reciprocal privileges with the Pierce County Library system.

Towne has been with the system for 12 years, managing the Swasey and South Tacoma branches the last two years. She served at Wheelock Branch previously.

The South Tacoma branch is beautiful. There is a wonderful children’s area with interactive toys, a Duplos table, jig saw puzzles, and new teen and computer areas with larger desks that are more spacious and comfortable for patrons. Towne says, “We have received really great commendations about the new computer layout we have.” Towne helps cover reference, circulation, and shelving and pitches in wherever else she is needed. .

Using the year 1906 as its beginning makes the South Tacoma Branch 113 years old.
At the grand re-opening in December, Towne had photos on the walls of the previous library buildings and their interiors, and even the magazines piled on the floors.

Towne is excited about participating in the South Tacoma Business District and to be the manager of the South Tacoma branch. She loves the South Tacoma neighborhood and being involved with the community. She is looking forward to participating in the car show again in August, and welcoming more and more of the residents into the library.

Upcoming events at the South Tacoma Library include a Summer Reading Club for which registration will begin in June, and the current “Extreme Reader Challenge.” The Extreme Reader Challenge will last all year until Dec. 21. Participants can sign up at the library and must read 50 books in 50 weeks or less. More information about Extreme Reader and all Tacoma Public Library programs can be found at

See you at the library!


Mario Lorenz is manager of the South Tacoma Business District Association.  


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