Kathleen Benoun, long time Library Associate at the Western State Hospital Library in Lakewood, WA, is an amateur historian who spends a lot of personal time researching the history of the hospital, and the library itself. Kathleen recently shared this interesting story about opening day of the library back in 1950.
Can you imagine opening day at a library without a book or librarian in sight? That’s exactly what happened in 1950 on the grounds of Western State Hospital. The Tacoma newspaper photograph you see below accompanied a story about the budget crisis of 1949 that diverted monies for the Staff Research and Patient Libraries to other building projects on campus.
Thankfully, the Legislature held a special session to fund both libraries and the Research Institute that occupied other floors of the building.
Since then and many budget crises later, the Patient Library has endured to provide leisure, educational, and therapeutic resources for both patients and staff.
The shelves are no longer empty. Now the library houses 8574 books and 5610 CD/DVDs in the collection, as well as popular magazines and local newspapers
Beyond the physical resources the library provides, over the years, Kathleen visited every ward in the hospital to present Library programs. Her goal was to both entertain and encourage the patients to borrow from the collection or use library services such as the listening center where patrons could enjoy radio or music or outreach programs for ward-bound patients and staff. The most popular ward programs were interactive–such as trivia contests and poetry readings. Kathleen reports, “One month, I visited a ward with older men and women and challenged them to play the board game Chauvinist Pigs. Its trivia questions were based on gender-specific common knowledge. We had such a spirited time together, the staff came over to shush us. First time that ever happened to me, but it wasn’t the last.”
Patients and staff often express their gratitude for the presence of an on-site library to provide a comforting environment within the state psychiatric hospital. Over the years, both patients and staff have donated materials to supplement the meager library budget. Patients have also donated poetry and original art. One patient read so many novels, he told the Library staff he could write his own book, which he did and donated two copies to the Library collection.
The Western State Hospital Library is a unique library which serves a key purpose; a place that responds to the needs of its patrons and provides a welcoming, non-judgmental space to visit. But isn’t that the definition of all good libraries?