WA Secretary of State Blogs

160 Years of Service to the People of Washington


From the desk of Kim Wyman, Secretary of State.

From its beginnings as the Washington Territorial Library in 1853, the Washington State Library has played a major role preserving and providing public access to books, maps, collections, documents and other vital information about Washington’s history and government.

For the past 160 years, the State Library has lived up to its mission and purpose, which is to “collect, preserve and make accessible to Washingtonians materials on the government, history, culture, and natural resources of the state.” In addition, the State Library has led the way in coordinating services and helping secure federal or private funding to benefit other libraries throughout Washington. Literally, the benefits of your Washington State Library are felt throughout the state, and on the Internet!

Back in the 1850s, Congress understood the importance of having a library for the Washington Territory. In fact, when Congress in 1853 passed the Organic Act, creating the Washington Territory, it included a section specifically creating a territorial library:

SEC. 17. And be it further enacted, That the sum of five thousand dollars be, and the same is hereby, appropriated out of any moneys in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, to be expended, by and under the direction of the Governor of Washington, in the purchase of a library, to be kept at the seat of government for the use of the Governor, legislative assembly, Judges of the Supreme Court, secretary, marshal, and Attorney of said Territory, and such other persons, and under such regulations, as shall be prescribed by law.

Congress had the wisdom to provide ample funding for the new library. And Isaac Stevens, Washington’s first Territorial Governor, used that money well, buying books, maps, globes and other items. The $5,000 appropriation back then would amount to more than $135,000 today! That appropriation was a key component in making the Territorial Library a worthy and valuable institution to serve Washingtonians for generations to come.

After Stevens made the initial purchases, he had the 1,850 books placed on the Invincible that left New York and sailed around the tip of South America before stopping in San Francisco. When the Tarquina, the vessel carrying the books and other items from California, finally reached Olympia, it meant more than the arrival of some books. It marked the arrival of Washington’s oldest cultural institution, one that still plays an important role today.

As Washington’s Secretary of State, I’m proud that our State Library is a central part of our office. I applaud State Librarian Rand Simmons and all of the State Library staff and volunteers for their tremendous work on behalf of the people of Washington.

Congratulations to the Washington State Library on this special anniversary. Here’s to many more years of service!

Kim Wyman

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