|On Oct. 17, 1957 the doors were opened and the
West Salem Library was born. It began in 3 small rooms on the
1st floor of the old West Salem City Hall when the Salem City
Council appropriated $6,450 to cover cost of salaries, furniture,
and redecorating. An additional $4,000 to cover the cost of
books had to come from private sources. Members of the Salem
Jaycee's built the book shelves and did the painting, West Salem
PTA members built tables, and the West Salem Lions Club installed
new floor tile.
The first opening hours were 27 hrs per week and stayed about
the same for the first 30 years. The first year, 12,564 books
were checked out--half of that by children. That was an interesting
building, with the old West Salem Jail and Fire Department
water well located in the basement and a stage and open floor
upstairs on the second floor, which was said to be used for
occasional dances in years gone by. In addition, Chemeketa
Community College--then called Salem Technical/Vocational
School--started some of its first classes upstairs when they
found their first location to be too small. So, Chemeketa
Community College shared it's humble beginnings with the West
Salem Library. In 1964 the Willamette River flooded and water
came into the library basement 4 feet high. A small boat was
launched to get around in there to save as many books as possible.
For many years following the flood the four-foot high water
mark around the walls could still be seen.
In 1973 when the two rooms being used as office space by
other City of Salem departments were vacated, the library
staff quickly moved right in with shelves and books--never
bothering to ask the City fathers if they could have the space.
The library director at that time, Claude Settlemire, just
shrugged his shoulders at the staffs audacity and said,
"Well, I guess possession is 9/10ths of the law!".
Staff never got into trouble. Over the years during tight
budget times there was always proposals to close the West
Salem Library. But because of such strong community support
that never happened. In fact, in 1976 when the West Salem
Library was to be closed because of City budget shortfalls,
there were so many West Salem residents that showed up at
the City Council budget meeting and such strong community
pressure to keep it open, that the budget committee did vote
to keep it open and found the money to do so by eliminating
proposed raises for all City of Salem Department heads--including
the Library Director! The City Department Heads never forgot
In 1987, after 30 years in the old City Hall building, the
library moved into a 5,400 sq ft facility in the Oak Hills
Shopping Center in West Salem. That developed into a model
branch program, and librarians from all across the state visited
the branch to see how it was set up and run. The first year
in that location, circulation of materials shot up 100% and
increased every year until reaching almost 168,000 in 1991.
The West Salem Branch became the fifth busiest library among
all 17 public libraries in Polk, Marion, and Yamhill counties.
In 1991, Measure 5, the property tax limitation came along
and fortunes of the branch took a turn for the worse. The
City Council put the branch on the cut list because of the
budget crunch the City was facing. As fortune would have it,
during one of the Citys community forums to discuss
the city budget proposal, including shutting down the branch
library, the parent of a child at Walker Middle School proposed
the branch be moved into the middle school. The City liked
the idea, the school liked the idea, so in June of 1991 the
branch moved into the Walker Middle School and combined with
the school library. In the mornings the school staff ran the
library and in the afternoons the public library staff ran
the library. This administrative arrangement worked surprisingly
well for the four years the library was in Walker.
Then in 1995 Orville Roth donated land immediately behind
and adjacent to the West Salem Roths IGA grocery store
upon which to build a new library. With large donations from
West Salem residents, a federal grant through the Oregon State
Library, and City of Salem general fund money, the new 6,000
square foot building was built. On September 25, 1995 the
new branch library celebrated its grand opening ceremony and
doors opened the next day for business.
In just a little over four months later in February of 1996,
the Willamette River flooded. On very short notice, volunteers
from the West Salem community rolled up their sleeves, boxed
up books and equipment, and loaded them into two large moving
vans, which moved to higher ground. The flood waters reached
about two or three feet from the floor level of the library!
So from February 7-10, the branch was temporarily shut down.
Compiled and written by Cliff Smith, Retired Extension Services
Manager for the Salem Public Library, August 8, 2001