The Multnomah County Library System is the busiest in the nation — with the second-highest circulation by volume.
St. Johns has traditionally been one of the system’s gems. The area hosted one of the system’s first reading rooms in 1907 and then the little city (as it existed at the time) became home to one of the growing system’s new Carnegie-gifted libraries just a few years later.
The library system tells that story and several others about our local branch on its website:
“In 1907, five ‘reading rooms’ opened in various Multnomah County locations, including the St. Johns area. The 1908 annual report describes them:
The reading rooms have proved an economical and effective method of book distribution. They are maintained by the cooperation of the residents of the locality with the library, the former providing the room heated and lighted, while the library is responsible for the salary of the custodian and furnishes the books and magazines. The rooms are open for five hours during the afternoon and evening and in addition each custodian is required to spend one morning each week at the central library for instruction and suggestion. A small group of reference books has been placed in each room and between 200 and 300 circulating books. These are kept fresh by weekly exchanges and a weekly delivery of books specially requested supplements this deposit collection.
The St. Johns Reading Room opened in a rented building on Jersey Street on April 20, 1907, with Mrs. T.T. Parker in charge. It closed in 1908.
The Peninsular Reading Room opened on April 27, 1907, with Mrs. Frances Rhomberg in charge. The first year’s circulation totaled over 3,000 items. Membership grew in the next year, and circulation increased to more than 8,000 — the second highest for all of the five reading rooms.
By 1911, enthusiasm for a St. Johns branch had increased. The Library Association of Portland’s 1912 annual report states that on May 1, 1911, ‘a sub-branch was opened at St. Johns, which has met with unusual appreciation.’ Miss Mabel Rundall was St. Johns Library’s first librarian.
In 1912, W.B. Ayer, Library Association of Portland president, wrote, ‘it is my pleasure to announce to you the gift of $60,000 from the Carnegie Corporation of New York for the construction of four additional branch library buildings; also the gift of three sites for branch buildings, having a total value of $18,000…the one [site] at St. Johns was the generous gift of Mr. M.L. Holbrook.’
St. Johns Library opened on November 22, 1913, with Miss Mabel Rundall in charge.”