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Back to its Roots

Albina Library moves to historic home

Beverly Corbell | 9/7/2021, 3:48 p.m.
After being moved repeatedly, then shut down for several years, the Albina Library has moved back to its historic home ...
The Albina Library has moved back to its historic home at 216 N.E. Knott St. Photo courtesy Multnomah County Library system.
After being moved repeatedly, then shut down for several years, the Albina Library has moved back to its historic home at 216 N.E. Knott St. and is open for business.

Eduardo “Eddie” Arizaga, administrator of the Albina Library, said the library — the smallest in Multnomah County at 3,500 square feet — will eventually be expanded and redeveloped to 25,000 square feet. Now that all county libraries have reopened after being closed for more than a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, Arizaga hopes to see a lot more foot traffic at its “new” location.


Because it moved and had to upgrade computer equipment, the Albina Library was the last county library to reopen after shutting down on March 13, he said, but he hopes that word is getting out that the library welcomes patrons.
“We’ve been getting some foot traffic and the Dishman Community Center just reopened,” he said. “We’re looking to add extra signage and want to let people know they can walk in.”


The library was moved from its location at NE 15th Ave. and NE Fremont, Arizaga said, into the NE Knott Street building, which housed the Title Wave Used Bookstore for about 30 years. The Knott Street building was constructed in 1912, one of more than 1,600 in the U.S. underwritten by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.


Arizaga said that while the Knott Street location is somewhat larger, it is still a relatively small current footprint, but has been reconfigured to make it more suitable for a community library. The old location didn’t have a community meeting room or even a place for story time.


“What a bookstore presents is different from a library,” he said. “We’ve provided more seating and lower shelving to bring in natural light. It had some really large shelving that was not flexible, so we made it into a really large workroom, and we want children’s books in a 6-foot space.”


The future renovations involve utilizing two adjacent properties the library system already owns, and just what will be included will be up to the public, Arizaga said, and plans are still being formulated.


“I don’t know the format for community engagement and we’re exploring virtual or outdoor gatherings,” he said. “We know libraries but the community knows what they need and what they want. That will guide our team of architects and are currently working with an architecture firm that is working it out, but COVID is making it harder.”


The history of the Albina Library began in 1906 according to the county’s library website at multolib.org, with Mrs. P.P. Leche serving as its first librarian in a small reading room, location unknown, with about 100 books.


In September of 1907, the library moved to a larger space on Williams Avenue, which was a big success:
“The eagerness with which the people of Albina, young and old, have taken advantage of this library has been a surprise even to those who believed most thoroughly in it,” the website states. “It has been almost impossible to keep the shelves supplied with books.”


The use of the library continued to grow and in 1909 moved to larger quarters on Russell Street. By the end of the year there were 2,149 volumes in its collection and circulation had increased to 26,800 items. 
But usage declined, according to a June 2020 article in the Oregonian, and in 1960 the library was closed down. In 1967 a new Albina Library was opened at the corner of Vancouver Avenue and Beech Street. But usage continued to decline, and in 1977 the Library Association of Portland Board voted to move the library to its sixth home at 15th and Fremont.

Some say that all that moving around was a disservice to the predominantly African American community of Northeast Portland.  Now by moving the library from the Sabin neighborhood to the Eliot neighborhood it will tie into the library system’s goal of focusing on equity for marginalize communities.


The Eliot neighborhood is reported to have a higher proportion of people in poverty, people of color, people who speak a language other than English at home, households relying on food benefits, households with limited/no internet, higher unemployment and lower median income.


Connection to the community is vital, Arizaga said, because a library is so much more than just books.


“The library serves another space — not home, work or school — that is a functional part of their lives,” he said. “So we are looking at flexibility, modularity, shifting areas and means so we can continue to adapt to the community.”
An after hours gathering space and constantly evolving technology are two areas being considered, he said.


“We are trying to think of ways to bring in programs and what they need,” he said. “That means more technology and preparing for the next wave of technology and workforce technology training. There’s also a lot of knowledge out in the community, and we could be bringing those experts to the library.”


Libraries everywhere have gone through big changes in the last 10 or 15 years, Arizaga said, becoming “extremely creative” with ideas such as teen spaces and maker spaces.


But above all, he said, one thing is true, that “Libraries are for people.”


--Beverly Corbell