Unique Seattle horticultural library has deep roots, celebrates 25 years
The Elisabeth C. Miller library, which celebrated its 25th anniversary Saturday, is the first and only in the region dedicated to gardening and horticulture, and is the only library of its type in the West that lends from its collection to the general public.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Using the Miller LibraryLocation: 3501 N.E. 41st St., Seattle, 98195. Free parking on site.
Fall hours: 4 to 8 p.m. Mondays; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays.
Information: www.millerlibrary.org or 206-543-0415.
Do you have a gardening question? Try the Miller Library's Plant Answer Line at 206-897-5268.
The Elisabeth C. Miller Library, which celebrated its 25th anniversary Saturday, is the first and only in the region dedicated to gardening and horticulture, and is the only library of its type in the West that lends from its collection to the general public.
Housed at the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture, the library is a hub for gardeners, horticulturalists and naturalists of all sorts.
Monday is late night at the center, and on a recent evening the atrium was buzzing with mushroomers picking over their recent haul, while master gardeners took questions in the foyer. The local Iris Society was about to tee up in a meeting room. The herbarium was open for visits, and a botanical-art show was up in the library, where patrons were reading amid the original artwork and vases of fresh orchids.
More than 700 garden periodicals are on hand at the library, and some 15,000 books — from the scholarly and arcane to blushingly beautiful horticultural tomes, replete with color plates. There's even a rare-book collection to fire the imagination with garden texts dating back to the 17th century.
"It's one of those little hidden gems," local author Linda Chalker-Scott, extension horticulturist and associate professor at Washington State University Extension, said of the library. "I use it all the time. There is something about being able to sit down with real books, and it is just such an attractive place to work, and the staff is incredibly knowledgeable."
The library's six part-time staff members all began as volunteers and are gardeners themselves. With 70 years of experience in the library among them, they can help researchers tackle just about any inquiry.
Even in the Internet age, there is nothing like the serendipity of exploring library shelves, said Walt Bubelis, former head of the horticultural department at Edmonds Community College. "Whether it's mushrooms or fruit trees, it's an incredible resource," he said.
More than 18,000 people visit the library in a typical year. The library also reaches out beyond its four walls, with a hotline to take gardeners' questions.
The library enjoys the deep and active support of gardeners, in part because from the beginning it has depended largely on private support for its budget — most notably from the Miller Charitable Foundation and the Northwest Horticultural Society. That has by necessity connected the library to the local community, and that shows in many ways, from a network of active volunteers and interns, to what's on the shelves. Gardeners have donated many of the books and other materials in the library, including about a third of the library's 220 active magazine subscriptions.
The state provides the least portion of the library's annual budget, about $22,400 this year out of a total of about $250,000.
Local author and garden columnist Val Easton managed the library for 18 years and remembers building the collection, starting with books in storage at Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington and books from Washington Park Arboretum.
"There were tons of boxes of old seed catalogs with love letters stuck in them," Easton said. "We were carrying books wrapped in bath towels. We just set to work to make a library because there hadn't been one."
The late local horticulturalist Betty Miller, inspired by her visits to the libraries back East and in the Midwest, believed gardeners should have a library to call their own here, too, recalls Brian Thompson, manager of the library.
Miller's husband, the late Pendleton Miller, gave a gift of the library in his wife's name to the University of Washington's then-new Center for Urban Horticulture. Since then the library has grown and thrived and even survived a trial by fire, being completely rebuilt and reopened in 2005 after an arson in 2001.
The damage to Merrill Hall, the flagship building at the center, was extensive. During the night in May 2001, an arsonist torched gallon drums of gasoline, burning offices, the library, the herbarium and master gardener quarters at the center. The Environmental Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the fire.
The Northwest Horticultural Society dug deep when the new library was opened, spending $200,000 on luxe furnishings way beyond the usual in any public library, from custom library tables to deep, plush red-leather reading chairs. Even the lighting is delicious, with fixtures that dim when the sun is out, so natural light pouring through skylights and windows lights the space.
Local author Arthur Lee Jacobson often finds himself at the library, lately to research his current book on edible house plants.
"The alternative is sitting alone at one's computer and just staring at the monitor, and that is not as stimulating, wholistic or healthy," Jacobson said. "We are very fortunate to have this library, and many people don't even know about it."
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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