MANCHESTER — The contented residents of Manchester agree their little town is a) quaint; b) friendly, and c) occupies a little bit of everyone’s heart.
Those sentiments can be applied to Manchester’s little library, appropriately perched in the center of town where it is a literacy and educational outlet for the South Kitsap community.
It’s also a unique part of the Kitsap Regional Library system, because the building in which it’s housed is owned and maintained by the nonprofit organization Friends of the Manchester Library. The land on which the building sits is leased by the Friends organization from the Port of Manchester.
While the library is affiliated with the KRL, the 2,800-square-foot Manchester branch is very much its own creation.
“KRL is our partner in having a library in Manchester,” John Winslow, a director for the nonprofit and its incoming president, said.
“It’s really a symbiotic thing. The Port gives us the land for $1 a year and (Friends) supports and maintains the building. And KRL supports the staffing and materials.”
Having its 70th anniversary celebrated in July, the library’s beginnings were humble. In 1947, Manchester Mart grocery owner Mary Sanford cleared away a couple of shelves in a corner of her store to start a community lending library. Soon after, spurred by community enthusiasm, extra shelves were added. That was followed by the addition of its own “building” — a converted chicken coop that served as the town’s library.
Then in 1953, the coop made way for a 16-by-24-foot modular structure costing $800, built mostly by volunteer labor.
The nonprofit Friends group was able to obtain land in the center of town from the Port of Manchester in 1980 so that a permanent, more suitable building could be built. Manchester resident and Friends president Nobi Kawasaki was able to obtain a $23,500 construction loan for the library from the federal Farmers Home Administration. The Friends group, aided by $7,000 allocated by KRL, went to work and raised the remaining $5,000 of the construction cost.
When the library opened just after Labor Day in 1980, Manchester suddenly had a library space four times as large, totaling 1,400 square feet. The old frame modular building was moved next to the new space to expand the library even more.
Kawasaki and the Friends board was able to pay off the 40-year loan in six years, celebrating the achievement with a mortgage-burning ceremony in 1986.
The Friends organization doesn’t maintain a formal membership list, but its president, Ralph Nelson, said at least 50 residents regularly take part to keep the library building maintained by either donating their labor or helping out with fundraisers.
While the building is small in comparison to other branches, it nonetheless requires regular maintenance and upkeep. And those costs exceeded $30,000 last year.
So the fundraising continues. One revenue source over the past 47 years has been the Friends’ popular salmon bake, which has become a Manchester community tradition. It has served the Northwest delicacy to at least 500 people at each event.
A more recent fundraising event has taken root: the Friends’ plant sale each April. Volunteer Carol Campbell said when the plant sale event was started 25 years ago, it generated about $3,000 in revenue. The most recent sale, she said, brought in $14,000 — and has become the most lucrative funding event.
“Our book sale also is significant,” Campbell said. “So far this year, we’ve sold about $8,000 worth of books.”
“Most of the other supporting (branch library) groups are supplemental to their library’s operations,” Nelson said.
“They provide just a little help here and there. But (at Manchester) we have a real, major ongoing effort underway to fundraise and help pay the expenses.”
Winslow said much like its Manchester branch, KRL operates somewhat differently than do most library systems.
“I think most of the patrons think that the library owns all of the buildings and that the Friends group operates in the periphery,” he said.
“In Poulsbo, the city owns and maintains the library building, and its operations are paid for out of city taxes,” Nelson said.
“The City of Port Orchard owns and maintains the library building. The downtown Bremerton library building is owned by the City of Bremerton and the Little Boston library building is owned by the (Port Gamble S’Klallam) Tribe.”
Just two branch buildings — Sylvan Way and Silverdale — are owned and maintained by KRL, Nelson said.
It’s small, but busy
Susan Lavin, the Manchester branch’s head librarian, said the branch, while small, is busy. As of Nov. 16, she said circulation figures total 51,903. The door count of visitors registered 34,815.
“One thing that’s so special here is that people grow up here and come back,” Lavin said.
“The library holds a place in their heart. They return and come in, breathe in and out, and say, ‘Ahh, I used to read here when I was a child.’ ”
The librarian thanked the Manchester community for its help in passing the KRL’s Proposition 1 levy lid-lift election measure in November.
“Manchester has an incredibly supportive (Friends) group,” she added. “When you think that this building, through their efforts, is maintained by them, it makes them that much more special.”
Wine tasting event Dec. 12
The Friends organization will have another fundraising event at 5 p.m. on Dec. 12. Winslow, along with his wife Joan, have hosted wine tastings for the group in the past, are heading up a wine tasting event at the Manchester Grill.
“The proprietor of the grill is very much interested in supporting the library,” Winslow said.
“She’s making the restaurant available and is sponsoring the food for the event.”
He said representatives from Ste. Michelle Winery will visit to provide wine and share their knowledge of the winemaking industry. A silent auction also will be included at the event. Tickets are $40 each and are being sold at the library. Those attending must be 21 years of age or older.