North Portland Library history

Library service in North Portland began on May 20, 1909, when the North Albina Reading Room opened in a house on N. Albina Avenue. The room housed a collection of 500 to 600 books that circulated almost 4,000 times that first year. By the next year, circulation reached more than 15,000. The librarian’s report for that year noted, “It is hardly possible to make comparisons to show the growth at North Albina. From the day this reading room opened, it has been a matter of wonder that so much could be done in so tiny a place.” By early 1911, the reading room had become a sub-branch with expanded hours, but without all of the reference services and programs available at a full branch library.

On May 1, 1911, North Albina Library moved into new quarters at 1131 N. Albina Avenue near N. Killingsworth Street. It became a full branch with a larger book collection, better reference services and a wider range of adult and children’s programs. The move included absorbing Multnomah Reading Room, which had been housed at 853 N. Mississippi Avenue.

In 1912, the Carnegie Corporation of New York donated $60,000 for four new branch libraries, including one to replace North Albina Library. The land for a new North Portland Library came from the generous gifts of many community members, and construction soon started. In the meantime, library staff continued to reach out to the neighborhood. They asked the local water bill collector to distribute library applications and booklists, and encouraged the gas company to advertise the library’s cookbooks during cooking demonstrations.

The new location for North Portland Library opened its doors on February 20, 1913 on the corner of N. Killingsworth Street and N. Commercial Avenue. Its new Jacobethan-style building not only held more books, but it also offered a children’s room and a 150-seat assembly hall. The library hosted 42 lectures in its first year, including a course in municipal government that drew 2,622 attendees.

From the 1920s through 1940s, the library continued to serve the community in many ways. With Jefferson High School next door, the library was often full with both day and night students. In 1923, visiting nurses used the library for well-baby clinics. During the Depression, readers escaped through novels or they searched library resources for new jobs. World War II brought Red Cross sewing circles, home nursing classes and other events to the library in support of those on the home front.

In 1955, a multi-year library study resulted in a recommendation to establish six large “Class A” branch libraries that would offer increased hours of operation, stronger book collections, daily deliveries from Central Library, and a full range of additional services. North Portland Library was designated as one of those branches.

The library continued to change to meet new demands during the years that followed. In June 1987, the Black Resource Center opened in a wing of North Portland Library, housing both scholarly and popular materials relating to the African-American experience.

By the mid-1990s, many Multnomah County libraries, including North Portland Library, were in serious need of renovation and repair. In May 1996, voters passed a $28 million General Obligation Bond measure to improve technology in all Multnomah County libraries and to renovate deteriorating branch libraries. A physical and functional assessment of North Portland Library identified major areas that needed work. The library building needed extensive work to upgrade its unreinforced masonry to meet current seismic standards. It also needed a new roof, plumbing improvements and electrical and telecommunication upgrades. An elevator was added to provide second floor meeting room access to people with disabilities. Additional public restrooms were added, and new interior lighting and furnishings were designed to reflect the historic nature of the building.

The building closed for renovation on February 28, 1999, and reopened on March 21, 2000.

Fact Sheet

  • Library area: 9,500 square feet
  • Book capacity: 30,000 volumes
  • Original architect: Joseph Jacobberger and Alfred H. Smith Architects
  • Architectural style: Jacobethan
  • Renovation architect: Thomas Hacker and Associates P.C.
  • Renovation contractor: Andersen Construction Co., Inc.
  • First librarian (1913): Miss Ernestine Heslop
  • Original opening: February 20, 1913
  • Reopening: March 21, 2000

Read the histories of all neighborhood libraries, and explore historic library photos.