Clark County History: Eva Santee, Vancouver Librarian

During World War II, young people wishing to expand their reading would find alternatives to the Carnegie Library on Main Street in Vancouver. When they couldn’t find the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs or Daphne du Maurier, they turned to the pragmatic librarian for help. Courageously, they stammered their requests. Many viewed Eva Santee (1897-1979) as intimidating despite her mischievous smile. The librarian responded to calls for an “inappropriate” book by looking over her glasses, smiling playfully and saying, “This is not good literature.”

Santee looked after the children and guided the young towards her literary preferences to improve their minds. But what else she wanted was to expand the library to unserved areas of Clark County. “Library service for all” was its motto. The existing system of FVRLibraries shows its vision and 27 years of loving work.

After attending present-day Western Washington University, Santee obtained a master’s degree in library science from the University of California. Santee taught in California, then Clark County until the Camas Library hired her in 1932. As the county’s first librarian with a master’s degree, she earned $ 75 a month. During her nearly eight years there, she organized the library and convinced the town that it needed a new one, designed by local architect Day Hilborn.

In 1940, she began working at Vancouver’s Carnegie Library on Main Street, managing its growth from the boom times of World War II while expanding the library’s services. Bookmobiles had been around since 1904, but Clark County had none. For example, Santee redeployed an army truck to service remote areas of the county in the early 1940s, and mobile service continues today.

Santee started a community forum during World War II and invited speakers including poet Carl Sandburg and philosopher Will Durant. Concerned about “juvenile delinquency”, she also ran the Clark County Guidance Clinic on the fourth floor of the courthouse.

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