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Looking Back: A History of the Washington Park Arboretum

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A Legacy of Learning: The Elisabeth C. Miller Library

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A library at the Arboretum dates from at least 1946, with the arrival of Brian O. Mulligan. Every year in his annual report he faithfully recorded a listing of new acquisitions, including many rare and old books obtained from sources he knew in the UK and the rest of Europe.

In the 1960s, the more valuable and fragile books in the collection were moved to the Rare Books Department of the University of Washington Libraries, with limited access as needed. Only books that saw frequent use by faculty and staff stayed at the Arboretum. A fire that destroyed the Arboretum Clubhouse in 1968 emphasized the need for a secure and permanent library facility.

The Elisabeth C. Miller Library opened in 1985 at the newly established Center for Urban Horticulture. Pendleton Miller, a Seattle attorney, provided funds for construction of the library, which brought together some 2,000 books from the Arboretum and the UW Rare Books Department. In 1988, his wife Elisabeth C. Miller gave the library $1.2 million to double the library space and create an endowment to staff the library and build its book collections.

Today, the proximity of the Pacific Northwest's most significant horticultural library to the Arboretum gives its staff and visitors access to over 15,000 books on ornamental horticulture and related subjects, 400 serial titles, plus electronic, video and other resources maintained by an experienced and knowledgeable staff.

The library provides many services to its visitors and the community. It provides reference tools for students, researchers, and home gardeners, and extends borrowing privileges to the public. The children's collection, which includes curriculum materials for adults working with children, facilitates the education and outreach work of the Arboretum staff.

The Library's Plant Answer Line provides professional, science-based answers to gardening questions, using resources available through both the library’s collections and the Internet. The results are integrated into the Gardening Answers Knowledgebase. This online tool allows other gardeners to find answers to the same questions quickly, through www.millerlibrary.org.

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Brian Mulligan at the Elisabeth C. Miller Library, 1993
Photo by Laura Lipton

In an article for the Fall 1949 Arboretum Bulletin, Brian O. Mulligan states that one of the services an arboretum provides to its community is to be "…a source of information to the public as how to obtain, plant, grow, prune, spray and otherwise deal with trees and shrubs of all kinds." He concludes that "A good library is an essential part of this service, and this we are endeavoring to build up in the arboretum…"

It is fitting that Mulligan lived to see the establishment of the Miller Library and make use of it in his later years.