Winter in Oregon is a fine season to curl up by the fire with a book. Libraries around the state are here to help with that, but these community gems also are destinations in their own right for visitors year-round. In many small towns, you’ll find bright, renovated facilities with staff willing to provide local tips and tidbits about the region, as well as a range of programs — from kids’ play groups to history lectures — that don’t require a library card to attend. Here are six cozy libraries that offer programming you won’t want to miss.
Mastodon Bones and Superheroes Near Portland
In 1962 two Portland State University students unearthed some massive bones in an area near Nyberg Creek. They turned out to be the 14,000-year-old remains of a female mastodon. You can see those bones on display at the Tualatin Public Library now, mounted before a beautiful etched-glass work representing what the massive animal may have looked like. In addition to regular story times held for kids, the library also has a makerspace with an “open lab” where assistants can teach you how to make anything from wool soap to clay ornaments. The teen room comes stocked with video games and board games to use during your visit, as well as free movies every Friday night during the school year.
One of the state’s most architecturally pleasing libraries sits in Milwaukie, south of Portland. Its big glass walls and airy ceilings seem to complement the burbling creek and grove of mature oaks growing just beyond the glass. The Ledding Library pays homage to one of Milwaukie’s most celebrated residents, Mike Richardson, the mastermind behind Dark Horse Comics — one of the country’s largest comic book, graphic novel and manga publishers. Inside the teen room, you’ll find a giant mural depicting superheroes and villains, as well as hangout spaces and gaming consoles for those in sixth through 12th grades. Check the website for poetry readings, book sales, scavenger hunts and more.
Mosaics and Ukuleles on the Clackamas
The town of Estacada may be best known for supplying the country with festive Christmas trees and splashy fun on the Clackamas River, but it’s also home to the Estacada Public Library, a hub for art, music and literature. The library is one of the coziest in the state, with a fireplace perfect for reading by, but to get there you’ll have to make it past the incredible glass mosaics installed in the entryway and hallway by local artist Mimi Near. There are 10 mosaics in all, each depicting a flower native to the Northwest, like tiger lilies, trilliums and wild irises. Outside you’ll find a 33-foot-diameter, medieval-style labyrinth by local artist and labyrinth master designer Stephen Shibley.
If you’re a ukulele player — or just like the music — the library on Wednesdays holds ukulele jam sessions for people 18 and older, and all skill levels are welcome. Kids will love the Lego Club that meets every third Saturday of the month.
Chess and Spanish Sing-Alongs in Wine Country
One of about a dozen characteristic libraries built with funds donated by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, Willamette Valley wine country town’s charming Newberg Carnegie Library opened in 1912. The stately brick building has expanded and gone through renovations, but it has also very much kept its character. Today it caters to a diverse community with bilingual storytelling sessions and Spanish sing-alongs for parents and kids. A drop-in chess club meets on the first, third and fifth Fridays of each month, and you don’t need to bring your own set to play. If you’re looking for that perfect book after exploring Newberg’s downtown wineries, the library often holds book sales where hardbacks go for $1 and paperbacks for even less.
A Samurai Sword on the South Coast
On September 9, 1962, the southern coastal town of Brookings warmly received a special guest, very much to the guest’s own delight. In 1942, during World War II, Imperial Japanese Army fighter pilot Nobuo Fujita dropped incendiary bombs into the forests near town on orders to set them ablaze and distract the U.S. military. (It didn’t really work — the forests were too damp.) Decades later an Oregon delegation invited Fujita back to Brookings on a mission of peaceful reconciliation. Fujita accepted and brought his family’s 400-year-old samurai sword as a gift.
Today that sword sits on display for all to see in the Chetco Community Public Library, which reopened in 2021 after a $1 million renovation brought the interior a new, modern look. Swing by the library to catch a foreign film on the first Friday of every month, while a Lego Club meets every fourth Thursday of the month. Little kids will love a new interactive wall in the children’s area made of moving gears. There’s also a makerspace and a new area for teens.
Crafts Before River Strolls in Southern Oregon
Years ago many of Douglas County’s libraries closed due to funding issues, but community support has brought many of them back. Among them, the flagship Roseburg Public Library leads the way. Situated in the historic downtown, it’s a great place to ask about the trails that meander through town along the South Umpqua River. For kids there’s Spanish-language story time that often includes craft making, and weekly free grab-and-go craft kits — perfect for a road trip. Adults can also participate in a summer reading club.