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Thursday, September 6, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Herbert Mutschler ran county libraries

Seattle Times staff reporter

Herbert Mutschler didn't want people to think of libraries as a place only to read or take out books. Libraries, he thought, should be community centers.

As director of the King County Library System for 26 years, he wanted his libraries and their collections to grow. He added films, music tapes, books on tape and videos to the shelves. He initiated a book-by-mail system and computerized the card-catalog system.

He also worked on two bond initiatives that raised $73 million and allowed him to make improvements and expand the system from about 25 branch libraries to nearly 40.

Mr. Mutschler died Friday (Aug. 31) at Mission Healthcare at Bellevue after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 81 and had been a resident of Bellevue for 38 years.

His passion for libraries extended beyond the office. When he returned from vacations, he often brought back pictures of other libraries to show his staff. Even after he retired in 1989, he would visit branches of the county library system just to talk to people.

Mr. Mutschler was Mr. Library, said Jeanne Thorsen, director of the King County Library System Foundation.

"It's just hard to imagine libraries without Herb," Thorsen said. "... He was consummate, just totally dedicated to libraries."

Born in Eureka, S.D. on Nov. 28, 1919, Mr. Mutschler served as a captain in the Army during World War II and the Korean War before pursuing a career as a librarian. He had wanted to be a history professor, said his wife, Lucille, also a former librarian, but a Cleveland librarian told him librarianship was a rising field for men.

It was the right profession for Mr. Mutschler. He relished the challenge of running a library system, she said.

"He just loved meeting people and loved planning buildings," his wife said.

Mr. Mutschler won honors during his tenure in King County, including the Washington Library Association President's Award and the Washington Outstanding Public Official award. He also was named a founding member of the county library foundation.

But his staff was his pride and joy, Lucille Mutschler said. "People were the best part of his work," she said.

After Mr. Mutschler retired, he still committed himself to local libraries, serving on the board for the Bellevue Regional Library and on the Newport Way Library's Friends of the Library in Bellevue. He also served on a Kiwanis Club board.

"Everyone just equates libraries with Herb," Thorsen said. "That was just so evident. He left quite a legacy when he retired ... and he will be truly missed in the library community."

Mr. Mutschler's survivors include a daughter, Linda Wray of Seattle; two grandchildren; a brother, Clarence of Watertown, S.D.; and a sister, Ione Koerner of Eureka, S.D.

Memorial services will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 15 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Bellevue, 3030 Bellevue Way N.E. A reception will follow.

Nicole Tsong can be reached at 206- 464-2793 or ntsong@seattletimes.com.

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