About the library

Library History

  On August 16, 1907, a member of the Women's Improvement Club of Richmond proposed with enthusiasm that the Club establish a public library. Cheers of approval greeted this motion and the Richmond Public Library Club was formed. The members gathered books, built bookshelves, diligently solicited donations and put on fund-raising entertainments, including raffles and whist parties.

    The little library, called the "Richmond Public Library," opened for business on November 10, 1907.  It was housed, temporarily, in the office of the Richmond Record, a local newspaper, with more than 400 volumes, all carefully cataloged and marked. It was a circulating library- -there was no reading room- -and the membership fee was one dollar per year!

    Early in 1908, the Club gained title to three lots on Nevin Avenue between Fourth and Fifth Streets, paying for them, from the profits of country fairs and additional raffles. The City Board of Trustees later purchased two additional lots adjoining these for the future city library, thus providing a full quarter block for the building. A monumental step forward was achieved when Andrew Carnegie, in 1901 pledged $17, 500 to erect a free public library building if the citizens would contribute the balance of the funds necessary to complete, furnish and stock the library.

    While all this was going on, in another section of Richmond, a second women's club was also active. In January 1909, the West Side Women's Improvement Club, established the Point Richmond Library in the old city hall building on Washington Avenue. Within a few months it had a collection of 500 volumes. A year later, this collection became a branch library for the proposed city library. This "branch" library became officially as the West Side Branch of the Richmond Public Library in January, 1910.

    After May 21, 1910, the little circulating library of the Women's Improvement Club of Richmond was closed and its 1,150 volumes became the nucleus for the City's new library.

    In the midst of all this activity, the Carnegie library building was being constructed at Fourth Street and Nevin Avenue. In August of 1929, the Richmond Public Library, a classic-style building with a capacity for 12,000 volumes, an encompassing lobby, a children's room, a reference room and a reading room, was officially opened to the public as the City's Library.

    The Stege Branch, established in July of 1913, was located on South 41st Street and Potrero Avenue and later moved to South Wall Street.  

    The Grant Branch, opened in 1924, was located in the Grant School building.
    The Main Library on Nevin Avenue, rapidly grew. In March of 1924, a $42,000 addition to the building was completed, doubling the size and capacity of the original building.

    Over the years, the Library increased its services to the public and pioneered several developments, which later were adopted by other libraries in California: (a) In 1947, the first large bookmobile, west of the Mississippi River; (b) In November of 1945, the first 16mm film service in California.

A Dream Come True
    Reflecting the phenomenal growth during the World War II years, from 23,000 to 106,000 inhabitants, the City voted a bond issue to build a civic center to meet the needs of such growth and in 1949 the first buildings were completed. The citizens of Richmond had something to be proud of:  Architectural Forum magazine called the new Memorial Civic Center: "a milestone in U.S. civic design; it is the first modern Civic Center built in any American city; and it is one of the most comprehensive centers constructed anywhere in the world." It was a multi-million dollar showplace and symbol of civic pride.
     One of the modern buildings centrally located in the Civic Center was a new Library building, one of the most modern library buildings in California. Coit Coolidge, the City Librarian, and the staff were involved in all aspects of the planning, which took four years and went through twenty-seven revisions before the final plan was adopted. The result was a splendid two-story edifice, the first glass-walled library building in the country, framed in steel and concrete with glazed east facade; inside was a two-story reading room, periodicals and stacks on a mezzanine above work space, a children's room and an adjoining meeting room - auditorium. The total cost of the building, including equipment, when completed in December 1949, was $576,000. Noteworthy was the fact that the main reading room encompassed all library functions, including storage, charging and delivery facilities; the Library had a book capacity of 100,000 volumes. Opened to the public on December 5, 1949, the Library was complete and modern in respect, designed to allow the maximum service at the least cost to the taxpayer.
    The new building, with its glass front, modern lighting, fresh-air system and comfortable furniture, became the envy of the library world on the West Coast and was constantly visited by others planning library buildings for other cities.
     As part of Richmond's award-winning Civic Center, the handsome Library grew in reputation and many considered it to be the best-designed, medium-sized library in the Bay Area and one of the best in the United States.   

    The Library moved on through the years. The Stege Branch closed on June 15, 1961, as population dwindled in that section of the City. The West Side Branch moved into a new and larger building in Point Richmond on July 4, 1961. A new and modern bookmobile went into service on October 28, 1963.
     In 1966, the Library joined a cooperative network, known as the East Bay Cooperative Library System (EBC), consisting of Alameda County Library, Alameda City Library and Contra Costa County Library, thereby providing for the cooperative sharing of the resources of these libraries. This was further facilitated at the same time by the institution of a "books-by-teletype" system. Through this arrangement the Library established direct and rapid interlibrary contact with the other member libraries of EBC, making their book collections available to the patrons of the Richmond Public Library on interlibrary loan.
      In 1975, these libraries, also formed an information services cooperative with the Oakland Public Library, known as the East Bay Information Services (EBIS), for reciprocal services for the patrons of the EBC member libraries and those of the Oakland Public Library.
     In December 1967, the Library established a branch in the new State Service Center at  217 10th Street, which was also occupied by the State Department of Human Resources Development.
     In May 1971, fire damaged the structure of the old Fourth Street Branch Building and that branch was closed. The closing of this branch was more than compensated for as other branches came into being.
     Shield-Reid Branch - - in the Shields-Reid neighborhood recreation center in North Richmond, at Kelsey and Alamo street- -opened June 1971.
     The year 1972 was no exception: the Eastshore Branch Library opened, occupying a section of the Eastshore Community Center, a neighborhood center at 960 South 47th Street. In August 1976, this branch library moved to a more spacious location, next to the fire station building at Carlson Boulevard and Hartnett Avenue and became known as the Bayview Branch Library.
     The year of 1973 brought still another new and unique program to the Library. With financing from Federal funds under LSCA, Title I, the Library established a Mobile Outreach Project (it immediately became affectionately known as MOP). The project went into operation in February 1973; later in the year the specially-equipped MOP was delivered and MOP swung into action. The brightly-colored van, equipped with a 4,500-watt generator with remote control, an auxiliary shore line cable, a pegboard inside panel and outlets to power 8mm and 16mm film, filmstrip and slide projectors, also featured a 3' x 3' exterior projection screen, a permanently mounted projector-speaker on the side of the van, and two sets of exterior and interior speakers to amplify its AM/FM stereo cassette system. It soon became a familiar and welcome sight in Richmond as it began presenting audiovisual programs, such as films, slides and video taped shows, at more than 25 day-care and pre-school centers, convalescent homes and recreational centers, primarily in the Model Cities area. The MOP van staff also presented, in addition, a wide spectrum of book talks, puppet shows and film workshops, as it moved around from location to location, neighborhood to neighborhood, also establishing small book collections in various outlets.

    In 1975, when the two-year Federal grant ran out, the City took over the project and MOP (now known as the Mobile Outreach Program) became an official segment of the Library's program to the public.

    The Library pioneered once again in 1975, as being one of the first public libraries in California to install and place in operation a computerized circulation control system, thereby increasing the efficiency of the circulation process and producing statistical reports, which were not readily available previously. To cite just a few benefits of this new computerized system, it provided automatic handling of overdue notices and billings, detailed patron statistics, immediate information on reserved materials, prompt notice of a book's current location and the number of reserves on a particular book.  In addition, the computer eliminated much clerical work, which previously had been needed to amass the data that the computer was able to collate and systematize for later use.

    In 1976, through its membership in EBIS and a grant of Federal funds, the Library gained interlibrary-loan access to the multi-million-volume library collection of the University of California at Berkeley. Other special services the Library has offered for many years are the reference-referral resources of the Bay Area Reference Center (BARC) in San Francisco and access to the holdings of the State Library in Sacramento and through it to other public (and many non-public) libraries in the State.

    In keeping with its increasing emphasis on outreach service to community organizations, neighborhoods and citizens of the City, the Library in 1975 established an Extension Division to coordinate and intensify the activities of its branch libraries, bookmobile, and MOP van; and in 1976 this Division moved into new quarters in the Community Services Center adjacent to the Main Library.

  In an atmosphere of bustling activity and innovation and continuing progress, the Richmond Public Library offers a multi-faceted program of service, a service that draws not only Richmond residents, but patrons as well from surrounding areas -- Pinole, San Pablo, El Cerrito, Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, Walnut Creek, Concord, Alameda County, Marin County, San Francisco, the Peninsula, Vallejo and other localities in the Bay Area, drawn to the Library by such offerings as (a) an extensive audiovisual service -- more than 400 16mm films ranging from children's cartoons to full-length features; cassette tapes; filmstrips, slides, screens, 8mm films; slide, 8mm and 16mm projectors; (b) one of the most complete collections of automotive repair manuals in the Bay Area; (c) a book collection of some 236,000 volumes; (d) periodical holdings exceeding 700 titles; (e) more than 11,000 phonograph record albums; (f) a lively program in the children's room, featuring story hours, puppet shows, handicraft activities, school visitations, dial-a-story telephone story telling, phonograph records and exhibits; (g) microfilm holdings of newspapers and periodicals exceeding 4,000 reels; and (h) Sunday hours during which the Library is open to the public.

    Some 70 years after that initial beginning with the Women's Improvement Club's little library, the Richmond Public Library, now composed of a main library, two stationary branches and one mobile unit, looks back with affection to that modest start, recalls with pride the growth of the Library through the years and faces the future with full confidence and expectation of still greater advancement, to serve even more completely the citizens of Richmond and the Bay Area.

Edward G. Berenson 1977