History of the Visalia City Library


In the earliest years, private reading rooms were the only collections available to booklovers. These were stocked with books donated by citizens and were staffed by ladies who volunteered for the task. In 1879 the first formally organized reading room was established in Good Templars Hall at Center and Court Streets. By 1892 the Women's Christian Temperance Union realized that a true library had to be formed. Space was rented in the Botsford Building on South Court. Funds for the new library were raised by public subscription. In 1893 the Visalia Public Reading Room and Library Society was organized. From this group there evolved future City Boards of Trustee interested in improving library service to the young town.

In 1903 an ordinance established the Visalia Free Library. The library, located at the corner of Main and Cottonwood (now Encina), first opened to the public in 1904. The City pledged $1000 a year; Andrew Carnegie donated $10,000. Out of this money the building was erected, the librarian paid, and books purchased. In 1906 Mrs. Mary J. McEwen was made Chief Librarian. She remained for 30 years, a familiar figure. Her starting salary was $40 a month, and her only assistant was a boy who swept floors and washed windows. Mrs. McEwen was required to make the fire during the winter and care for the books and patrons. At that time the budget only allowed her to buy two books a month. In order to buy expensive items such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and reference books, she had to save small sums until she could manage the purchase.

The Carnegie building on Main and Encina was replaced in 1936 with what was, until July 1, 1976, the Visalia Public Library. It was built on the site of Visalia's first school at a cost of $35,000. Both the collection and services offered grew rapidly during the 40's and 50's. The library continued to receive donations of books, pictures, and memorabilia. In 1961 two new additions--a children's reading room and a new wing of stacks were dedicated. By then, more that 57,000 books were available for public use. Chief Librarian Mary McEwen was followed through the years by Anna Sue Hughes, Phoebe Winkler, and Arthur Stobbe. Each contributed to the growth and development of the City Library. In 1976 the Library housed some 100,000 bound volumes, with an annual circulation of 210,000.


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