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.
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
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
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