Late in 1872, in a small but bustling pueblo of barely 6,000 people, something big was happening. A fire department and high school had just been founded, along with the first theater. Now the residents of El Pueblo de la Reina de los Angeles knew what they wanted next for their town: a library. Two hundred citizens gathered to create the Los Angeles Library Association, which in 1878 would become the Los Angeles Public Library.
A spirit of civic pride and boosterism helped residents quickly achieve their immediate goal of having a place for the latest—though sometimes very late to arrive—newspapers and magazines from the distant east. The founders of the library had a more ambitious vision – to make a permanent public library from their fledgling organization lodged in rented rooms above one of the settlement’s busiest saloons. Thus the light of learning was sparked and one of the oldest institutions of Los Angeles was born.
Population soared over the next fifty years as the City of Los Angeles grew at record rates – to a half million in 1920 and to over a million by 1930. During the same period, the Los Angeles Public Library grew, from a mere 750 donated books at its founding, to the highest circulation of any public library in the country by 1933. Through boom times and setbacks, the Los Angeles Public Library reflected this enormous expansion, ever eager to keep pace with, yet often struggling to match, the city’s dynamic development. One of the shining constants of Los Angeles Public Library’s history is the dedicated service to its community that the library has provided and continues to provide. The library offers a place of opportunity for everyone, and has flourished largely because of the community’s committed support, both politically and, significantly, through the crucial work of volunteers.
Los Angeles and its library grew up together. LAPL150—Our Story is Yours: A Los Angeles Public Library Sesquicentennial Celebration is dedicated to the people of Los Angeles, and celebrates the story of our city through the library’s unique lens. While the library’s history is too expansive and complex to cover comprehensively in a single exhibit, we have highlighted some of the key aspects of the changing face of the Los Angeles Library System. How have the library’s collections, services and programs served the people of Los Angeles? How has the library evolved to serve communities, and how have those communities helped the library to grow? How has the Los Angeles Public Library continued to represent the democratic values of public libraries, providing free and open access to resources for lifelong learning, and a commitment to equitable service for all?