The history of Long Beach Public Library began in 1893 when the Reverend Sidney C. Kendell came to Long Beach as head of the First Congregational Church.
He found the nucleus of a library in the church, consisting of a small collection of miscellaneous books, belonging to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. There was unmistakable evidence that none of the volumes had been opened for years. Reverend Kendall called a meeting of a number of patriotic citizens, told them what he had found, and urged that steps be taken toward founding a public library and reading room. From this first meeting the Long Beach Library Association was formally organized.
Local resident J.W. Birt agreed that starting a circulating library in Long Beach was a good thing; after all Los Angeles had just gotten one underway, and it looked like Pasadena would soon follow. Birt helped spearhead a fundraising campaign and convinced the Long Beach Dramatic Club to hold the first library fund raiser on September 7, 1894. They gathered at the town’s major meeting place, the Tabernacle, to perform the play, A Widow’s Heart. There wasn’t any mention in the newspapers as to how much money they raised, but the idea of starting a library in Long Beach caught on.
Not to be outdone, the community of Alamitos Beach Townsite also decided to start a library. On July 6, 1895, they held a hay ride and dime social to raise money. Nearly 40 people turned out with wagons, carts, carriages and bicycles and rode to the Thornburg residence at 338 E. First Street, where Humphrey Taylor played piano, Miss Willard recited poetry, and general conversation ensued. The townsite had already secured a lot; the site of which still houses a library—the Alamitos Branch library.
In neighboring Long Beach, efforts paid off and on January 1, 1896, a library opened in a small, one-story frame building on the south side of Ocean and west of the alley between Pine and Pacific. The women of the library association held an open house that New Year’s Day, inviting all the townsfolk to visit the new library between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The Los Angeles Herald (1/3/1897) had this to say about the building: “the rooms are most pleasantly situated, facing south on Ocean Avenue overlooking the bay and commanding one of the finest marine views to be found on either ocean and probably in the world.” It neglected to add that there were cracks in the rough boarded, narrow windowed structure through which the wind swept causing the kerosene lamps to flicker.
In actuality, the Long Beach Library Association had been formed as a “counter attraction” to the one saloon which had become a popular meeting place for various and sundry villagers. This saloon eventually led to the city disincorporation (see my book Murderous Intent for this story). Miss Cora Matthews was the first person engaged as a librarian, but she closed the library and went home one evening, after evicting youths who created too much of a disturbance. She refused to come back and 56-year-old Mary Spangler was hired on January 15th to replace her. Miss Mathews, however, was voted a life membership in the library association for her services, short as her term running the library had been.
Dr. A.T. Covert told Walter Case’s readers in the November 13, 1933 Sun that he remembered carrying boards to that little old Ocean Avenue “library building,” and helping build shelves for the books which were donated or purchased. Miss Lila Castle, who served as substitute librarian for a short time in the Ocean Avenue Library, told Case readers that she worked with Mary R. Spangler, a soldier’s widow, who received a salary of $10 a month. Mrs. Spangler’s duties included keeping the reading room open, issuing the books, washing the windows and curtains and bringing in the wood.
Library Association dues were $1 a year, or 25 cents monthly. Musical entertainments brought in small amounts, and some additional books were donated, but in August 1897 it was necessary to adopt a plan of voluntary service in order to keep the library open when the city disincorporated in 1896. Fortunately the city reincorporated in December 1897, and changes to the library soon followed.
New Library/City Hall
In 1898 a City Hall/Library bond issue passed, a site on Pacific and Broadway was purchased from the Long Beach Development Company. The price was $3000 but the company made the city a gift of $1000 reducing the cost to $2000. The corner stone was laid on May 24, 1899, Mayor C.F.A. Johnson officiating. A sealed box embedded in the stone contained a certified copy of the proceedings of the City Trustees in connection with the bond issues and copies of local newspapers.
The building, constructed on a 48 x 60 foot lot, was brick, two stories in height, with an ornamental dome. The April 23, 1899 Los Angeles Herald reported:
The Long Beach Public Library, which is now in its third year of existence, is and has been kept up entirely by public subscription. It has steadily grown despite the drawbacks of hard times, until now it occupies a position commensurate with its growing importance. It is designed to give the largest room in the new City Hall for its quarters when that building is completed and then the library will grow and expand not only with the growth of the town but will be able to accommodate the reading needs of the thousands of visitors who make this place their home during the summer season.
The new City Hall/ Library/Jail/Fire station was dedicated September 29, 1899. The Los Angeles Herald described the event:
The new city hall was formally dedicated last night, the exercises leading up thereto commencing, at 2:30 o’clock in the afternoon at the pavilion on the wharf. The schools were given a half holiday in order that the pupils and teachers might participate. The afternoon exercises were instituted in the interest of the public library, which was turned over to the care of the city. The pavilion and city hall had been tastefully decorated, the ladies of the library board excelling themselves in the beauty of the floral decorations. A tally-ho loaded with ladies and a band was driven through the principal business and residence streets for an hour or so before the beginning of the exercises, stopping at the home of the principal subscribers to the library fund, awarding their efforts with a serenade. Later the new city hall was turned over to the city council by City Architect Starbuck.
On October 7, 1899, the city formally assumed charge of the Long Beach Public Library. To help with the transition Los Angeles Public Library graciously loaned Miss Mary Jones and four pupils of her training class, Misses Bettersworth, Beckley, Madison and Jackson, who spent three days in Long Beach classifying and cataloguing the 1141 books which the library now housed. Mrs. Spangler was again appointed librarian but she resigned in December 1899 and Miss Castle was named her successor.
At first the library was in the southeast corner on the first floor of the City Hall building, along with the council chamber. The upper floor of City Hall was designed for use as a town hall or place for public meetings and entertainments. A stage was built at the north end. Later this town hall idea was dropped; the library was moved upstairs, taking its place. Certain city offices, including those of the City Engineer and Building and Street Superintendents, were located in the portion which formerly was the stage. In the rear of City Hall was a fire station and city jail equipped with a steel cage and two cells.
Alamitos Branch Library
When you travel down Third Street, few realize that the Spanish looking building located between residences is actually a library, and the most important legacy of a town that once was—Alamitos Beach. As mentioned earlier, it was on July 6, 1895, that residents of the community which would eventually join Long Beach in 1909, held a hay ride and dime social to raise money for a library. Nearly 40 people turned out with wagons, carts, carriages and bicycles and rode to the Thornburg residence where Humphrey Taylor played piano, Miss Willard recited poetry, and general conversation ensued. Later that year a masquerade ball was held, with $16 raised for the building fund. The new structure was to be more than just a library; it was to become the community center for the entire town in which plays, meetings, lectures and any and all gatherings could be held. It wouldn’t be restricted to any sect or clique, according to the February 28, 1897 Los Angeles Herald, it would be perfectly free and open to all. That historic site still houses a library—the Alamitos branch library at 1836 East Third Street (called Bishop Street in earlier days).
On April 9, 1897, the Alamitos library was formally dedicated. Every cent of the cost of the building was raised by the efforts of the people themselves, the land donated by the Alamitos Land Company, headed by Jotham Bixby. The building cost about $500, with most of the construction done by civic minded citizens. That Friday evening the April 11, 1897 Los Angeles Herald reported, the Library Association turned the building over to E.S. Fortune, chairman of the building committee, clear of all debt. The community turned out in force for the dedication, paying 25 cents admission, which also entitled them to a chicken supper and entertainment which consisted of: a piano solo, by Professor Humphrey Taylor; vocal solo, “Twas April,” (encore, “In the Lovely Month of May”) by Miss Ada Dillon; a baton drill by 14 young girls, pupils of Miss Ella Nevell’s school, led by Miss Ada Wingard; report of the chairman of the building committee, E.S. Fortune; remarks by Mrs. A.M. Dunn, president of the Library Association; report of the secretary of the Library Association, A.M. Dunn; intermission of half an hour, during which refreshments of ice cream, cake and lemonade were served; followed by more entertainment.
Library Association members met at the homes of its members until the library was built. They collected a number of books before the building was erected and later took turns acting as librarian. When the library was given to the City of Long Beach on February 3, 1910, it housed 500 volumes and Mrs. Violet Gresham was hired as librarian. It was turned over to the City of Long Beach with the stipulation that the ladies of the Alamitos Library Association would always have use of rooms for social and literary meetings.
The one-story frame structure stood on the site until 1928, when a beautiful Spanish style building with painted ceiling beams, tiled staircases and iconic, iron-decorated front windows replaced the one-story frame structure in 1929—a glowing tribute to the town that once was—Alamitos Beach.
The affairs of Long Beach Public Library remained in the hands of the Library Association until 1901 when a library board was appointed by the city trustees. One of its first acts was to request a library tax which was approved. On January 1, 1902, the library became a free, tax supported institution. Before, dues to use the library were $1 a year or 25 cents a month if you were a tourist.
In January 1903 Miss Castle, the librarian, made a report to the Library Board. The circulation for the first free year of the library was 20,662 items as against 5915 for the previous year. Much of this increase was due to the additional population and much to the removal of the payment formerly required for the use of books. During the same twelve months 416 books were added to the collection, together with 572 magazines. In the same period 1041 free cards were issued (besides those that had been given to non-residents for a small sum per month). Out of the over 20,000 books checked out only two had been lost.
On December 9, 1903, the Library Board, acknowledging the increased business of the library, decided to hire an “expert” librarian to help Miss Castle and plan for the opening of the Carnegie Library in 1908. Miss Victoria Ellis, regarded as one of the best “posted” librarians in the state, was lured away from Los Angeles Public Library and hired in December 1903. In addition, the Board decided to add a supply of illustrated literature for children and establish a special reading room for their youthful needs. In May 1907 story time for children was started.
Carnegie Proposes a New Library
In February 1903, City Trustees studied a proposal made by millionaire steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie to build a Carnegie sponsored library in Long Beach. The City would need to find a place for the library and guarantee $3,000 per year for continued support. They couldn’t build on the library site that Long Beach founder William Willmore had given the citizens of his city because the four-year old City Hall/Library was already there. Where to put the library?
On February 9, 1903, a meeting was held and a suggestion made that the library be built in the city park (called Lincoln Park today). The land for the park had also been given to the citizens of Long Beach by Willmore and his successor the Long Beach Land Company. Library trustee W.W. Lowe was positive he could get the old Long Beach Land Company to agree to the construction of a library, if they could come up with a plan as to where to move the Municipal Whale. When it was suggested moving the whale to the bluff, there was a public outcry. She belonged in the park and that was where folks wanted the whale to stay.
“Minnie,” as she was dubbed in the 1970s, washed up on the beach at Ocean and Pine on May 13, 1897. The 63-foot whale was wounded (some said by a swordfish, others mischievous boys) and soon died. The Chamber of Commerce boiled the carcass and mounted the skeleton in Pacific Park (the Lincoln Park of today). Today we think nothing about seeing a whale, and it is hard for us to envision what an attraction Minnie was. Seeing a whale then would be like seeing a live dinosaur today. People flocked from all over to view Long Beach’s first tourist attraction.
As described in my book Strange Sea Tales Along the Southern California Coast, the whale was venerated, a sacred symbol for Long Beach. The City was in a quandary over what to do with Carnegie’s library proposal. Would the park house the hallowed whale or a new Carnegie library? There was quite a debate until the citizens of neighboring Alamitos Beach Townsite stepped into the picture and said that they would gladly accept a Carnegie library for their city. They volunteered their city’s library site, on Third Street, or their own park, Alamitos Park (later renamed Bixby Park).
Fearing that Carnegie might take his offer to Alamitos (which didn’t become part of Long Beach until 1909 and was still a separate city), a compromise was reached. A library would be built in the park and the whale displayed in the library basement where the Chamber of Commerce planned on moving. The Chamber vowed they would look after the whale, the symbol of the city.
The Library Board decided the new library would be 60×100 feet, two stories in height, and built of buff pressed brick. But a big question remained…would the entrance face north or south? To decide the issue a special band concert was held in the Muncipal Auditorium in late May 1908 asking those attending their view on the subject. At last it was decided. The entrance would face the ocean, rather than either the east or north. On July 10, 1908, it was announced that Weymouth Crowell of Los Angeles was the successful bidder on the construction of the proposed Carnegie library, in Pacific (Lincoln) Park. His bid was approximately $35,000.
On September 5, 1908, during the “Festival of the Sea” celebrations, the cornerstone of the new Carnegie Public Library was laid. In the cornerstone was a sealed bronze box which contained a history of the library, the last annual report, a list of 1907-08 board members, names of library staff and contractors, plans and specifications of the new library, photographs of Andrew Carnegie, Mayor Charles H. Windham and Reverend Charles Pease, a list of city officials, a statement of population and revenues of the city, the last annual report of the city, copies of daily papers, programs and invitations and historic photographs. Thanks to the efforts of
Adelaide Tichenor and other women of the city, Andrew Carnegie had been convinced to donate more money than originally planned. Because his bequests were based on population, $12,500 was the amount given to a city of 2,000 people. The women of Long Beach proved to his satisfaction that the 1900 U.S. Census was out of date, that instead of being a village of 2,200 people Long Beach’s population was nearer 22,000. Carnegie raised his gift to $30,000, but construction estimates for the new building were $35,000—$5,000 which the city needed to raise on its own.
On Flag Day, June 14, 1909, beneath the drooping eucalyptus trees of Pacific Park, the new Carnegie library was dedicated. Two thousand people listened to music and speeches and were finally invited inside the city’s new library. They were greeted by library staff, all dressed in white gowns, and by the yellow blossoms of Scotch broom which decorated the interior.
Besides books and magazines the library included an art gallery, conceded to be one of the finest all-round art galleries in Southern California. On special loan, from renowned artists, were various paintings. Also on exhibit was a display of rare old books, showing examples of 400 year old monastery book binding of oaken boards and pig skins. Included in another display were magazine and text books for the blind along with material and equipment which could teach the visually impaired how to write. All in attendance agreed—the library was the cultural center of the city and a fine example of what Long Beach had to offer.
The basement of the library contained the Chamber of Commerce and the Municipal Whale. As a cost saving measure the glass case housing the whale had been done away with. However, the Chamber soon regretted their decision when the whale began to smell. A wall was erected between the Chamber offices and the whale, which helped with the odor but not with theft. Visitors wanting to remember Long Beach began to help themselves to various pieces of the whale; a wire cage was placed around the exhibit to deter memento seekers.
But some didn’t like the extra work needed to keep the new library clean. Janitor Bevins refused to work a twelve hour day, six days a week for $50 a month. When his complaints fell on deaf ears he quit and went to work at a local hotel for more money and fewer hours. The library then hired a custodian who was Japanese, but city folk were outraged that a minority, who was not an American citizen, would be paid from taxpayers funds. He was released and an African-American hired in his place, however the new custodian soon found a better paying job and a woman was appointed to the position. The new library janitor, Mrs. Lynn, felt lucky to have secured employment since job opportunities for the female sex were limited.
Visit from Andrew Carnegie
He didn’t make it to the library opening, but he did pay an impromptu visit on March 17, 1910. Because of a knee injury he couldn’t ascend to the second floor of the library which his money had built, but he did appreciate what he saw. Librarian Victoria Ellis brought one of the latest books which Carnegie had written, “Problems of Today,” and asked him to autograph it. This is what he wrote:
Visiting this beautiful library, March 17, 1910, I wish to record the intense satisfaction with which I look upon this noble building, one of the finest I have seen. That I have been privileged to contribute to its erection is one of the greatest of all rewards. Success to Long Beach. Andrew Carnegie. (LA Times 3/18/1910)
The autographed book disappeared sometime prior to 1936. Theodora Brewitt told Walter Case that a thorough search was being continued, but she suspected some unorthodox “collector” had purloined the prized volume.
In April 1910, 180 librarians from around California flocked to Long Beach for the state’s annual library convention, held April 25-27 in the elegant Hotel Virginia. Most traveled on the Red Car, in operation in Long Beach since 1902 and the first established line of Henry Huntington’s vast Pacific Electric empire. The Hotel Virginia, which opened in 1908, was considered one of the five great hotels of the West.
About sixty librarians arrived early, on April 11th, to attend “the library institute” held at Long Beach’s new Carnegie Public Library. The two-week institute took the place of the summer library course, held annually in Berkeley. Two courses were offered. “Course A” consisted of reference work taught by Miss Anna McBeckley and books in the 800s (Literature) by Miss Gertrude Darlow. “Course B” consisted of lectures on cataloging and classification by Miss Mary L. Sutliff. Librarians from Oroville, San Bernardino, Whittier, Corona, Santa Barbara, Oxnard, Pacific Grove, Pasadena, San Diego, Santa Maria, Azusa, Sierra Madre, El Centro, and Los Angeles signed up for the course. Though they all thought Miss Beckley’s talk on “Comparative Values of Magazines” and Miss Darlow’s lecture on English literature of the later nineteenth century interesting, the highlight was the free tour of the almost completed harbor hosted by the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce.
On Monday, April 25, Mayor Charles Windham welcomed the annual library association convention to Long Beach. State Librarian, Mr. J. L. Gillis, discussed the conference program: lectures on periodical purchase and exchange, book selection and buying, inter-library loans, binding and other workroom problems, the future of the typewriter in library work, relations between schools and libraries, ordering of library supplies, pictures for library, and library training. Also on the agenda were literary readings by C.F. Lummis, Los Angeles City Librarian, and Harold Bell Wright author of The Shepherd of the Hills. A special treat, presented by the staff of the Los Angeles Public Library, was a three-act play The Light of Garvanza, a Romance of the Harem, adapted from a work of Omar Khayyan. A sad note, however, overshadowed the convention, the passing of American humorist Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain), four days earlier.
The Battle at the Public Library
1914 saw a world in upheaval with the start of World War I (known as the Great War back then). Long Beach, too, was in a state of unrest with the election of Louis N. Whealton as mayor.
The 1913 Empire Day disaster (discussed in my book Murderous Intent) had shown the need for new governmental policies in Long Beach. The official verdict of the tragedy had been that Long Beach had grown too fast for governmental services to keep up with civic responsibilities such as public safety inspections. In 1910 it gained the honor of being the fastest growing city in the nation. The population had grown from 2,252 in 1900 to 17,809 in 1910. Long Beach was continuing its tremendous growth. In 1913 its population was estimated at 28,976, by 1914 it was expected to be 45,948. This 60% increase stretched city services to the bone and the municipality could not keep up with the needs of the population.
Louis N. Whealton was determined to change the way Long Beach government was run, and make sure it was run more effectively. He was also firmly against alcohol, and campaigned to keep it out of Long Beach. Whealton was at odds with former mayor Charles Windham and the many Windham supporters who suggested a more liberal stance towards alcohol and harbor development. This led to trouble and war, with Windham and his constituents winning one final victory in October 1914 when Long Beach citizens approved a new city charter. Whealton and his faction were opposed to a new charter, they felt that “the men who framed it were moved by the devil and whiskey.” (LB Press 10/14/1914).
For years Long Beach had tried to get federal funding for harbor development. The government refused public monies for this project while it remained in the hands of private enterprise. In order for the city to get money for the harbor it needed to pass a new city charter which would allow Long Beach to issue bonds for port development. The Los Angeles Dock & Terminal Company agreed to deed outright to the city valuable harbor frontage if the bonds passed, which they did. Now the city could get together and develop what would latter prove to be one of Long Beach’s greatest assets.
But political battles continued. Whealton’s troubles began the day he took office, the city council refusing to confirm his appointment of J.C. Beer as head of the Bureau of Public Works. In fact, the city council opposed almost everything Whealton did. In retaliation, Whealton turned issues surrounding the public library and the police department into major battlegrounds.
On February 26, 1914, Miss Victoria Ellis sent her resignation to the Library Commission citing irreconcilable differences between her and the Commission. In her letter she stated the Library Commission lacked confidence in her ability to direct the work of the library, and that back of the board’s apparent opposition to her was “an insidious personal antagonism.”
The board had been trying to make Miss Ellis more of a public administrator, asking her to keep inventories, detailed accounts of how money was spent, and other paperwork she said she did not have time for. They kept asking her to tell them the number of volumes of biography, travel, science and fiction the library had in its possession and how much the collection was worth. They complained she couldn’t tell them the official name of the library. Was it the Long Beach Public Library, The Long Beach Public Library, Long Beach Free Public Library, or The Long Beach Free Public Library? She resented their intrusion into how she ran her department, stating that her health was suffering because of these “inharmonious” relations and it would be best if she resigned.
The public was outraged over their beloved Miss Ellis’ resignation and treatment by the Commission. The city council was forced to make a full inquiry into the case and the library trouble. Their findings indicated Miss Ellis was justified in her resignation and that she was subjected to systematic, harassing and petty annoyances.
On March 13th, when the city council was preparing to recommend the resignation of the Library Board in favor of Miss Ellis, the mayor defied the council, stating he would stand by the Library Board and their decision to accept Miss Ellis’ resignation. Fifteen minutes of the most personal and heated disputation ever heard within the walls of the council chamber followed. The mayor intimated the whole matter had been stirred up by his political enemies, accusing the councilmanic committee of having held a “star-chamber session” with Miss Ellis, and that the council’s method of investigation had eliminated all possibility of an amicable settlement of the trouble. In the end the mayor won and Miss Ellis, the scapegoat of a larger battle, resigned. She let it be known she was going on to bigger and better things, having accepted an appointment to plan a big library exhibit for the San Francisco exhibition in 1915.
On April 14th the mayor again wielded his power over the public library when he demanded one of the paintings in the Fisher Art Collection be removed from display. The picture in question was “The Portrait of a Young Man” which the mayor labeled “as a bad example to be set before the youth of the city” because the young man held a lighted cigarette in his hand. The mayor said:
“I have no objection to a man smoking a cigarette when he is old enough to have completely formed his character, but to hand such a picture before the youth of the nation is a disgrace.” (LA Herald 4/15/1914)
Reverend Baker P. Lee, rector of Christ Church, Los Angeles, replied:
“There are two sides to be considered: the artist’s as well as the citizen’s. It rests entirely with the young man. If he has backbone he will not yield to the mere influence of a picture. If he has no backbone and is going to yield to a habit, he will have done so long before he has reached the age of young manhood. A picture, such as this, is not going to make or mar a young man.” (LA Herald 4/15/1914)
Ironically, the Long Beach Daily Telegram was preparing for a new advertiser—Camel Cigarettes. For several weeks a camel appeared in advertisements with a single word: “coming”. Eventually the entire Camel Cigarette ad appeared (the first cigarette advertisement in Long Beach newspapers), but the mayor had no control over the newspaper and the ad remained. On May 1, 1914 Miss Zadie Brown, of Colorado, a graduate of Stanford, took over the helm of City Librarian.
On April 2, 1917, the same day that President Wilson declared war on Germany, the Burnett Branch Library opened. In mid-December 1917 unpatriotic literature “calculated to spread German propaganda” was barred from the Long Beach Public Library. A dozen books and magazines were condemned by Miss Zaide Brown and were taken from the shelves. Among the books were writings on the war by Hugo Muensterberg and Kuno Francke, the Germanistic Society of Chicago, Fritz von Frantzine and Dr. Theodor Schleman.
Librarians, because of their experience in cataloging and recording were recruited to fill positions in the Ordnance Department of the army at Washington, D.C. Helen Courtwright, Gladys Hanna and Marian Quinn resigned from the library on March 2, 1918, and announced that they would leave for the east immediately to take up work in the Ordnance Department.
Following the war the library began to compile a book in memory of those who fought in the Great War. Veterans were asked to fill out forms and provide pictures for what would be titled: Long Beach in the World War, published by the Arthur L. Peterson Post Number 27, American Legion in 1921. The original photos and forms can still be found in the library’s Long Beach Collection.
Other milestones from the era include a branch library opening in the west end of town in October 1908, and the Alamitos Townsite Library becoming part of the Long Beach Public Library system in January 1910. In April 1917 another branch opened at Loma and Anaheim (3536 E. Anaheim) in the area then known as Zafaria (now East Long Beach) with a lawn party. As mentioned earlier, that same month the Burnett Library opened at 21st Street and Atlantic. It was an instant success according to the Daily Telegram with 80 books borrowed on opening day.
New services were also offered, shortly before Miss Ellis’ resignation she instituted weekly story telling for children and in September 1918 the library began loaning “copies of the masters”—artwork that patrons could take and hang on their walls.
In July 1921 a lot was purchased for a new Burnett Library at Perkins (now Linden) and Hill to replace the rented structure at 21st and Atlantic. This was just the beginning of library expansion. In December 1921 Miss Brown asked the city council to purchase lots for a proposed nine branch libraries. One of the properties purchased was on Termino and became the Belmont Branch (393 Termino) in 1925. The East Branch, which had opened in 1917, was also replaced, opening in a new location (Freeman and Anaheim) on July 29, 1924. In the meantime, Miss Brown was setting up satellite/branch libraries where ever there was an interest. In July 1922 she established a branch at 3429 E. Broadway in a novelty shop. The branch was run by the shop owner.
On March 1, 1924, Long Beach gained a new three acre park near the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Artesia Boulevard. Eliza P. Houghton and Stanley W. Houghton, daughter and son of the late Col. Sherman Otis Houghton and Eliza P. Donner Houghton, donated the land for a park in their memory. Sherman Houghton had died in 1914, his widow a few years later. The gift included the family home and garden. The city was offered the old home site as a location for a library, but instead a new location in Houghton Park was selected and a $25,000 library opened in August 1930—the first North Branch library. The old Houghton homestead remained standing in the park until 1933 when the city razed it for the sake of the park’s appearance, they said.
New City Librarian – Theodora Brewitt
In July 1923, Zaidee Brown, who was on a leave of absence in New York working with the H.W. Wilson Company to compile reading lists for libraries, decided to remain in the “Big Apple.” She had been offered a lucrative permanent position at H.W. Wilson. She resigned and Theodora Brewitt, who joined the library staff in September 1921 to teach library assistants, became City Librarian. Florence Freeman was promoted to position of Assistant Librarian.
It was now up to Mrs. Brewitt to deal with library expansion, and the state’s library affairs when she was elected president of the California Library Association in 1925. Other branches opened shortly before the end of the decade: Belmont Shore Branch, 194 Corona; Seaside Park School Branch, 51 Riverside Avenue; Central Branch 1541 Rose Avenue.
There were other matters Mrs. Brewitt had to deal with as well.
Band concerts in Lincoln Park, outside the Main library, had been going on for years, and when loud speakers became available in 1928 they were installed on the exterior of the library to broadcast the concerts. However, library patrons became enraged. How were they to study and read with the speakers blaring? City Manager H.S. Callahan and Mrs. Brewitt, complied, ordering the removal of the speakers in February 1928.
The Depression & Earthquake
As the financial crisis of the 1930s hit the nation, Long Beach Public Library faced budget cuts and staff layoffs. In February 1931 it was decided to let patrons check out their own books, in August 1932 delivery of material between branches was discontinued. Hope surfaced when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President.
On March 4, 1933, a huge crowd gathered around radios on Pine Avenue to listen to Roosevelt’s inauguration. Most hoped the new leadership would pilot the country to a more prosperous era.
Roosevelt was quick to act. On March 6, 1933, in order to keep the banking system of the country from collapsing, FDR used the powers given by the Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917 and suspended all transactions in the Federal Reserve and other banks and financial institutions. On March 9th, Congress met in a special session and passed the Emergency Banking Relief Act. This gave the president the power to reorganize all insolvent banks and provided the means by which sound banks could reopen their doors without long delay. As Roosevelt was “shaking up” the financial community, Long Beach experienced a “shaking up” of its own.
At 5:54 p.m. on the evening of March 10, 1933, memories for thousands were flash frozen —preserved for a lifetime—when the ground around Long Beach shook for 11 seemingly never ending seconds. The killer force quake, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale, occurred at the optimum time to save lives. Most people were home for dinner, off the streets and away from the schools that would face almost total destruction. Still, 51 people were killed in Long Beach and an additional 91 in surrounding areas.
Eyewitnesses stated they heard a rumble, a strange sound the likes of which they had never before encountered, and then the earth started writhing around them. Some recalled their pets seemed to sense something amiss before the quake. Dogs barked nervously, canaries fluttered wildly in their cages and cats dashed away. Seconds later the deep rumble began. The earth lurched, surging up from an epicenter six miles deep, 3 1/2 miles off Newport Beach.
Bricks and debris rained down on the streets, loosened by the powerful movement of the earth. Buildings crumbled, streets buckled and fires erupted in several spots. Telephone poles swayed and snapped, putting the city’s 32,052 phones out of service. Electricity was gone but an alert gas company worker turned off the city’s gas lines during the temblor preventing further fires.
Fortunately the city had a disaster plan, and the help of the Pacific Fleet anchored off the Long Beach coast. Electricity was restored to the downtown area by 7:30 p.m., but outlining hospitals were without power. The city disaster center got on their portable radio and called on anyone with access to bootleg liquor to bring it to the command center. From there they took it to hospitals to use in sterilizing surgical instruments. Within an hour after the first jolt all roads leading into the city were patrolled with the help of 2000 Navy men who came ashore with loads of blankets and supplies immediately after the first shock. They stayed for almost a week, helping anywhere they could.
In the area affected by the earthquake, 4,883 people were injured; 1,893 homes were destroyed, 31,495 damaged; 207 buildings were declared uninhabitable, 1,550 were deemed repairable. All of the Long Beach schools suffered considerably, as did the city’s churches. On March 13, the State Legislature voted $50,000 for emergency relief in the way of food and clothing. Later $150,000 was appropriated for rehabilitation work in the quake struck area. On March 14, the Senate passed a bill appropriating $5,000,000 as an outright gift for relief. Long Beach, however, declined to accept any of this money, advising Washington authorities it did not desire charity, but rather an opportunity to borrow the money needed to carry on the work of rehabilitation. Acting on this, Congress amended the act permitting loans from the funds.
Long Beach bounced back quickly. Rebuilding operations began the day after the quake. By March 16 more than 5000 men were employed at removing debris and putting the town back together. Business activities resumed as quickly as possible. By March 15, 75 stores had reopened.
The earthquake, and the monies that flowed afterwards, brought much needed employment to Long Beach. Much of the financing was coming from New Deal relief measures.
The measures under Roosevelt’s plan fell into three general categories: relief, recovery, and reform. Some of the programs were aimed at relieving the hardships caused by the economic depression that started in October 1929. Others had the recovery of the national economy as their chief aim. Still others were intended to reform certain practices that the president and his advisors regarded as harmful to the common good, or were measures they thought would further the general welfare. Later, historians would see two phases of the New Deal, the first, which lasted from 1933 to the beginning of 1935, had recovery as its primary aim, and the second New Deal, running from 1935 to 1939, looked at reform.
Following the earthquake, Theodora Brewitt would not allow any of the libraries opened to the public until they were deemed safe. The Recreation Department furnished tents and the library camped out to maintain service at Lincoln, Recreation, Houghton and Bixby parks. Long Beach libraries were quickly patched up for the time being. In July 1933, Councilman J.W.V. Steele advocated that $500,000 be spent building new libraries rather than repairing the old. But securing money didn’t come quickly and the library budget was cut by $23,000. To insure at least some new materials coming into the library, the library decided to become a federal depository.
In March 1934 libraries saw their hours cut, and in April 1935 all Long Beach libraries were closed and employees told to take a one month leave of absence without pay. The State Emergency Relief Administration (created in 1933) picked up the salaries for 60 library employees in May 1935.
Things began to look brighter, when sixty five men were hired to work on the $69,990 project to rebuild the Main Library. On February 17, 1935, work began. One hundred thousand books were packed and moved to a temporary location in the Sun Building at 230 E. Third Street. On November 12, 1937, the Main Library reopened in its remodeled home, which could now house 175,000 volumes. Work on repairing and adding branch libraries also began. By 1940 there was the Main Library (101 Pacific), Alamitos (1836 E. 3rd), Bay Shore (5390 E. 2nd), California Heights (913 E. Wardlow), Mark Twain (1306 Walnut), Belmont Heights (394 Roswell), Burnett (560 E. Hill), East Long Beach (3125 E. Anaheim), McKinley Heights (6822 Paramount Ave.), North Long Beach (40 E. Market), Houghton Park (6075 California Avenue), Seaside (31 S. Santa Clara), West Willow Branch (1334 W. Willow).
Long Beach libraries were badly damaged in the 1933 earthquake and extensive repairs were needed. The revamped Carnegie Main library included a lobby running through the center of the main floor, paneled in oak and decorated with a mural painted by Suzanne Miller as a WPA Federal Art Project.
Miss Miller started her murals (which were based on literary works) in February 1937. The New York born artist had first studied mural painting at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. After joining the war efforts in 1918, teaching basket weaving and bead stringing to shell shocked soldiers, she went to Paris to learn the techniques of famed French mural artist John Despujols. Back home in the United States she put her artistic skills to work until the Depression hit and there was no market for her talent. She hoped the Federal Art Project would be a stepping-stone to help her re-establish herself in her art work.
The murals she painted for the library depicted characters and scenes from English and American literature including “Hiawatha,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; “The Faerie Queen” by Edmund Spenser; “L’Allegro” and “Il Penserosa,” by John Milton; “The Vicar of Wakefield,” by Oliver Goldsmith; “Rip Van Winkle,” by Washington Irving; “King Solomon and the Two Mothers,” from the Old Testament; “Man With the Hoe,” by Edwin Markham; “Alice in Wonderland,” by Lewis Carroll; and “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” by Sir Isaac Walton.
Her murals graced the walls of the Carnegie library until a 1974 devastated parts of the building. Though smoke damaged, the murals survived. When a new Main library was opened in 1977 the larger murals were hung with much fanfare in the Periodicals Department. Missing, however, were the small murals which covered the space above the windows in the old library. They were carefully preserved in the library’s Long Beach Collection.
The pieces housed in the Long Beach Collection disappeared before the opening of the new Billie Jean King Main library in 2019. What happened to them remains a mystery. Were they stolen? It would have had to be someone with access to the locked collection. In any case it is illegal for private individuals to own WPA art. Non-Federal repositories in possession of WPA art are advised that it belongs to the Government. They are only asked to confirm its existence and are allowed to keep it in their collections. They are simply caretakers.
It would have been wonderful to have the missing pieces displayed along with the murals which had been preserved in the Billie Jean King Main Library. Perhaps someday the missing pieces will be located.
Controversy – Grapes of Wrath
When John Steinbeck’s book Grapes of Wrath came out in 1939 various groups throughout the state demanded it not be sold or loaned from public libraries. A group called “Pro America” protested that the book was “smear literature.” Pro America was an anti-New Deal organization whose membership consisted mainly of conservative Republicans. They were upset claiming the book’s exposure of alleged inhuman living and working conditions among the state’s migrant workers was incorrect.
The question in Long Beach was not how to suppress the book but how to get hold of a copy. In August 1939 there were 180 patrons on the waiting list for the 40 copies the library currently had in circulation.
In the meantime library staff tried to guide the interest in the book into an interest in the facts behind the book. Stickers were pasted to the book calling attention to government pamphlets discussing the migrant farm labor question, all of which supported Steinbeck’s claims. The library also compiled a bibliography of about forty references to books, articles and pamphlets from a wide variety of sources of factual material on the migrant labor problem.
Periodicals Reading Room
In the February 9, 1939 Long Beach Independent, Wayne Parker wrote that newspaper reading rooms in most public libraries were the haunts of transient and homeless people, unwashed and often reeking of smell. But things were different at Long Beach Public Library. Here the periodical and newspaper files were displayed in a bright sunny room on the second floor. Readers were serious, purposeful people, who used the New York Times Index and government reports on this and that, Parker wrote. In the 1970s the periodicals department was still the favorite place of readers who I remember lining up at the library entrance and rushing up the stairs to be the first to get a copy of the latest newspaper.
Parker was very pleased that earlier in the week the Main Library had resumed limited service on Sunday after being closed on that day for several years for economic reasons. Parker went on to add: “It seems to me that the last place the city should economize is in its library. I am glad that this foolish saving is at an end.”
How was Long Beach Public Library to serve the burgeoning population brought on with the advent of World War II? In 1941 the library was able to find a location for a new branch at 3818-28 Atlantic Avenue (Dana) in California Heights, and in 1942 open a branch in the Navy Housing project. 1943 city directories listings include: Main Library (101 Pacific), Alamitos (1836 E. 3rd), Bay Shore (5390 E. 2nd), Bret Harte (1334 W. Willow), Dana (3824 Atlantic), Mark Twain (1306 Walnut), Belmont Heights (394 Roswell), Burnett (560 E. Hill), East Long Beach (3125 E. Anaheim), North (5459 Atlantic), Seaside Station (31 S. Santa Clara), Silverado Park Clubhouse (1545 W. 31st St.), and Cabrillo Homes Station.
On March 6, 1943 MacArthur Park at Gundry and East Anaheim was dedicated. Named for General Douglas MacArthur, the five-acre site had been kept intact for several years by Mrs. Blanche A. Warren until the city could acquire it for a park. Because of restricted use of certain materials, the real development of MacArthur Park, and the library that would be built there, had to wait until after the war.
The city was expanding with all the jobs brought in with the opening of Douglas Aircraft, the Navy base, shipyards and other industries. Within four years the population had grown from 164,000 in 1940 to 253,000 in 1944.
With 89,000 new residents in districts remote from its 13 libraries, renting space and the possibility of building new branches non-existent, a new idea surfaced—the bookmobile. In July 1944, a 1934 Chevrolet station wagon was re-painted, re-tired and equipped with shelves to accommodate 500 books. It included room for two folded card tables, which served as desks, and space for an extra box or two of books and library records. Children flocked to the bookmobile, vying for the honor of helping open the truck or set up the card table desks. If the wind blew cards and papers—or even small books—off the tables, the children would scamper after them like excited puppies, and return them proudly to a thankful librarian. Bookmobiling was full of adventure, the Long Beach Municipal Employee reported. At one stop there was an 8-year-old who brought his 3 weeks old brother to visit—without mom knowing. Then there was the 82-year-old ex-Indian scout who performed feats of magic for the youngsters and a kindly neighbor who provided the librarians with tea.
The public library was providing all types of services, including selling war bonds. When war bond sales hit a slump librarians at the Main Library in Lincoln Park conspired to draw a crowd and sell some extra bonds by putting on a puppet show, complete with Uncle Sam, a squad of well-trained GI’s and vaudeville acts which delighted both young and old. So successful was the drive, it was repeated twice daily, making the library bond drive a tremendous success.
Selling war bonds was not enough for some librarians. Helen Webster was the first to answer the government call for civilian librarians to administer army and navy libraries. Instead of working in a library she found herself staffing a hospital at the United Veterans facility at Fayetteville, Arkansas. An army camp library, not a hospital, was the assignment given Margaret Lore, who reported for duty at Camp Cooke (now known as Vandenberg Air Force Base) near Lompoc, California. Louise Bidwell, who had been with the Science and Technology Department at the Main Library for several years, left to take up library duties not with the army but with the navy in San Diego. Alice Marie Garrison followed the army into Europe working with the Red Cross.
Following the war the city continued to grow as materials became available for housing construction. A new library was needed in North and in East Long Beach. Innovations were also added to the library—microfilm, sound recordings, and a “recordak” microfilm machine was instituted on January 4, 1949, to check out books. First used by the army to photograph V-mail at San Francisco during the war, a record was made on film of the borrower’s card, a “date due” card, and the borrowed volume’s card, all on one film in a fraction of a second.
A novel idea appeared in 1948 the “Inspection Shelf.” Here new books were placed for one week for the public to browse through. Articles appeared weekly in the Press Telegram describing the new books on “inspection” at the Main Library. The “Inspection Shelf” was still going on when I joined the library in 1971, it was later supplanted by a simple “New Book List.”
Public Library Inquiry Survey
In November 1947 Long Beach was one of two California cities whose public library facilities were intensively studied under the Public Library Inquiry Project, financed by a Carnegie Corporation grant of $175,000 and conducted by the Science Research Council. The object of the study was a comprehensive survey of the adequacy of the public library as a source of citizen information and an analysis of its actual and potential contribution to American society. Long Beach was one of 49 cities throughout the United States chosen for the study. City Librarian Theodora Brewitt said “the project is considered by library authorities as one of the most import events in the history of public library development.” (Press Telegram 11/3/1947).
In March 1948 staff was handed a “personal inventory packet” from the Public Library Inquiry Project to determine characteristics, interests, attitudes, opinions, training and experience of librarians. This was needed to determine information about the type of people staffing America’s libraries. LBPL staff was asked to fill in the questionnaire and return it anonymously. Some of the questions were definitely impertinent, the staff was warned.
The survey concluded that antique buildings were scaring away prospective readers and that librarians were wasting five years of college by graduating into the “lowest paid profession.” Overall, public libraries were not reaching their professional goals. The studied showed that:
Only three out of every ten children and one out of every ten adults used their local public library regularly.
Half of public library service in the U.S. went to children and youths under voting age.
The library was pretty much a middle class institution. It was not used much by the rich, who tended to buy their books, or by the poor, who often found it difficult to read book.
Among adults, women accounted for one-half to two-thirds of library registration. The larger the city, the larger the proportion of men.
Wage earners—the laborers Andrew Carnegie wanted to educate—were last on the list of library patrons. Students led in numbers, followed by housewives, white-collar workers, professional and managerial people, in that order.
Nearly half the books borrowed were juvenile and nearly two thirds of total circulation was fiction. The number of classics circulated was steady but extremely small.
The study wasn’t received well by librarians who accused the report of being “elitist.” It seemed to indicate libraries should stop catering to popular demand and serve only the small, core group of users who were using libraries for the “right” reasons.
City Librarian Edwin Castagna, who replaced Theodora Brewitt, said the report emphasized that a library should be a place where people and sources of ideas come together. He stressed that fiction was a source of usable ideas and that the library should be a community information center where, under trained guidance, patrons could get good books and build good reading habits. Castagna pointed out the nation was undergoing a “communications revolution” and that Long Beach’s recorded music and film department should be expanded. (LB Independent 9/24/1950)
At noon on August 30, 1948, a new branch library opened at 4036 E. Anaheim—the East Long Beach Branch, was renamed the Theodora R. Brewitt Branch on April 1, 1955. In May 1949, Press Telegram reporter Dorothy Killam wrote that the library was designed with “modern architectural styles” which home builders would find useful. Among the innovative designs was a wall of glass to admit north light. It also had an eight-foot roof overhand, whose lines were simple and well-defined. The floor plan was well arranged.”
Because library planners were interested in modern architectural trends, Architect Francis J. Heusel was not required to conform to the rules and regulations laid down by tradition but was able to design a building much better suited to its purpose, according to Killam. The ceiling which slanted, to allow for the tall windows along the north wall, was covered with soundproofing material to reduce noise. At night flush lighting in the ceiling provided excellent illumination with three hundred-watt bulbs. It was also possible to turn on only part of the lights when needed. Air conditioning kept the entire building comfortable. (Press Telegram 5/29/1949)
In March 1949, for the first time in the history of LBPL the library received a monetary bequest from a patron. The late Mrs. Ellen S. Neavill left $949.65 to the library to purchase books on sociology, philosophy, eugenics and general history. Theodora Brewitt hoped this was only the first of similar bequests.
Also in 1949, the library received a valuable donation from Mrs. Armitage S.C. Forbes in memory of her husband—a Bible and Concordance once owned by John Milton, father of the poet with the same name. Mr. Forbes was the son of the Reverend Edward Forbes who inherited the books from his grandfather, the Reverend R. Jeffrey. (John Milton’s mother was a Jeffrey). History reveals that Milton’s grandfather, Richard Milton, a Roman Catholic, discovered a Bible in his son’s room. As a result, and since his son rejected Catholicism, the son was disinherited. The Bible acquired by the library may be this one. Psalms bound in the back of the Bible were believed to have been compiled in part by the senior John Milton (1562-1647), one of the foremost musicians of his day, and father of John Milton (1608-1674) the poet.
Armitage Forbes received the books in a parcel wrapped in vellum, marked “The Milton Books.” It contained in addition to the Bible and Concordance, dated 1578, a small French prayer book and two books of sermons. According to family tradition, the marginal notes in the Concordance were in Milton’s handwriting. In addition Mrs. Forbes included a large edition of “Paradise Lost,” illustrated by Dore (1832-1883), notes on the Forbes and Jeffrey’s families, photographs, and two 17th century books of sermons, and a Hindustani manual.
In April 1959 the library would receive a $20,000 donation from Bertrand Smith Sr., owner of the “Acres of Books” bookstore. He asked that revenue from the fund be used to purchase rare books to add to the 224 volumes already given the library and known as the Bertrand Smith Sr. collection. Money from the fund also went to pay for the annual Bertrand Smith Sr. lecture which brought to Long Beach one of the country’s leading bookmen each year. In February 1963, Smith added another important Bible to the one collection—a two volume facsimile of the Gutenberg Bible. It can be seen today in the library’s Miller Room.
New City Librarian
A new California State Pension law went into effect in 1950 stating that any city, state, or county employee who would receive a pension from the state had to retire at age 70. As a result, beloved City Librarian Theodora Brewitt was among 80 city employees forced to retire in 1950. Following a farewell tea given her by library staff in June 1950, Mrs. Brewitt left for her first full vacation since she came to Long Beach in 1921. The California Librarian, the official publication of the California Library Association, payed tribute to Mrs. Brewitt in an article by Eleanor Hitt Morgan, Assistant State Librarian. It was reprinted in the Press Telegram:
“When Theodora Brewitt retired from Long Beach Public Library she left an enviable record of achievement in the annals of California librarianship. Much of this state’s development in education for librarianship, increased attention to public administration as applied to libraries, and realization of the public library as an integral and important part of community government and community life are due to her leadership and energy.” (Press Telegram 9/17/1950)
On August 17, 1950, Edwin Castagna took the leadership reigns of Long Beach Public Library. Castagna, a Petaluma native, obtained his library degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1935-36. During World War II he served in the U.S. Army in Europe, where he received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal. He wrote “History of the 771st Tank Battalion,” and numerous magazine and newspaper articles pertaining to librarianship. Before coming to Long Beach he was director of Glendale Public Library.
Mrs. Brewitt held a welcome reception for him and his wife, a medical librarian, at the Brewitt home the following week. But Theodora Brewitt wasn’t through with being a librarian. Soon after her first vacation in decades, she joined the faculty of USC where she lectured on public library administration. She would pass away in March 1966 at the age of 86.
Castagna, 41, didn’t feel that many changes needed to be made at Long Beach Public Library:
The things I’ve found out about this system bear out what I’ve heard about Mrs. Brewitt. The Long Beach Public Library system is outstanding and its operations have been carried out by the people chosen by Mrs. Brewitt. The staff (120, including 48 professional librarians) is excellent and members coming as they do from all parts of the country have no inbred unchanging attitudes.” (Press Telegram 9/17/1950)
He certainly endeared himself to library staff when two months after taking over he proposed that starting salaries for librarians in Long Beach be increased from $248 to $274 a month. This would put the salary on par with Los Angeles Public Library, but still be less than the $338 a month for 10 months work for school librarians. He also proposed a reorganization of staff, creating several new positions with six instead of 23 individuals reporting directly to the city librarian. Building new branches and a new Main library were his chief goals.
Tidelands Money Build Libraries
Ever since oil had been discovered in the tideland areas off the coastal United States, everyone claimed ownership—cities, states and the federal government. The controversy over who had control of the tidelands would go on for more than twenty years all because the United States Constitution did not specify under whose jurisdiction these submerged lands fell. Because so little of commercial value was attached to these lands in the early days, people didn’t bother to sort it out. States, however, acted as if they were in control, and it was the State of California who granted Long Beach tidelands rights when they petitioned to build a harbor here in 1911.
On May 22, 1953, President Eisenhower fulfilled one of his campaign promises by recognizing states’ rights over their tidelands areas. On three previous occasions, the Supreme Court held that the federal government had “paramount rights” to the submerged lands off the coast, now, in effect, the bill signed by Eisenhower set aside the court ruling. Former President Truman had twice vetoed similar bills. His position was that wealth from exploitation of the tidelands belonged to all the people, not just to the coastal states.
The tidelands which the government of the United States previously claimed included Long Beach’s beaches, amusement zone, the site of the Municipal Auditorium, most of the Alamitos peninsula, nearly all of Belmont Shore, all of the water area inside the breakwater and even some of the submerged land beyond. It was estimated that there were 1.36 billion barrels of recoverable oil lying under the four-mile long strip of Long Beach City tidelands, and in 1955 engineers were proposing constructing four islands in the bay to get it out.
Throughout 1955 and into the first quarter of 1956, Long Beach was confident she had free use of tideland monies to improve the city and surrounding areas. In October 1955, City Librarian Edwin Castagna was overjoyed when taxpayers agreed to spend $6,280,475 of tideland funds to build new branch libraries throughout the growing city. Los Altos, Bay Shore, Dana and Bret Harte would be rebuilt, and a new library in the growing Lakewood area (to eventually be called the Ruth Bach Branch) would also be constructed.
What was going on with the branch libraries in 1960? A comparison of how the branch libraries reflected their neighborhoods was published in the September 25, 1960 Independent Press Telegram:
Alamitos, 1836 E. 3rd St, Mrs. Hazel Van Marter, branch librarian. The branch service area included many retired professional people, few children. There was a heavy demand for travel, biography, history, and high quality fiction. Since the residents were mainly apartment dwellers there was little demand for how-to-do it books.
Ruth Bach, 4055 Bellflower, Mrs Despoina (Dee) Navari, branch librarian. The branch serviced big industries, including Douglas and Autonetics as well as City College students. There was much demand for technical engineering books, travel, children’s books and fiction.
Bay Shore, 135 Bay Shore Avenue, Judson Voyles, branch librarian. Voyles described his clientele as “cosmopolitan readers” with the nearby British colony requesting books by British writers, and everyone wanting books on boating.
Theodora Brewitt, 4036 E. Anaheim, Mrs. Rosemary Lane, branch librarian. The community was described as one of small businesses and small homes. Interests of the public were diversified, but most wanted fiction, history, travel and Civil Service test books.
Burnett, 560 Hill, Miss Jean Taggart, branch librarian. The area had a large minority clientele with a heavy demand for books by and about minority people. Mystery and Westerns were popular. Elderly people were continuing to ask for books by Oliver Curwood, Kathleen Norris and Temple Bailey.
Richard Henry Dana, 3680 Atlantic, Mrs. Connie Janssen, branch librarian. The area was described as “upper income bracket,” with many art and antique collectors. Demand was for scholarly works, art history, travel, poetry, philosophy, comparative religions. Doctors in the neighborhood frequently asked for books on psychiatry. When books came out by Truman Capote, Ivy Compton Burnett and Edwin Teale, readers would ask for every book ever written by these authors.
Bret Harte, 1895 W. Willow, Mrs. Harriett Covey, branch librarian. Mrs. Covey described her area as a “group-centered community,” with much demand for books on arranging and presenting programs; how-to-do-it books for building; gardening; home management; books dealing with juvenile and adolescent growth. There was considerable demand for legal volumes and Civil Service test books and a great interest in art books.
Los Altos, 5814 Britton, Mrs. Mildred Snider, branch librarian. Los Altos was described as a new, vigorous community with many families and many children. There were many State College faculty members in the area. Demand was for literature, good music, art, travel books. The community had many informal groups which read and discussed books.
North, 5571 Orange Ave., Violet Sell, branch librarian. North was described as the largest public library in a wide area that also served Downey, Paramount, Bellflower and county area students as well as North Long Beach residents. There were many churches with a demand for religious books. Much demand for how-to-do it books. Tuesday night was “family night” a tradition that had continued at the library since the area was known as “Virginia City.”
Mark Twain, 1325 E. Anaheim, Mrs. Anna May Weber, branch librarian. The library was in a recreation building and had books to help patrons pass their U.S. citizenship examination. Books on minorities and their problems were popular, as were Civil Service test books.
Blanche Collins Becomes City Librarian
On June 11, 1960, a 35-year veteran of Long Beach Public Library was appointed City Librarian—Blanche Collins. She was to fill the shoes of Edwin Castagna who was leaving to take over directorship at Enoch Pratt Free Public Library in Baltimore. After graduating from Mills College in 1924, Miss Collins earned a degree in library science at Carnegie Tech and began her apprenticeship in Long Beach in August 1925. She advanced to senior librarian in 1937 and to department librarian in 1939. In 1951 she became an assistant librarian in charge of branch libraries.
Castagna had been successful in building branch libraries, but still left the question of where to build a new Main Library up in the air. Tideland funding had also been curtailed while legal battles over the funds raged. He believed a move to a renovated Wise Building in downtown was the most economical solution, but not all were happy with his stance. In any case, the ball was now in Miss Collins’ court.
The fact was that the Main Library building was inadequate. In 1937 when it was renovated the city population was 174,876. The Main Library then housed 175,000 books and could seat 277 patrons. In 1959 the population had zoomed to 326,000. The book capacity was down to 125,144 and seating capacity trimmed to 249. How come? The principal reason was the changing role of the library. It was no longer just a warehouse for books. Phonograph and film departments, bookmobile operations, branch and young adult administrative offices, directory service, bindery operations, and a catalog department were needed. As the building grew older, new shelves were installed to house the increased number of books; chairs and tables were moved closer together; office space was carved out of reading room areas; stack rooms became crowded. In addition, the number of library users increased as the population grew.
As he left his directorship, Edwin Castagna told reporter George Eres “the main library is doing only a limited job because of cramped space. Every department is crowded and the newer services, films, phonograph records and work with young people are operating in holes and corners stolen from book storage space.” (Independent PT 5/29/1960). Unfortunately, in June 1960, voters turned down a bond measure to build a new main library.
Castagna served as director at Enoch Pratt until his retirement in 1975. He also was president of the American Library Association in 1964 and 1965. Both he and his wife, Rachel Dent Castagna, were found lying hand-in-hand near an empty bottle of sleeping pills in their San Francisco apartment November 26, 1983, apparent suicides. Personal instructions to their doctor and lawyer were found near their bodies. The couple’s lawyer said Castagna had been ill since contracting encephalitis while traveling Spain a year earlier. “This was just their way of leaving rather than becoming old people in a nursing home,” their lawyer said. (Hanover Evening Sun 11/28/1983) Castagna was 74, his wife 69. They had no children.
In June 1960 voters unfortunately said “no” twice. Two library proposals—Proposition B, the Civic Center plan, and Proposition C, the Wise Building plan—were rejected. Perhaps the backers of the two plans simply succeeded in defeating one another, although there was no assurance that a single plan would have succeeded. Votes indicated the public liked the Civic Center proposal, but not enough to approve it by the necessary two-thirds vote. The fact remained however that Long Beach needed a new central library, perhaps not as deluxe as that proposed in Proposition B, but spacious and modern enough to keep up with the city’s requirements and aspirations.
Thanks to Beth Terrell, I came across a letter Miss Collins wrote in August 1962 to a group pushing for a new Main Library. In it she told of 83 other Friends groups that had been formed in California libraries and outlined what they had already done.
Let me quote from the letter:
To the New Main Library committee
You will remember that at our last meeting a Friends of the Library group was discussed. Enclosed is a brief statement in which I have attempted to give a resume of Friends groups and to suggest ways such a group might function in Long Beach.
A FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY group is just what the name implies: a group of citizens – men and women – who become acquainted with the services of the Library and help to interpret the Library’s program to the community. When the need for action arises, the group is in effect a standing army already informed and interested.
In California, in 1961, there were 83 Friends of the Library groups. Most public library Friends groups were started by public spirited citizens working with a librarian or library trustees, or both; in some cases organized groups such as civic clubs and associations took the initiative. Friends groups have varied greatly in structure, purpose and activities, in accordance with the character of the community and special local needs.
I can envisage a Friends group in Long Beach comprised of people vitally interested in their public library, who form an organization to become better acquainted themselves with the Library and to educate the community. The theme for the first year might well be, “Let’s Get Acquainted With Our Public Library.”
The memo goes on to explain how a Friends group could help in the new library campaign. However, Collins states: The group might want to develop along lines very different from those suggested here. Which it did when the censorship battle over the Last Temptation of Christ started in November 1962.
Two years earlier Dr. Fred Schwarz and his Christian Anti-Communism Crusade moved to Long Beach. Established in Iowa in 1953, the organization remained in Long Beach until Schwarz’ retirement in 1998. In his 1960 book “You Can Trust the Communists (to do exactly as they say)” Schwarz wrote:
The Communists want the children. They do not care so much about the adults whom they consider as already contaminated with the disease of Capitalism and consequently of little use to them. When the Communists rule the world, the diseased social classes will have to be eliminated. But the children are different. They can do something with them. Children’s literature is a preliminary step towards winning the children of the world.
Librarians throughout the nation were amazed that on Schwarz’ “hit list” were such classics as The Golden Ass and The Ant and the Grasshopper. They rallied to keep the books on library shelves and fight censorship. In Long Beach, Blanche Collins did the same. But the battle wasn’t over.
In November 1962, Long Beach Public Library, and many other libraries, fought to keep the Kazantzakis novel, The Last Temptation of Christ, on its shelves. In Long Beach the episode reached a more intense height than in some other cities when in December 1962 the City Council announced they would probably ask that the book be taken out of the library. The Council also referred the problem to the City Manager for a report from the library on the issue.
The City Manager strongly supported the library position that the book should not be removed. The Press-Telegram delved into the issue and found it was a member of the John Birch Society who was leading the drive to remove the book. The City Council received 285 cards or letters demanding that the book be removed, over 80 came from people who did not live in Long Beach. The mail to the Council supporting the library’s position was several times larger. The effort to ban the book failed.
The Friends of the Long Beach Public Library was formed as a support group following the December 4, 1962, City Council hearing on censorship so there would be an action group ready if it was needed again.
They were needed; the censorship issue was not over. In January 1964 the City Council received a letter stating that there was communist material at the library. Many suspected it came from Dr. Fred Schwarz’ supporters. The writer mentioned specific items he wanted removed and others he wanted purchased. Miss Collins and staff spent many hours evaluating the material mentioned and were able to prove that the allegation was wrong, that both sides of the specific incidents mentioned in the accusation were covered. More attempts were made to remove certain books from the library, but Miss Collins with support from the Friends was able to deflect the charges coming from right-wing groups.
The Friends did more than help Miss Collins with censorship issues. At the first formal meeting of the Friends on December 8, 1963, invitations stated: “The purpose of the organization shall be to further the principle that a well-informed populace and freedom to read are essential to the well-being of our community; and to focus public attention on library needs, services, and facilities.” A new main library, at that time, was the group’s most serious challenge.
The Friends participated in several City Council hearings. The first, in 1964, was to endorse the placement of a bond-issue measure for a new library on the November ballot. As Proposition M, the measure failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote in the city election.
The second hearing on November 20, 1964, was in support of City Librarian Blanche Collins who had been called upon to defend the right of professional librarians to choose materials for the library. Miss Collins, in a letter to the City Manager, stated that book selection was considered a most important part of librarianship. It was one of the basic areas of training and education in schools of library science and librarians were hired for their knowledge of literature in specific disciplines. She closed the letter (to be found in the Long Beach Collection) with the policy of the American Library Association: “As long as there are libraries which are not censored there can be no ultimate suppression of human liberty.”
Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s measures were put to voters to approve a new central library, they were all defeated. It would take a library fire in 1973 and a new way of financing, a “joint powers agreement” which didn’t need to be approved by voters, to build a new main library.
On January 1, 1969, Blanche Collins retired after working at Long Beach Public Library for 43 years. She died in October 1983 at the age of 91.
Frances Wood Henselman started working at Long Beach Public Library as a page in 1937. Born in Idaho on September 2, 1916, she was a go getter from the start. In 1931, while in Junior High, she was given a special prize by her school since she had already won every honor for which she was eligible. In 1939 she graduated from UCLA and went to work as a library clerk at Long Beach Public Library. It was here she met her husband, Ed, known as Roddy, also a library clerk. In 1940 24-year-old Frances Wood and 31-year-old Roddy Henselman were married.
Inspired by the librarians she worked with Frances decided to join the profession. After all, Theodora Brewitt, who Frances greatly admired, had also been a married, working librarian. Frances decided to follow Brewitt’s example and in 1943 she received her degree in library science from USC.
As if being married, working and going to school wasn’t enough she became editor of the magazine Long Beach Municipal Employee, president of the Library Association, member of the Board of Directors of the Credit Union and a member of the board of the City Employees Association. By 1949 she was executive assistant to Theodora Brewitt.
Frances eventually came to fill Theodora Brewitt’s shoes as City Librarian, but not before she learned more from those that succeeded Brewitt—Edwin Castagna and Blanche Collins. In 1969 Mrs. Henselman became Long Beach City Librarian.
She told the Press Telegram (8/9/1976) that she was in high school when the 1933 Long Beach earthquake struck, and a bond measure to build a new Main library was put on the ballot. She went out and gave speeches about the need for a new building, but the measure failed. Instead the old library was refurbished. In 1977 she would see her personal as well as her professional dream fulfilled. Under her directorship a “new” Main Library was opened. Mrs. Henselman retired in 1978. She died October 21, 1981.
Other City Librarians followed, Carolyn Sutter (1981-1987), Cordelia Howard (1987-1998), Eleanore Schmidt (1998-2008), Glenda Williams (2008-to date).
The history of Long Beach Public Library is now going to take on a different perspective, as I share my memories of what happened during the years I was a Librarian at LBPL from 1971-2004. Claudine Burnett
LBPL’s Carnegie Main Library
I graduated from UCLA in June 1971. Library jobs were hard to come by. I needed to stay local since my husband had a good paying job and wasn’t about to relocate if I found a library job too far from Los Angeles. I sent out resumes, including one to Long Beach Public Library (LBPL). In July I received a letter from LBPL administration telling me they were applying for federal funds for some library outreach projects and would I be interested in interviewing. Was I!!! When I turned up for the interview I was impressed by how friendly the staff was. I was introduced to Judson Voyles, head of cataloging; Alice Appell, in charge of branches; Peggy Holmes, in charge of personnel; and Frances Henselman, City Librarian. We carried on conversations about my career, my ambitions…it was all very low key. They then sent me to City Hall where I talked to the head of City Personnel who kept asking me about working with children. It seemed he thought I was applying to be a Children’s Librarian…I wasn’t. Later I was amazed to receive a Civil Service rating in the mail. I had scored 98 out of 100 points. I hadn’t even known I was being rated! I’ll always remember the physical. They put me in a hearing booth where the ball bearings of the overhead fan were going out, making it impossible to accurately test my hearing, but somehow I managed to pass.
Long Beach offered me a job and I accepted. I was told I would start in a few weeks. Anticipating my new job my husband and I moved from West Los Angeles to Lakewood. But the weeks kept dragging on and still I hadn’t started. I contacted Peggy Holmes and she said the Federal grant money still hadn’t come in. I began to think it never would. I accepted an interview with Los Angeles Public Library and they immediately wanted to hire me. What was I to do? I called Peggy Holmes, telling her I wanted a definite start date or I would accept the offer at LAPL. Peggy called me back and said they would work something out. I could start the next week…right after Labor Day.
I was a young, naïve, 22-year old, with much to learn. My first day the librarian maintenance man, Bud Marquette, presented a slide show to staff about his SCATS gymnastics team which included famed gymnast Cathy Rigby. I found out that Bud was also a gymnastics trainer in his spare time. Was I impressed! I was also impressed that the library allowed the Staff Association to hold programs during library work time. What a place to work!!! Later that day Alice Appell took me to the roof top dining room of Buffum’s Department Store where elegant ladies wore hats and white gloves.
As a lover of “things old,” the Carnegie library building I worked in overwhelmed me. When I started the Main Library had just reduced its hours. It had been open from 9-9, six days a week; Sundays 12-5. In September 1971, the hours for Friday and Saturday were changed to 9-5:30. These were the days when there were individual subject departments and a plug in switch board where operators would direct calls to the appropriate department.
When one entered the library there was a wide aisle with the card catalog on both sides, and the Circulation Department at the far end. The WPA murals, now in Periodicals, decorated the room. Off the aisle a door on the left led to the Science and Technology Department and the one on the right to Literature and History. Also on the first floor was the Library Administration office. On the upper floor there was the Art, Religion & Philosophy Department and Periodicals as well as the Technical Services Department and a staff lounge. There was also a mezzanine housing Government Publications and more periodicals. In the basement there was the B&G (for Boys & Girls) department, Shut-In Service office, Bookmobile office, Recordings, Supply room, Delivery, Bindery and Film Department.
There were no elevators, except for a small one big enough to transport books from one floor to another, but there was beautiful wood paneling throughout the building, with “secret” doors the staff used to get from one floor to another. I have fond memories of the old Carnegie Library, even though it had no air conditioning and the ants attacked anything edible. One thing I’ll never forget was the Saturday band concerts in the park. The park was always full of seniors, because back then Long Beach was known as a good place to retire. I believe Long Beach was referred to as the “Gray Haired Capital of the World, and the place “Hawkeyes (from Iowa) Came to Die.” There was one senior citizen who always stood to the side, pretending he was conducting the band. We always tried to guess which of his various uniforms he would wear that day. Another memory was the excitement generated during the annual guano gathering. This was when library custodians would don protective gear, gather loads of buckets and ladder up the roof to pick up pigeon droppings, which if not attended to could eventually cause the roof to cave in. I never thought to ask what they did with the stuff, but the custodial staff did make a fun time out of so disagreeable an assignment.
Then there were the people I worked with who were also memorable and inspiring. Those that aren’t with us any longer include Marcella Corbett, our library supply clerk, memorable because she had a pet mouse she used to feed. Judson Voyles, head of Technical Services, who remembered every single book he had ever read….and he had read many! Alice Appell, head of branches, who lured a Miss Newell (better known today as Doris Soriano) from the Midwest to Long Beach. Our bindery clerk Zelma Lipscomb, who marched with Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C. And many more, wonderful people, Peggy Holmes, Mildred Snider, Frances Henselman—all who inspired me to become the person I am today.
Under the “Federal Project” I worked with another young librarian by the name of Kathy Proffit on the newly created “Shut In Service” (which has since been renamed Homebound Readers). Kathy and I split our assignment in the Literature and History Department (L&H) under Helene Silver (who, if you don’t know, was one of the librarians who oversaw the building of the El Dorado Branch Library which opened in 1970). I remember Helene smoked cigarillos, and I was in awe of her.
Besides Kathy, there were two other librarians who worked Literature and History under the supervision of Helene Silver—Diane Erdelyi and Elizabeth Baty. Elizabeth was in her 50s and very helpful to a neophyte librarian. I will never forget my first night working alone, Elizabeth just “happened” to have extra things she needed to catch up on and stayed close by until the library closed. Later Susan Posner joined the L&H crew as Young Adult Librarian.
You had to be very resourceful to be a reference librarian, able to think on your feet, especially when you had a patron on the phone waiting for a question to be answered. I remember when I got a call asking how to spell chihuahua. I had no idea! But I did go to the card catalog and looked under the subject “Dogs” and found the spelling. Another time a patron told me his buddies at work had told him he needed to read the Kama Sutra. Neither of us had any idea what was in the book, but we soon found out when I led him upstairs to the Art Department to find the “informative” text.
Another L&H librarian was Diane Erdelyi. Diane was born in Louisiana and attended Louisiana State University, where she obtained her undergraduate and her Master’s degree in Library Science. Diane was enticed to move to California by a friend who graduated from library school a semester before Diane. Mary Lynn had gotten a job at California State University, Long Beach and she convinced Diane to move to “exciting” California where so much of the rebellion of the 1960s was happening. Life as an academic librarian didn’t appeal to Diane, so she applied to Long Beach Public Library, where she was quickly hired. During that time qualified librarians were hard to find, and besides, Diane’s qualifications were superb. She began work at LBPL on June 23, 1969.
Diane’s first job was to oversee the Long Beach Collection, which meant going through the daily newspapers, clipping articles of local interest and indexing all the others. In addition, all of us in L&H spent considerable time on the reference desk helping patrons. Often further research was needed and librarians would do “call backs” which meant doing further research to answer a patron’s question once one was off the desk. Remember these were the days before computers, and books and magazines were the only source to go to! Most librarians at Main were “subject specialists” in one area, expected to keep up to date on the latest happenings in their “specialty” as well as ordering appropriate books for their area of expertise.
Even though we were in the same department, I didn’t meet Diane until 4 weeks after I started. She was off on her own adventurous trip to Europe. Back then if you worked on Sundays, you had the option of getting paid time and a half, OR accruing extra vacation. Diane had opted for the extra vacation. While she was away I heard so many good things about her, but I was somewhat intimidated by her reputation. What would she think of little naïve Claudine, fresh out of library school with so much still to learn? But I need not have worried; we hit it off right away. It was exciting hearing about her trips to such far away countries. I hoped that one day I could travel too, but there was a rule that you had to work a year before you got to use your vacation time…that year and the money needed to travel seemed so far away. Eventually, in 1976, my husband and I were able to pack our bags and go on a 28 day trip to Europe. Everyone at the library was so happy for me…I still have the cards they gave me wishing me a “bon voyage.” To this day I still pack my clothes in plastic zip lock bags, a tip I learned from branch head, Alice Appell—it keeps them folded, clean, and easy to move around!
As part of the Federal Project I was also assigned to go to outlying areas of the city on the bookmobile, with a wonderful driver/clerk Bush Kirtley, who the kids loved so much they started calling the bookmobile the “Bush” mobile. To be a bookmobile librarian you really had to be a Children’s Librarian with an extensive knowledge of children’s literature. At LBPL Children’s Librarians read and reviewed all children’s books being considered for purchase, so they knew their stuff. I wasn’t a Children’s Librarian, and the Stanton, California, branch library I grew up using only had books like Nancy Drew and Tom Corbett Cadet, books not owned by LBPL because they were thought to “lack literary merit.” On the bookmobile I didn’t even have a card catalog (but I did have a copy of Books in Print), so when young patrons asked me for books by characters’ names I was stumped. But there was Bush…quietly walking over to me and handing me the book the youngster had asked for! I quickly did a crash course in children’s literature, asking Children’s Librarian Ann Bresias to teach me. She gave me 15 books a week to read, and I quickly learned.
Bush taught me a lot of things, including the best places to stop to pick up sandwiches for lunch. He also informed me that we had to have Cold Duck to drink, just so we’d be fortified enough to withstand the hoard of youngsters that would be waiting for us at Carmelitos Housing. These were the days when it was permitted to drink a bit at lunch. Years later city employees had to sign a pledge stating they would have no alcohol with their lunch. By the way, we just had one glass, throwing the rest away with our sandwich wrappers!
The Federal Project also included outreach to the Southeast Asian immigrant community. Many Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotians were coming to the United States and settling in Long Beach. Librarian Bob Bellinger was in charge of finding materials in Vietnamese, Khmer and Laotian to help in the transition. Finding materials in these languages was difficult. When Bob did, he would make copies to distribute to branches and Main. Bi-lingual books were the most sought after as were books dealing with American life and how to become a citizen.
At the Carnegie Main Library, Administration had clerks Mona Meader, Inez Peterson, and George Harris. Visitors always thought Inez was city librarian because she was such a stylish dresser. I remember that branch manager Alice Appell kept her weight down by going on a water diet. The only drawback was that she spent half the day going back and forth to the restroom. She also believed in astrology, and would not go anywhere unless her sister Gladys, an expert in the field, said it was OK based on Alice’s chart. Alice was also the one who gave Sylvia Schrubbe, the Acquisitions clerk who lived at the Rancho with her family as caretakers, permission to hold a séance at the Rancho Los Cerritos, which was under the library umbrella back then. I wrote about the event in my book Haunted Long Beach II.
I had only been at the library ten months when on July 3, 1972, an arsonist set fire to the Main Library. In those days there were no alarms on doors (who could imagine breaking into a library!) and the arsonist, Alvin Uribe, easily gained access. He started the fire in the Shut-In Office which Kathy Proffit had established at the foot of the stairwell in the basement area. The flames quickly spread up the open stairwell. All of our Shut-In records were destroyed as well as the entire California history collection housed nearby. Staff spent much time trying to clean books, and decide which ones could be salvaged. All in all about 5000 books were destroyed.
A few weeks after the first fire, the arsonist broke into the library again. The police were patrolling the area, saw that the back door of the library was open, and then they saw someone flee the building. Running to catch the intruder a policeman fell over him. Uribe had hidden under the bookmobile, but forgot to bring in his feet! Uribe was sentenced to 2-20 years in prison. When asked why he committed arson he said he was told by a voice inside his head “to destroy all good.” This was shortly after then governor Ronald Reagan had released more than half of the state’s mental hospital patients, passing a law that abolished involuntary hospitalization of people struggling with mental illness.
These were the days before OSHA and safety regulations, but our library administrators knew we were damaging our lungs by having us come into work each day where we inhaled much of the soot still permeating the building. They quickly found a new location for the library on Atherton by the traffic circle, and on July 19, 1972, the City Council approved the move. It took a lot of quick planning, and physical effort to move all the books and set them up in a new location, but on October 3, 1972, Main Library opened once again at 4500 E. Atherton.
We were in cramped quarters at the Atherton location, but we didn’t complain for we knew that a new Main Library was being built. It was a vision that librarians had been trying to attain since the 1960s, but every bond measure had failed. Now a fire had achieved the seemingly impossible. I was now working as a Cataloger in the Technical Services Department. I had jumped at the first permanent librarian position to become available…the Federal Project was temporary…I wanted reassurance I had a permanent position. I replaced George McAvoy, who retired; Linda Boag and Ken Matheson were my fellow catalogers.
Ken was a great one for telling library stories. Once he recounted how the Staff Association acquired the silver tea service that was used at retirement teas….oh yes, we always had teas, with white linen tablecloths, linen napkins and china. Staff was expected to chip in money to attend which paid for food and a staff gift to the retiree. Ken told of one Technical Services clerk who told others of the wonderful man she had met. Over the months they dated and became engaged. Staff was informed it would be a small wedding but all were invited. Money was collected for a gift (the silver tea service) and many showed up for the wedding. But there was no wedding. No boyfriend. It seemed the woman had just made everything up. She showed up for work the following Monday and acted as if nothing had happened. After that she quickly retired. The tea service was turned over to the Staff Association and unfortunately disappeared during the move from Atherton to new Main.
Meryl Raddemacher was the withdrawal clerk, taking out catalog cards from the card catalog once a book was no longer in the system. She had a romance which she kept quiet until shortly before her retirement. She ended up getting married and staff was invited to the wedding. Elizabeth Baty also ended up marrying again after retirement. She hooked up with an old high school boyfriend and they lived happily together until she died.
But back to the Catalog Department…As books were received we were given certain subjects to catalog. These were the days before Cataloging-in-Publication data was printed on the verso of the title page, so you had to know the Dewey Decimal System, Anglo American Cataloging Rules, and Library of Congress Subject Headings quite well. We looked forward to the latest Publisher’s Weekly which did print Library of Congress cataloging data. This was good, up to a point. The Library of Congress, which didn’t use the Dewey system, was constantly revising the Dewey system. In the latest edition they might have moved a subject from what used to be in the 100s to the 300s. What was a library using Dewey to do? A library was supposed to have all books on one subject in the same number so patrons would find books in one spot by browsing. We didn’t have enough man power to reclassify books every time a new edition of Dewey came out, so, as LBPL catalogers, we had to use older Dewey editions.
As Catalogers we would type out a sample catalog card called the “O” for Official. It had to be perfect, so many spaces down, with just the right indents. Subject heading had to be in red on the back of the card. We then gave the card to typists who would type up all the cards needed for Main and branches. If a number of copies were ordered a mimeograph would be made and cards produced, but this was a long process. A shelf list was also made, listing all the branches receiving the book, the vendor used in securing the book and when the book was ordered and received. Once all the catalog cards and shelf lists were made, the books and cards would go to the Acquisitions Department to “discharge” the book to the appropriate location, checking for errors in typing along the way. The Acquisitions Department was headed by Grace Bently (Judson Voyles was her supervisor), staff included Fran and Lil (who were sisters), Sylvia Schrubbe, and more. Catalog clerks and librarians started earlier than other staff so they would have time to file cards in the Main catalog. Clerks would file, leaving the cards above the rod in the drawers; librarians would then come by to check the filing and “drop” the cards by pulling out the rod and then reinserting it.
The “Official” would be kept in the Catalog Department along with the shelf list. Branches would call to have us check the shelf list to see all locations where a book would be housed. Main always housed at least one copy of each book ordered.
I could go on about how books used to be discarded, sent to the commercial or in house bindery, but will leave that for another to write about. Let me just say that I missed working with the public, and arranged to switch jobs with Social Science/Science and Technology librarian Dennis Okuji. Jim Jackson was my supervisor, who also supervised the Government Publications Department. When Barbara Quinn left to spend time raising her children, I became Government Publications’ librarian, with Doris Kaltenbaugh as my clerk.
LBPL was proud to be a government depository. It was the second one in the state (San Diego Public Library being the first). Being a government publications depository involved many things. A list was sent out each year and libraries signed up for what agencies they wanted to receive items from. Thing was, you had to accept everything that agency printed—one page pamphlets to multi volume works. You also could not discard anything unless you followed an elaborate procedure. In addition, you never knew what would be coming in. Some libraries would catalog the items with Dewey numbers, others house items in a special Government Publications department like we had at Long Beach. We kept the Government classification numbers and filed items by that system. Unfortunately, every time we got a new presidential administration agencies would be shuffled around and numbers changed!
When the Main Library moved to Atherton it kept a satellite library in the Ocean Center Building in downtown. Barbara Davis, who was in charge of Periodicals, also ran the Ocean Center Branch. It was full of seniors who used to rush in each morning to grab a newspaper, just like they used to do at old Carnegie Main. One Thanksgiving word got out that Barbara was going to host a turkey dinner for her patrons. The press picked up on it, and hundreds appeared for the free turkey dinner. Fortunately, realizing the interest publicity generated, staff baked, chipped in money and provided an excellent meal for all.
The Long Beach Grand Prix began in 1975. A raffle was held and staff who won was allowed to sit in the Ocean Center Library, though it was closed, and watch the action below. The course has changed over the years and it is no longer a Formula 5000 race, and is now a Formula One event, but the memories of that first race still linger in my memory. Yes…I was one of the raffle winners! We felt so privileged having great seats, plenty of food, and a bathroom…porta potties along the course were in short supply that first year of the race. We’d sit above and watch the bathroom line below and realize how fortunate we were.
The Government Publications (GP) Department at new Main was to have been larger than what eventually went in. It was to have incorporated the area where the Petroleum and Long Beach Collection storage room were placed, but at the last minute Lorraine Miller Collins wanted to donate a special room. The proposed Petroleum and Long Beach Collection storage room then took over part of Government Publications. In exchange compact shelving was incorporated in the smaller area. Another idea that was dropped was an escalator…which is why new Main had such a wide staircase!
There was a major theft from the Miller Room in August 1994, it seemed the thieves had cased the room and knew exactly what they were looking for. The newspaper (Press Telegram 8/19/1994) said items stolen were valued at $11,000. The only items I remember being mentioned was a Bible and Concordance (dated 1578) which was donated to the library in 1949 (Press Telegram 4/9/1949) and was allegedly once owned by John Milton (1608-1674), an English composer and father of poet John Milton. The item/items stolen were never found.
As Government Publications librarian I was responsible for planning and moving the government publications we had at the Atherton location, as well as the ones we had in storage in the fire station across from Bay Shore Branch Library. It was a daunting task…measuring items in both locations, trying to make sure we would leave enough room for combining the two, trying to anticipate how much shelf space we would need for future publications. Somehow I did it and Government Publications was the first department to move to the new Main Library. In the new Main my department also acquired all the legal books…I was now expected to also be a law librarian, something I grew to love.
The new Main Library opened in April 1977. The Social Science/Science and Technology Department was separated with Doris Soriano heading up the newly created Science and Technology Department (Dewey numbers 500 & 600). The Art, Religion and Philosophy (Dewey numbers 700, 100, 200) Department was also split. There would now be a separate Performing Arts Department on the lower level of the library (where Government Publications was also housed), the Religion and Philosophy books housed on the main floor and now part of the Social Science department (Dewey 100,200,300). The Literature and History Department was also on the main level with all fiction, foreign language, genealogy and Dewey numbers 400, 800, 900. The idea was to have all the books with Dewey numbers (with the exception of the 700s) lined up consecutively around the main floor.
The Government Publications Department was also now a separate department, and I was promoted to Department Librarian I, and Pam Ratner hired to be my General Librarian.
Mildred Snider and Kathy Huffman had spent years designing new Main, getting furniture and art work to match. No change could be made without their approval. Nothing personal could be hung onto the walls of one’s own office; instead we were given Herman Miller art work. It wasn’t until Mildred was forced to retire at age 70 (a city law back then) that we were given a little more freedom to display what we wanted in our offices and workrooms. Mildred died in May 1987 at the age of 78.
Mildred and Kathy were very strict about their design plans. I remember shelving being put in the Government Publications reference area. The shelves extended 1 inch over what was planned. I liked it, it gave me more room for publications, but it was not in Mildred or Kathy’s plans and had to be taken out.
One of Mildred and Kathy’s major successes was the Sister Corita Kent mural at the library entrance with an arrow pointing in the direction for public access. Part of the WPA mural from the Carnegie Library was saved and placed in Periodicals. Unfortunately, a good portion of the canvas which had extended over window openings in the Carnegie building had to be sliced away. Hopefully, the pieces are still in Long Beach Collection storage.
An Information Desk was set up past the entrance, by the card catalog, to help patrons and direct them to appropriate departments for information. Librarian Fran Smith and clerk Olivia Hicks manned the desk. A sign with “Information” written in various languages was placed over the desk. Fran and Olivia handled incoming calls and in house questions. If they could answer the question they did. If not they directed the call to one of the subject departments. We jokingly referred to Fran as “Miss Information.”
One memorable person at old and new Main was delivery driver Fred West. He was quite a character. Helen Webb remembered that Fred corresponded with a woman in Germany who promised to marry him. Unfortunately, she took him for much of his money before he realized he was being scammed. But he did not give up. Not a handsome man, he attracted women by showing them the latest version of his will in which he had bequeathed everything to them! Our custodial staff went out to breakfast each morning, and Fred tagged along. The group was embarrassed because Fred never left a tip and gathered up all the parsley, orange rinds, etc. left on other’s plates. He was generous enough, however, to open his home to a Monte Carlo night to support the Staff Association. All were surprised to see the giant tortoises he had in his backyard…partially fed by the breakfast scraps he garnered!
Another person I’ll never forget was Loretta Sundstrom. Loretta worked at the Telephone Reference Desk, supervised by Jim Jackson. Loretta was responsible for securing telephone books from around the U.S. and providing addresses and phone numbers when patrons called. The phone company didn’t give out addresses, something that the library did do. Later business peaked when the phone company started charging for giving out phone numbers. Loretta was also the library union representative. You eventually ended up joining the Long Beach City Employee’s Association just to get Loretta off your back. She was persistent…to say the least.
We had a lot of Betty’s working for us: Betty Klink, a Social Science librarian, who retired to a cottage in Newport Beach. Betty Martel, a clerk in Children’s, who never slowed down…always in a hurry, but extremely productive and efficient. Betty Lawrence, an Acquisition’s clerk, who we nicknamed “Banana Betty” because her husband worked in the LA produce market and she always brought in bananas.
There was also eternal page Karen Larsen, who worked in Performing Arts. Helen Kennedy, head of Recordings. Norm Harris, Film Clerk, who had to rewind every film that was returned to look for damage! The wonderful folks in the Bindery— Zelma Lipscomb, who marched with Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C., Adelma Lauer, and Consuelo Hernandez who could fix just about anything.
I’ll always remember City Librarian Frances Henselman who retired shortly after the new Main opened. She started her career as a Page and made her way up the ladder. Sadly, she died shortly after her retirement. Carolyn Sutter, a librarian from Michigan was hired to replace her. There are so many more I could name and talk about who are no longer with us—Lynda Fritz, Bush Kirtley, Consuelo Hernandez, Doug Kermode, Elizabeth Baty, George Harris, Loretta Sundstrom, Judy Fraser, Barbara Davis, Helen Fuller, Marjorie Russ, Helen Kennedy, Sarah Scott, Pam Ratner, Susan Heimos, Dee Navarre, Louann Gordon, Ron Cartright, to name but a few—but perhaps others will add to this narrative with memories about these wonderful “library family” members who need to be remembered.
People as well as times were changing. In June 1978 Proposition 13 regulating property taxes passed. It would create a new direction for library operations.
With the passage of Prop. 13 the library budget was cut. Staff members of retirement age retired so younger employees wouldn’t be laid off. I barely made the cut-off. If I hadn’t started working in September 1971, and had waited until the other Federal Project librarians began in November, I would have been laid off. Most of the Federal Project librarians had secured permanent positions in the library, but they were among the first to go. Eventually some, such as Doug Kermode and Charles Vestal were hired back. Others had moved on elsewhere.
It was a time of quick change. The Science and Technology Department was again absorbed into Social Science as was Government Publications. I was transferred back to the Catalog Department to retain my Department Librarian status, with Linda Boag sent to Literature and History, and Ken Matheson taking on the role of Government Publications Librarian. Ken Matheson retired shortly thereafter and Marilyn Brasher took over GP followed by Judi Kamei and Diane Erdelyi.
Barbara Davis remained in charge of Periodicals until she became head of Social Science/Science and Technology following Jim Jackson’s retirement. Diane Erdelyi became head of the Periodicals Department and Doug Kermode was hired back to take over Diane’s job as Long Beach Collection librarian.
As head of Periodicals Diane catered to her public’s needs, even going out and buying the National Enquirer on her own every week, because it wasn’t a publication our suppliers handled. She even archived it, and LBPL became the only source in California where researchers could come to look at back issues. She kept the department neat and tidy, and somehow managed to keep sane dealing with the microfilm machines which broke down several times a week. As the library automated, and periodicals became accessible online, the Periodicals Department changed and Diane moved to head Government Publications until she retired on December 30, 2002.
In 1977, Diane Erdelyi, Social Science librarian Pat Kennedy Gianoulis and I became part of the first librarian bargaining team to secure a fair salary for library employees. It was the first time the city had to deal with women at the bargaining table. The male management team was very surprised when the librarians came in with statistics and other data justifying their increased salary requests. Later we bargained for a “fair wage” survey to be conducted by an outside agency, to ensure that female employees throughout the city with the same education as men in comparable positions were being paid an equitable salary.
Sadly Diane died of cancer in September 2010. In her will she left money to be spent on the library staff, which to her was family. Pat married and moved to San Diego.
Another long time librarian retired right after Proposition 13, Mary Pearson. Mary had been head of the Art, Music, Religion and Philosophy Department at the Carnegie Main Library for years. She also helped plan the transition to new Main, incorporating a separate Recordings Section under her supervisorial umbrella on the lower library level. She was succeeded by Judy Fraser. Also on the lower floor was the Film Department (headed by Pat del Mar), the Government Publications Department, Miller Room, Library Administration, Auditorium, Storage, Technical Services, Staff Lounge, and meeting rooms. There was one room outside Library Administration which was supposed to house the “Professional Collection.” It was a place for librarians to go to find the latest books dealing with their subject specialty. Librarians could borrow the material, or just read in the room while on break or during their lunch hour. This room didn’t last very long. Shortly after the passage of Proposition 13, as public service staff was reduced, administrative staff increased and additional office space was needed.
In the 1970s we experienced many changes. No longer did you have to live in Long Beach in order to work for the city, nor did a public health nurse visit you when you called in sick. Also pants could be worn to work—something that was a “no no” when I first started working at the library. We also saw an end to “Z” books—books which were stored in the fire station across from Bay Shore Library, because there was no room at Main. A “Z” was penciled on catalog cards and the books retrieved by Bay Shore staff. When the new Main opened, these were incorporated into the regular collection. Nor were there any more “P” (Permission) books (the “P” also included in the call number) – books such as the Joy of Sex which were kept behind the reference desk which patrons had to ask for. We also saw series such as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, once deemed “poor literature,” allowed into the collection as well as comic books (better known today as graphic novels). Another big change was the arrival of computers and the Internet.
Sarah Scott was our first “tech” librarian, the only one smart enough to figure out how to use the reference database “LexisNexis.” She would do a database search on an early form of computer for those patrons needing extensive research. Others of us could probably have learned to use the database (and computer), but since the library was charged by the minute for using the service we thought it more economical for Sarah to just do it! If Sarah couldn’t get an answer to a question we would go to another source—SCAN (Southern California Answering Network), headed by Eleanore Schmidt, who would soon join us at LBPL—and ask for further research. Sadly Sarah Scott died of cancer while still working at LBPL…a great loss.
I was head of the Catalog Department when automation first appeared in 1979. Pat del Mar was my supervisor, and together we transitioned from typing catalog cards to ordering them from OCLC (Online Compute Library Center). Catalog typists included Kay Shadwell, Kathy O’Rear, Debbie Johnson, Joan Anderson, Beth Nothern and several whose names I can’t remember. Pat, our former Film Department librarian, had replaced Judson Voyles as head of Technical Services when he retired. She and I were responsible for the library’s first computerized data base—ULYSSIS. Times were changing. Many old timers that hadn’t retired after Proposition 13 decided to do so…they just didn’t feel they were up to dealing with the new computer “stuff.”
Among those who retired was Helene Silver from Literature and History. She was replaced by Harriet Friis, former branch librarian at Dana. Mary Pearson from the Performing Arts Department also retired. Judy Fraser then took command of Performing Arts. Mary was well known in the library world for inventing a cataloging system for sheet music and recordings. Also working with her was Wilma Ditman whose sister used to pick her up after work in the 1930s car they owned. The sisters often traveled to Europe, shipping the car with them so they would have it to drive around once they got there. Wilma said her sister would drive no other vehicle. Louann Gordon also moved from North Branch to the Art Department during those early years of new Main.
Alice Appell (head of Branches), Mildred Snider (head of Main) and Peggy Holmes (assistant City Librarian and one of only five women in the Naval Reserves to become a captain) also retired around this time. City Librarian Carolyn Sutter brought in branch librarians Cordelia Howard and Doris Soriano to fill vacant administrative positions. This was the time when the city was experimenting with rotating department heads. Carolyn was moved to various positions throughout the city and Cordelia, Doris and Pat del Mar had stints at being City Librarian. When Carolyn decided to accept the position as director of Tidelands Operations, Cordelia Howard became City Librarian.
Still missing working with patrons, I left the Catalog Department, took time off for a few years to work with my husband, but returned to the library where I became branch librarian at Brewitt around 1981. I also knew that if I ever wanted to progress up the librarian ladder and become a Department Librarian II, I needed branch experience.
It was a small branch. Permanent staff included clerk Elizabeth Gonzales and myself. I also had Children’s Librarian Karen Cressy for most of the week. One page, who started at Brewitt, Kelly Quinn, went on to become the librarian in charge of Media at the Main Library. Other pages and clerks who became librarians include Nancy Messineo, Glenda Williams, Debbie Gurley, Sue Taylor, Linda Poling. Helen Fried, Silke Edwards, Chenda Yong, Lauren Nguyen, James Washington, Virginia Sanchez and Chris Burcham.
I wasn’t at Brewitt very long when I was asked to step in temporarily and become head of Children’s Services at Main to fill in for retiring Doris Gylseth. I didn’t have any training before I took on the role, but I was fortunate to have Madeline Pratt as children’s librarian, and Marie Reidy who would politely inform me when it came time to start working on things such as the Summer Reading Program. Though I was only supposed to be there a few months, it extended to almost a year. Along the way, after the newly hired Children’s Services librarian Sandy Duncan quit because she believed the job was too involved, the duties were spit in two. An administrative position was created for Children’s Services Coordinator and another Department Librarian position for Children’s Supervisor at Main. Before this there was a Department Librarian III classification held by Judson Voyles, Doris Glyseth and Pat del Mar—all of their positions became Administrative and the DL III position retired. Suzanne McMillan was hired as Children’s Supervisor and Nancy Messineo as Children’s Coordinator.
I returned to Brewitt, but was soon back at Main as Department Librarian II in charge of Literature and History. Harriet Friis had retired and I was fortunate enough to secure what many considered the best job in the library….responsible for ordering all fiction, history, literature, travel and foreign language books. I also oversaw the Genealogy and Long Beach Collections, Homebound Readers, and for a time Young Adult Services. My staff consisted of Doug Kermode and Susan Parker. Susan left to pursue romance back east and Helen Fried, who had just become a librarian, was hired to replace her.
Each subject department (Literature and History, Social Science, Performing Arts) was responsible for compiling a monthly book list for branches to choose from. Main usually ended up buying everything on the list, while the branches were more selective due to smaller budgets. Each subject department supervisor gave their staff a subject area to review. In most cases they had some expertise in the subjects themselves. Doug, in charge of the Long Beach Collection, was responsible for giving me fiction recommendations to purchase, Susan, and later Helen, literature recommendations, while I worked alone on history and travel books.
Besides the Information Desk at the entrance, there were three Reference Desks that patrons were referred to if they had questions. Everyone was expected to work the Reference Desk in their department. Usually two librarians were at each desk to answer walk in and phone questions. Each department was responsible for handling “withdrawals” from branches. Branches would send in titles of what they wished to discard and it was up to each department head to decide if Main wanted an extra or replacement copy of the book. We were also given reports of books that had not been returned and we had to decide whether to replace the book, if it was still in print, or pass.
Doug had a loyal following…Mr. Sykes, Charlie, Eimo, and Morgan were his literary buddies, often talking about books (Doug was always writing one) and other things. One or the other would come in daily, talk to Doug about goings on, and ask if he had seen the others in their little clique. Doug also had firm beliefs in the way the library should be run. When Eleanore Schmidt became head of Main and thought we should change our work schedule to leave at 5:40 instead of 5:30 Doug didn’t like the idea. Eleanore believed it was more customer friendly not to rush people out the door at 5:30 just so staff could go home quickly. When the policy went into effect Doug decided he was going to use 10 minutes of his vacation each day, just because he didn’t like the change. Also, when staff was told they needed to pay for their personal phone calls (this was in the day before cell phones), Doug decided he would pay in pennies, making it more time consuming for administrative staff to count! Doug was also upset that the library was the only department in the city that required staff to punch in and out. Branches didn’t have time clocks! He believed as “professionals” librarians should not be required to do such a thing. He won his case. All full time Main staff no longer needed to use the time clock.
Doug left us suddenly one day. He had gone to a junior high school reunion somewhere in the Midwest and rediscovered an old love. He retired with just 2 weeks’ notice to be with his sweetheart whom he married.
Project Read Staff at Burnett Library – Peggy Boyd, Peter Theroux, Marcia Bennett, Val Glasgow, Emma Henderson, Ruth Stewart, Frizell Bell, c 1986
One of the major library accomplishments of the decade was Project Read, a program for one-on-one tutoring for adults which started in 1987. It was a hard realization to learn that many American born adults did not know how to read. Several had learning disabilities not recognized when they were growing up. Project Read hoped to remedy this by recruiting volunteers, and training them, to teach others to read. People wanting to take advantage of the program signed up and were contacted by the library; then a match-up between tutor and student was made. The pair would meet at times agreeable to both parties, at various library locations. The program was started with a grant but when the grant ran out the library continued to fund the project. Librarians Ruth Stewart and Marcia Bennett did a tremendous job keeping the project alive until 1995 when funds again became difficult to find. Fortunately they were able to convince the Long Beach Unified School District to take over the project.