About the library

Library History

    The Richmond Public Library goes back to 1907 and grew out of two women's clubs, The Richmond Club and The West Side Improvement Club that  circulated book collections.  In 1908, The Richmond Club sent a petition to the Carnegie Corporation for a gift of funds to build a public library, and the Corporation granted $17,500 on the condition that the City provide for the development and maintenance of the building each year. 

     Five lots were donated by The Richmond Club, and the public library system was established in 1909 by a city ordinance that would include a building at Fourth and Nevin (main branch). Under the West Side agreement, The West Side Improvement Club agreed to join the system and give all of its books as long as the West Side Library could be maintained as a branch.  On August 17, 1910, the new library at Fourth and Nevin opened with a general reception.  The library system also included the Stege Branch in 1913, located at South 41st and Potrero Ave., and the Grant Branch in 1924 that was located in the Grant School building.  In 1947, the first large bookmobile west of the Mississippi River was adopted as a way to serve more of the citizens of Richmond.
      Reflecting the phenomenal population growth during the World War II years, from 23,000 to 106,000 inhabitants, the City voted a bond issue to build a civic center to meet the needs of such growth and in 1949, the first buildings were completed.  Architectural Forum magazine called the new Memorial Civic Center: "a milestone in U.S. civic design: it is the first modern Civic Center built in any American city: and it is one of the most comprehensive center constructed anywhere in the world."  It was a multi-million dollar showplace and symbol of civic pride.  One of the modern buildings centrally located in the Civic Center was a new library building, one of the most modern library buildings in California that opened December 5, 1949.  The result was a splendid two-story edifice, the first glass-walled library building in the country, framed in steel and concrete with glazed east facade;  inside was a two-story reading room, periodicals and stacks on a mezzanine above work space, a children's room and an adjoining meeting room - auditorium.  Programs were developed to serve children and adults with resources utilizing the most current technology of the day.  There was an ordinance passed in 1950 that established authority for a Library Board of Trustees that included citizens from the industrial, banking, business and professional sectors to make administrative decisions regarding the library system.. The ordinance  that established the Library Board of Trustees was amended in 1953 to change the authority for administration to the Library Director and the City Manager.
       In 1957, the State Department sent the director of the United States Information Service Center in Beirut, Lebanon to observe and participate in the practices of the Richmond Public Library.  The library system evolved through the shift in demographics, demand and circumstances.  The Fourth Street Branch closed due to fire and the Stege and Grant Branches closed.  The Shields-Reid Branch opened as part of the community center that borders North Richmond in 1971 that is now served by Contra Costa County.  In 1972, the Eastshore Branch Library opened occupying a section of the Eastshore Community Center (now Booker T. Anderson) at 960 South 47th Street.  In August 1976, this branch library moved to a more spacious location, next to the fire station building at Carlson Boulevard and Hartnett Avenue and became known as the Bayview Branch Library.  Beginning in the 1960's, the library systems in the east bay developed cooperatives  to leverage their resources instead of duplicating expensive collections.  This meant different systems would have a special collection in the areas of business, the arts, science, technology, literature, auto manuals..... and refer users to cities where the information was located.  In 1984, the Richmond Public Library started one of the original library-based adult literacy programs.  With the startling recognition that 1 out of 5 adults in our country lacked the basic literacy skills for full participation in community and economic sphere, funding became available for new programs.  Since that time, Richmond residents enrolled in LEAP for a variety of purposes. At first it was to improve basic reading and writing skills, but as time passed LEAP recognized community needs, expanding its services to GED preparation, English as a Second Language, math literacy and computer literacy.

      Presently, the main library in the Civic Center Plaza is the cornerstone of the Richmond Public Library system.  There is a nationally recognized Seed Library that was established and located in the main library.  This program has become increasingly popular with the interest in health as it relates to a quality diet and physical well-being that averts diabetes and heart disease.  Libraries all over the country have contacted the Richmond Public library to establish their own seed libraries.  Our West Side and Bayview branches, bookmobile, and library van are currently shuddered due to the pandemic.  We still continue to provide service to citizens by providing tableside service where patrons can reserve materials online or by telephone and pick them up through a safe and secure process.  In addition, we provide programs for children, teens, and adults on Facebook Live, YouTube, our website Richmondlibrary.org, Instagram and Twitter.