Los Angeles Public Library Timeline

From the library's humble beginnings in various rented spaces in 1872, when we were then known as the Los Angeles Library Association, to present day Central Library and 72 neighborhood branches, Los Angeles Public Library has cultivated and inspired young readers, nurtured student success, championed literacy and lifelong learning, contributed to Los Angeles' economic growth, stimulated the imagination of millions and strengthened community connections all around the city. Begin your travel through our history.


  • 1872 - December 7 - Los Angeles Library Association is founded at a meeting in the old Merced Theater, the first building constructed for theatre arts at Main and Arcadia Streets, with California Governor Downey presiding.
  • 1872 - John Littlefield is the first librarian hired and earns $75 a month. The former editor of the Weekly Express has no prior library experience but is good at collecting past due payments.
  • 1873 - The Los Angeles Library opens in the Downey Block at Temple and Main Streets, with two reading rooms furnished with tables, newspaper racks and shelves filled with approximately 750 volumes. A smaller, adjoining room with tables set up for checkers and chess is as popular as the main reading room.
  • 1878 - Los Angeles City Council passes an ordinance establishing the "Los Angeles Public Library," (LAPL) making it a department of the city and enabling the city to apportion city funds to run the library.


mary foy1870s
  • 1880 - Mary Foy, appointed City Librarian, becomes the city’s first female head of the library department and a tireless advocate for women’s suffrage.
  • 1889 - The library and its collection of 6,666 books moves from Downey Block to City Hall.


reading room 1890s
  • 1889 - 1895 - Tessa Kelso has no library experience when she becomes the sixth City Librarian in 1889, and by the time she leaves six years later, she transforms the Los Angeles Public Library into a true metropolitan library.
  • 1896 - First electric lights installed in City Hall. “The installation of electric lighting into all of the rooms devoted to library use has contributed largely to the comfort of the patrons and the convenience of employees.” —Eighth Annual Report of the Library Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Public Library and Report of the Librarian, December 1896
  • 1897 - Children’s Department created. “The juvenile room, made from the old reference room, is one of the best in the library.” —“The Public Library Reopened This Morning for General Circulation,” Los Angeles Times, Sep. 8, 1897, p. 6
  • 1897 - Harriet Child Wadleigh appointed City Librarian, advocates for public stacks, and opens satellite locations, dubbed “reading rooms.” In 1899, the Library Board attempts to fire Wadleigh, but she remains City Librarian until her retirement in 1900.


Hamburger's, exterior view
  • 1900 - Search for a new Central Library building begins. Housed in City Hall since 1889, the library is in desperate need of more space. A plan to build a new library in Central Park (Pershing Square) ignites a long political fight that results in a two-decade-long odyssey moving the Library Department from one rented space to another.
  • 1900 - Library delivers books to Los Angeles Fire Department stations, one book per fireman per month without the option of renewal.
  • 1905 - Los Angeles City Council fires City Librarian Mary Jones and replaces her with Charles Lummis, over objections by local feminists. Lummis was a former editor for the Los Angeles Times and founded the Southwest Museum, but had no library experience.
  • 1906 - Charles Lummis starts the Autograph Collection. Blank sheets of paper are sent to “people who count” across the country. They sign the sheet, sometimes adding a drawing or an excerpt from a poem or speech, and return it to the library for its permanent collection.
  • 1908 - Central Library moves to the Hamburger Department Store at Broadway and 8th Street, the largest department store west of Chicago. The library floors are located between women’s wear and furniture in the five story building.
  • 1908 - The Friends of the Wilmington Branch Library is formed, making it the oldest Friends group of the Los Angeles Public Library. Last fiscal year, the Library’s volunteers worked 29,463 hours, a value that equates to $1,047,704.28.


vermont square branch 1910s
  • 1910 - Andrew Carnegie gifts $210,000 for the building of six branch libraries: Vermont Square, Lincoln Heights, Cahuenga, Arroyo Seco, Vernon, and Boyle Heights.
  • 1911-1933 - Everett Robbins Perry, City Librarian, lobbies for a permanent home for the Central Library. When Los Angeles’ new Central Library opens in 1926, Perry’s vision is evident in both its design and prevailing philosophy.
  • 1913 - Vermont Square Branch Library opens (the oldest branch library building in the LAPL system).
  • 1914-1917 - World War I - "German books, one-time residents of the shelves of the Los Angeles Public Library, are now in durance. They have been interned under lock and key for the period of the war." —"German Books Interned in the Public Library," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 27, 1917, p. II1
  • 1914-1917 - City Librarian Everett Perry heads up fundraising efforts to supply reading materials to soldiers, and the library creates a card catalog of recipes and cookbooks to help people save food during the war.
  • 1918 - The library closes for seven weeks as part of a city-wide shutdown due to the Spanish Flu. This is the first full system closure of the library.


library construction 1920s
  • 1921 - First Bond Issue passes with 71% approval, with $2 million for a Central Building and $500,000 for 11 branch libraries.
  • 1924 - The Municipal Art Commission finally approves Bertram Goodhue’s revised design for Central Library on March 5.
  • 1925 - Bond issue for branch libraries ($500,000) passes with 14 buildings planned.
  • 1926 - On July 15, hundreds gather for Central Library’s formal dedication ceremony.
  • 1927 - Miriam Matthews is hired as the library’s first African American librarian.


llibrary conference at central library 1930
  • 1930 - The Great Depression brings increasing demand for library services as tax revenues decline, prompting cuts. Tax valuations drop and delinquencies increase during the depression. More seating is installed, and the Reference Desk fields 80 questions per hour. The want-ads are in such high demand, they are removed from the rest of the newspaper and handed out separately. Circulation for self-help books increases.
  • 1930 - The American Library Association, founded in 1876, holds its annual conference in Los Angeles for the first time at Central Library.
  • 1930 - Memorial Branch Library is dedicated in memory of the 20 Los Angeles High School alumni who died in World War I.
  • 1934 - William Andrew Clark, Jr., founder of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, wills his orchestral scores collection to the library, starting the Orchestrations collection.


central library in 1940
  • 1941 - During World War II, the one-ton rotunda chandelier is lowered to ground in case of bombing. It remains on the floor until 1944. Library hours are extended into the evening after war workers ask for late nights at the library. Central Library opens an Army Map Room which includes a repository of official army service maps and charts. Library programs include first-aid classes and selling war bonds.
  • 1941 - Althea Warren of the Los Angeles Public Library is chosen to head the Victory Book Campaign organized by the American Library Association.
  • 1944 - Ray Bradbury begins writing The Fireman, which eventually becomes Fahrenheit 451. He spends most of the 1940s at the Los Angeles Public Library and is quoted as saying he was "library-educated." Bradbury said, "the library was my nesting place, my birthing place; it was my growing place."
  • 1949 - Bookmobile service begins.


little too bookmobile 1950s
  • 1950 - Bookmobile is christened Little Toot and decorated with the beloved namesake tugboat of the 1939 children’s book. The book’s creator and Disney animator, Hardie Gramatky, lives in Southern California and gives his blessing to the bookmobile’s naming.
  • 1957 - $6.4 million library bond issue passes. The first bond issue since 1925 funds the remodeling of existing branch libraries and the construction of new ones. The bond funds a total of 28 library construction projects over the next 10 years,14 of which would be in the San Fernando Valley.


Northridge Branch Library 1962
  • 1960 - The bond issue of 1957 bears fruit in the Sixties with the construction of more than 20 branch libraries. The expansion reflects the population growth of the city, following a national trend of residents moving away from downtown to the suburbs.
  • 1960 - Jose G. Taylor, the first Latino LAPL librarian, is hired. Taylor is one of the co-founders of the Committee to Recruit Mexican American Librarians (CRMAL) and serves as president of REFORMA (1976-1977).
  • 1968 - The Librarians Guild forms to address concerns that LAPL librarians are underpaid.
  • 1969 - Central Library is placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Flower Street gardens are paved over for a parking lot.


ray bradbury in the 1970s
  • 1971 - The 6.6 magnitude Sylmar Earthquake results in 65 deaths and half a billion dollars in property damage throughout the city. The quake causes the closure of 26 branch libraries. At Central Library, more than 100,000 books fall to the floor and after City Librarian Wyman Jones calls for volunteers, 230 residents respond and all the books are reshelved by the following day. The damage to Echo Park, Vernon and Benjamin Franklin branches is extensive, and all three branches are condemned.
  • 1972 - The 100th anniversary gala of the Los Angeles Public Library is held at ARCO Plaza because Central Library cannot handle the electrical output needed to power the event.
  • 1973 - The library begins “Hoot Owl” night information service, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., seven days a week.
  • 1973 - The first public access computer terminal in any library is put into operation at the Venice Branch. The computer is connected by telephone line to a giant computer at USC.
  • 1977 - Chinatown Branch Library, with a Chinese language collection from the local community, opens with the celebration of Year of the Serpent.


central library on fire 1986
  • 1982, April 13 - Hollywood Branch Library fire. Only 20,000 of the library’s 90,000 book collection is salvageable. Community members, corporations, and other library organizations contribute their own volumes to help refill the shelves. Orson Welles records a public service announcement in support of the drive.
  • 1984 - LAPL is one of 27 library systems to launch adult literacy programs in partnership with the California State Library.
  • 1986 - The Frances Howard Goldwyn Hollywood Regional Branch Library opens in a building designed by architect Frank Gehry and is built with the support of the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation.
  • 1986 - On April 29th, a devastating arson fire tears through Central Library. The massive fire burns for 7 hours, reaching temperatures of 2,500 degrees. More than one million books were destroyed or damaged. The fire led to a 7-year closure of Central Library.
  • 1989 - Grandparents and Books (GAB) program launches, bringing older people into city libraries to read aloud to grade-school children.
  • 1989 - Proposition #1 passes, providing $53.4 million for 26 branch library projects.


grand reopening of central library 1990s
  • 1992 - In the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict, the temporary replacements for the John Muir and Junipero Serra Branch Libraries both burn to the ground during the Los Angeles Riots. The two branches are temporarily located in mini-malls while their historic buildings undergo seismic upgrades.
  • 1992 - Library Foundation of Los Angeles forms as an independent fundraising organization, working closely with the Library to enhance the resources and services offered to Angelenos.
  • 1993 - Central Library reopens on October 3. Barney, the purple dinosaur of the children’s television show Barney & Friends headlines the festivities, which culminate with a $500-a-ticket gala in the middle of Fifth Street.
  • 1993 - Norman Pfeiffer designs the Tom Bradley wing and restores the Norman Goodhue Central Library.
  • 1994 - The 6.7 magnitude Northridge earthquake closes all branch libraries briefly. Twenty-three library branches close for a month, and 14 remain closed longer.
  • 1998 - Teen’Scape opens as a library within Central Library, designed by and exclusively for teens.
  • 1998 - Los Angeles voters approve a $178.3-million library bond to build 32 libraries across the city.


silverlake library grand opening
  • 2004 - The new Hyde Park Miriam Matthews Branch Library opens at Florence and Van Ness Avenues in December. The branch is renamed in honor of Miriam Matthews, the first African American librarian in California, who overcame systemic barriers to become a Regional Librarian and advocated for library collections to be more inclusive and reflective of the city’s multiracial population and history.
  • 2009 - The Silver Lake Branch Library opens as the newest branch building, featuring eco-friendly design and cutting-edge technology.
  • 2009 - The $335-million construction program funded by the 1998 Library Bond Program is a huge success. Los Angeles Public Library completes the largest public library building program in the nation on time and under budget. The 1989 and 1998 bond measures combine to replace 90 percent of the library infrastructure in a 15-year period.


career online high school graduation2010s
  • 2011 - Voters overwhelmingly pass Measure L to restore library funds and service hours that were cut during the Great Recession of 2009.
  • 2012 - Los Angeles Public Library receives the extraordinary map collection of John Feathers, an obsessive map collector who died unexpectedly, leaving a Mt. Washington house filled to the rafters with all types of maps.
  • 2014 - Amanda Gorman becomes the first Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate at a ceremony at Central Library.
  • 2014 - Los Angeles Public Library launches Career Online High School, becoming the first library in the nation to offer adults an accredited online high school diploma.
  • 2015 - Los Angeles Public Library wins the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries, in recognition for its significant and exceptional contributions to the community.
  • 2015 - New Call #s adopted for LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) materials. The Cataloging Department and Social Sciences Department partner on updating the Dewey Decimal Classification numbers for LGBT+ titles.
  • 2016 - Beginning February 1st, the Library offered a two-week amnesty period. During the campaign, 64,633 overdue items were returned and 13,700 delinquent library users had their cards unblocked.
  • 2016 - Los Angeles Public Library partners with Los Angeles Unified School District to issue a Student Success library card to every student.
  • 2018 - New Americans Initiative launches, making Los Angeles Public Library the first public library to partner with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. The initiative evolved from the “Your Path to Citizenship Starts at the Los Angeles Public Library” program which began in 2010.
  • 2019 - Octavia Lab, a tech-forward digital media maker space, opens on Octavia Butler’s birthday, June 22.


the linda lindas in the library 2020s
  • 2020 - The COVID-19 pandemic closes all 73 library locations to the public, only the second full closure in Los Angeles Public Library history.
  • 2020 - Octavia Lab in Central Library uses 3-D printers to make components of face shields for area hospitals as the shortage of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers becomes critical. Octavia Lab donated more than 15,000 face shields to 20 Los Angeles area hospitals.
  • 2020 - More than 500 library staff participate in the city’s Disaster Service Worker Program, serving the public and helping agencies meet the needs of the most vulnerable residents during the worst of the pandemic.
  • 2020 - In response to the profound isolation experienced by seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic, staff and volunteers deliver postcards featuring historic photos of L.A. with handwritten messages to seniors with meals provided by the Department of Aging.
  • 2020 - Los Angeles Public Library initiates the Los Angeles COVID-19 Community Archive to document the lives of Angelenos during the Coronavirus pandemic.
  • 2020 - Los Angeles Public Library goes fine free, part of an effort to remove barriers to access and make the Library more welcoming to the city’s neediest residents.
  • 2020 - In July, “Library to Go” services begin at 18 branches. While libraries remain closed, patrons can pick up holds from tables set up outside the libraries.
  • 2020-2021 - E-media usage rises dramatically during the pandemic. Los Angeles Public Library becomes the #1 public library in the nation circulating e-media.
  • 2021 - Central Library and 37 branches reopen with limited in-person services on May 3rd.
  • 2021 - A video of L.A. local teen punk band The Linda Lindas filmed at the Cypress Park Branch Library goes viral, racking up 4.4 million views on Instagram, winning two Webby Awards, and making The Linda Lindas the most-talked about band in the country.
  • 2022 - Los Angeles Public Library celebrates 150 years of serving the communities of Los Angeles.