Monday, December 3, 2012

Los Angeles Library History: Building library service to the San Fernando Valley

The city of Los Angeles began annexing the San Fernando Valley in 1915. There were three Los Angeles Co. Free Libraries (present-day County of Los Angeles Public Library) which became city/LAPL branches post-annexation. They remained in rented spaces until standalone branches could be built. The Owensmouth (present-day Canoga Park) and Van Nuys branches opened in 1927, followed by the Lankershim/Sidney Lanier branch (now North Hollywood Regional) which opened in 1929.

Prompted by community requests, delivery stations soon began springing up in the Valley. Stations carried between one hundred and one thousand books for circulation, and were meant to extend borrowing service to those that could not easily reach a branch or the Central Library. Only open a few hours during the week, stations were set up in stores, fire stations, nursing homes, churches, summer camps, clubs, etc. (The stationery store below housed the Reseda station at one time). In most cases they were staffed by paid or unpaid volunteers that did not have library training. Use patterns were monitored and some lesser-used stations were discontinued while others flourished and provided a base for later branches.

In 1948, when their current space needed to be vacated, the Reseda Woman's Club and the Reseda Chamber of Commerce began looking for a new space to rent for the Reseda Station. They were allotted just $25 a month for rent, and it was noted that Los Angeles Public Library Assistant City Librarian Roberta Bowler made the suggestion that the Library Commission was looking into the purchase of a mobile library (aka bookmobile) that could carry 2000 to 4000 books to various parts of the San Fernando Valley on a regular schedule.

The Los Angeles Public Library began bookmobiles service in 1949. Dubbed the Traveling Branch, it was a cost-effective way to expand library service to the rapidly growing San Fernando Valley.

In May 1949 Sherman Oaks received its first library service in the form of a 2-hour bookmobile stop in a vacant lot at Ventura and Vesper. The stop was such a success plans were soon made for a Sherman Oaks Station. Basilone Homes, a low-rent housing community for WWII vets created on the site of the present day Hansen Dam Golf Course, also received a bookmobile stop. Stops for Victory Center (approx. Lankershim and Victory), Encino and Studio City followed. Reseda Station's circulation had risen quickly at their location (18555 Sherman Way), enough to elevate it to full branch status with daily hours and additional staff and books.

Spring of 1950 saw the addition of a second 'Traveling Branch' with stops in Granada Hills, Panorama City, Tarzana, and Winnetka. A depot, not open to the public, was set up on Vanowen Avenue near Tujunga Avenue that would serve as a hub for the loading and unloading of the bookmobile. In October 1950 an Encino-Tarzana branch was created to replace two popular bookmobile stops.

The 1951 Los Angeles Public Library Annual Report indicates Stations will gradually be eliminated and replaced by bookmobile service.

The Sunland and Tujunga stations were closed and replaced with a joint Sunland-Tujunga branch library. By 1956 there are four Traveling Branches from which half-a-million books are circulated annual. One bookmobile, known as Little Toot, catered strictly to children and made stops to San Fernando Valley elementary schools during the school year.
City Librarian Harold L. Hamill notes a survey has been completed by the Library Department that indicates a need for 17 public library buildings to meet the growing needs of San Fernando Valley residents. One step forward is the move of the Reseda branch into a space at the new West Valley Municipal Building, with hopes that with funding secured, a regional branch could be built nearby. (The Reseda branch became the West Valley Regional Branch with the opening of its new building in 1960).

A $6,400,000 library bond passed in May 1957. This allowed for the creation of branches in Chatsworth, Granada Hills, Northridge, Panorama City, Studio City, Sylmar and Woodland Hills. Branches currently in rented quarters would get their own city-owned building, this included Encino-Tarzana, Pacoima, Sherman Oaks and Sun Valley. Canoga Park (previously Owensmouth) and Van Nuys would receive new buildings.

It couldn't come soon enough. For the 1958-59 fiscal year the nine San Fernando Valley libraries circulated more than 2.7 million books, almost one-fourth of the total LAPL circulation that year (which was 11 million across all 52 LAPL branches).

A MAP OF LOS ANGELES PUBLIC LIBRARY SERVICE TO THE SAN FERNANDO VALLEY THROUGH THE YEARS (branch locations are dark blue, known stations are turquoise, and known bookmobile stops are green) Click the link below the map to see dates associated with the locations-
View San Fernando Valley library service history in a larger map


Los Angeles Public Library. Annual Report, various years.

Los Angeles Public Library. Hand Book of the Branch Libraries. Los Angeles: LAPL, 1928.

Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Los Angeles Times

Van Nuys News and Valley Green Sheet

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