Berkeley Public Library History

In 1882, when Berkeley was a community of some 2000 souls, the first serious attempt was made to establish a reading room and circulating library in the town.  A hundred dollars was scraped together - although $400 was the stated goal - a few daily and weekly newspapers were subscribed to, and 54 books were donated.  On the 18th of March a room was rented in a building on the corner of Shattuck and University Avenues, and the Free Reading Room came into existence.  Unfortunately, this endeavor was doomed, for in September it was announced the Reading Room was closed due to lack of funds.

By the late 1880s - with the Berkeley community alarmed that the University of California students had few hangouts other than saloons - the effort was reinvigorated.  In December 1892 local druggist J. E. Kelsey, W. H. Waste, and other leading citizens - with a healthy contingent of vocal female community leaders - formed a committee to solve the problem.  One of several directors of the resulting committee, J. D. Layman, donated a series of books by Oliver Wendell Holmes and proposed the developing library's first official name, the Holmes Public Library.  According to our handwritten catalog, Holmes' "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table" was the first official book in the collection.  The Women's Christian Temperance Union also donated some 250 books around this time.  Use of the books, newspapers, and periodicals was to be free, but only those who paid a dollar in advance had borrowing privileges. By February 10, 1893, Miss Lucy Wheeler from San Diego was hired as Librarian, two rooms in the Shattuck Block were secured, and Berkeley's library was re-born.

By December 1893, Lucy Wheeler left for health reasons and Dr. R. Moore took her place.  The annual membership fee was reduced from $12 to $5 per year.  Branch reading rooms were soon planned for - in West Berkeley and in Lorin (South Berkeley).  But first the library needed public support.  By December 1895, Francis Kittredge Shattuck was President of the Library Board, and Dr. R. Moore Secretary (as well as Librarian, with a salary of $75 per month).  Soon came the promised branch reading rooms in West Berkeley and Lorin.  In early 1896 the Board of Trustees changed the name of this young - but already wildly popular - institution to Berkeley Public Library.

Here is a well researched history of the Berkeley Public Library's history up to about 1920 researched and written by Diane Cory in 1962.

By the dawn of the new century - the 20th Century - the young but increasingly popular Berkeley Public Library was outgrowing the old, rented out rooms in Shattuck Building that has been the library for the past decade.  Thus plans were put into place to build a brand new public library on land donated by Francis Kittredge Shattuck's widow - Rosa - with money provded by Andrew Carnegie.  All this, so long as the city of Berkeley was prepared for the upkeep of the institution.  The building was designed by famed local architect, John Galen Howard, faced Shattuck Avenue, and was situated at what became Kittredge Street.  Legend has it that up until this point this land was Rosa Shattuck's rose garden; perhaps this was an auspicious place to plant and grow what would become Berkeley's prized jewel - her public library.