History of Libraries

"A very handsome nucleus for a State Library has been begun at San Jose." – Sacramento Daily Transcript, July 31, 1850

The word library is derived from the Latin liber, meaning "book, letter, writing, list, catalogue, bark of a tree." Libraries and civilizations have grown up side-by-side over the course of the last 5,000 years. With the development of writing, humankind has sought to record and store its most important information and most precious ideas in great repositories. Many, such as the fabled Library of Alexandria, the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, the Vatican Library, the British Library, or our own Library of Congress, have preserved and passed on much of humankind's knowledge.

The Wren Library at Trinity College, Cambridge University, 1695
The Wren Library at Trinity College, Cambridge University, 1695.

The California State Library is no exception. From a trunk full of books it has grown into one of the largest state library systems in the country. The State Library's extensive and varied collections have served the people of the Golden State well for over 165 years. Its remarkable holdings have helped to create and sustain the foundation for California's unique civilization.

Nineteenth century facsimile edition of the original 1623 Shakespeare folio
Nineteenth century facsimile edition of the original 1623 Shakespeare folio.


Walking Book promoting the free library system, Napa County, 1925
Walking Book promoting the free library system, Napa County, 1925.


Children reading in front the Antelope branch of the Kern County Free Library, c. 1910s
Children reading in front the Antelope branch of the Kern County Free Library, c. 1910s.


Interior of the State Library Reference and Reading Room in the State Capitol, 1904
Interior of the State Library Reference and Reading Room in the State Capitol, 1904.


Photograph entitled “Books for the very little people,” Santa Barbara Free Library, c. 1910s
Photograph entitled “Books for the very little people,” Santa Barbara Free Library, c. 1910s.