CSL Introduction

"Feeling an anxious desire for the promotion of education and the establishment of a State Library at the Capitol of the State...I respectfully beg leave by the presentation of these books to contribute my mite towards the accomplishment of so desirable an object." – Colonel Jonathan D. Stevens, 1849

Beginning in 1849, Gold Rush California saw the arrival of hundreds of thousand miners, many of whom were literate and educated. These readers desperately sought anything they could find – months old newspapers or the odd rare book. Before long, the first bookstores and private libraries were established to meet the ever growing need for, as one newspaper put it, "the Gold of the Mind."

Reference desk in the original State Library in the second-floor apse of the Capitol, 1904
Reference desk in the original State Library in the second-floor apse of the Capitol, 1904.

The California State Library grew from humble beginnings on the far edge of the Western frontier. After the state government rose out of the chaos of the Gold Rush in 1850, the State Legislature had the vision to establish a library for the new state. It would be the first institution of its type in the American West.

California State Library postcard advertising the County Free Library System, c.1910s
California State Library postcard advertising the County Free Library System, c.1910s.


Children’s corner at the Calistoga Public Library, Napa County, 1906
Children’s corner at the Calistoga Public Library, Napa County, 1906.


Private reading room in the “What Cheer House,” San Francisco, 1860
Private reading room in the “What Cheer House,” San Francisco, 1860.


1906 Sunset Magazine article about the CSL’s traveling library program
1906 Sunset Magazine article about the CSL’s traveling library program.


Chinese Public Library of Central California, Fresno, c. 1910s
Chinese Public Library of Central California, Fresno, c. 1910s.


Library staff setting up deposit box for Red Rock library Branch 2, in Lassen County, 1922
Library staff setting up deposit box for Red Rock library Branch 2, in Lassen County, 1922.