Some Little Known Stories

"Terrible roads! ...had to turn back as the roads were impassible... Only people who have had intimate experience with the county librarians when they are visiting some of their branches can…understand the indomitable qualities they possess." – May Dexter Henshall, 1931

There are many fascinating stories about the California State Library (CSL). Over the last 150 years, its dedicated staff has raised the standards for library science, while greatly improving the educational needs and quality of life of Californians.

Portrait of Harriet Eddy who helped in the early organization of the county library system, c. 1890s
Portrait of Harriet Eddy who helped in the early organization of the county library system, c. 1890s.

State Librarian James Gillis (1899-1917) helped modernize libraries by starting the first library school and creating library services for the visually impaired. Gillis initiated a major expansion and helped to establish the county free library system. His work was continued by his daughter, Mabel Gillis, the first female State Librarian (1930-1951).

Interior of museum room in the Library and Courts Building, c. 1932
Interior of museum room in the Library and Courts Building, c. 1932.

Mary Eudora Garoutte, the first female librarian, began working in the CSL in 1899. She organized the collection to form the California Section. At the time of her retirement, 34 years later, the California Section contained 13,000 volumes.

“Gillis Girls” from the Library School class of 1919 in the Capitol apse
“Gillis Girls” from the Library School class of 1919 in the Capitol apse.

Beginning in 1903, County Free Library Organizer May Dexter Henshall tirelessly crisscrossed rural California for 17 years by stage coach, horseback, snow sled, and automobile in order to establish libraries in the most remote of the Golden State's many far flung communities.

Interior view of the research room at the Sutro Library, before finding a permanent home, 1956
Interior view of the research room at the Sutro Library, before finding a permanent home, 1956.


Portrait photo of Mary Eudora Garoutte, the first head librarian for the California Section, c. 1890s
Portrait photo of Mary Eudora Garoutte, the first head librarian for the California Section, c. 1890s.


CSL staff standing in front of the Arbunkle Branch of the Colusa County Library, 1923
CSL staff standing in front of the Arbunkle Branch of the Colusa County Library, 1923.


Attendees at the California Library Association meeting at Yosemite Valley 1923
Attendees at the California Library Association meeting at Yosemite Valley 1923.


CSL standing in front of the State Capitol, celebrating the “Days of 49” in gold rush customs, 1920s
CSL standing in front of the State Capitol, celebrating the “Days of 49” in gold rush customs, 1920s.