The sixty-four images featured in this pictorial overview of the history of San Diego Public Library’s Central Library, from 1882–1970’s, were selected from the Special Collections Photograph Collection. This twelve box archival collection of photographs, housed in the San Diego Heritage Room, includes photographs and negatives collected by staff and donated to Special Collections from the 1880s to the present. The collection represents an important part of the historical record of the development of the San Diego Public Library, preserving images of 19th and 20th century citizens, planners and staff who were critical to the growth of early library services in San Diego, as well as photographs of the planning, construction, dedication ceremonies and events of the historic buildings, which housed the early library, the Carnegie Library building (1902-1954) and the Central Library (1954-2013). A large part of the Special Collections Photograph Collection also chronicles the history of thirty-nine branch libraries and book mobiles throughout San Diego.
Much of the research for this digital exhibit was based on the book, Turning the Pages: San Diego Public Library History 1882-1982, by former head librarian, Clara E. Breed. She wrote the book in honor of the centennial history of the San Diego Public Library, tracing its beginnings from a few donated books housed in rent-free rooms on the second floor of the Commercial Bank building to one hundred years later when the San Diego Public Library system consisted of a large central library, twenty-five branches and a collection of over a million and a half volumes. She notes in her book that the first library in California was in San Diego, founded by Franciscan fathers at the Mission San Diego de Alcala, existing from 1769-1852. Various subscription libraries were available to San Diego citizens from 1854-1878, but it wasn’t until May of 1882 that a group of dedicated citizens met to create the first free San Diego Public Library.
A new chapter for the San Diego Public Library begins on Sept. 28, 2013 when the doors to the new Central Library open to the public.