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Profiles of State Librarians of California

1850 – Present

The following consists of short biographies of the twenty-two men and women who have guided the California State Library during its first 157 years. Kathy Correia, former Supervising Librarian of the California History Section and John Gonzales, former Senior Librarian in the Section, compiled these profiles. Much of this information originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2000 issue of the California State Library Foundation Bulletin.

The California State Library was created on January 24, 1850 by legislation signed by Governor Peter H. Burnett. Previously, in December 1849 Colonel Jonathan D. Stevenson and Senator Thomas J. Green of Sacramento had donated books in anticipation of a library being created by the Legislature.

Later, on January 19, 1850, John C. Frémont donated 100 books. These gifts formed the nucleus of the California State Library’s collection. The January 24, 1850 legislation placed the direction of the California State Library under the California Secretary of State, who was designated ex officio State Librarian.

Originally the office of Secretary of State was not an elected position, but a three-year governor’s appointment, subject to State Senate confirmation. The original law stated that all books coming into the possession of the State, purchased or donated, were to be kept in the office of the Secretary of State and were to be considered the collection of the State Library. The legislation specified that a suitable place for the State Library was to be found and that the library be operated to meet the objectives set forth. However, these objectives were not established until legislation was signed on April 9, 1850.

This law restricted who could borrow books, imposed a two book circulation limit rule, and instituted a loan period of two weeks. Lost books were to be charged at three times their value, circulation records were to be kept by the librarian, and final payment for legislative session attendance would be withheld until all borrowers’ book accounts were cleared. The librarian was also given authority to pursue civil action against any delinquent accounts.

The State Library’s first eleven years of existence were spent under the care of the Secretary of State, literally in his office. The ex officio State Librarian has other duties, but did provide space and the function of a library to the Legislature, governor, and other state officials. Usage was restricted to state officials and would remain so until James L. Gillis became State Librarian.

The California State Library remained under the control of the Secretary of State until 1861. The following six men served as ex officio State Librarian and Secretary of State during that time.

William Van Voorhies, 1849 – 1853

William Van Voorhies was the first ex officio State Librarian. His appointment came right after his twenty-second birthday. First elected as state senator from San Francisco, he resigned to become Secretary of State. Born in Tennessee in 1823 and a lawyer by profession, he made his way to California on February 28, 1849 via Washington, D.C. where he had been appointed an assistant postmaster general with the duty of establishing post offices in California. Van Voorhies was reappointed Secretary of State on January 9, 1852 but resigned on February 19, 1853 to become the surveyor of the Port of San Francisco. He moved to Oakland, where he practiced law and published two newspapers: first the Alameda Gazette and in later years, the Alameda Democrat. He was married in 1854 to the daughter of California’s second governor, John McDougal. At the age of 58, he served as a delegate to California’s Second Constitutional Convention. He died on September 26, 1884 in Eureka while on a newspaper assignment for the Humboldt Standard.

James W. Denver, 1853 – 1855

James W. Denver, the second ex officio State Librarian, was appointed Secretary of State by Governor Bigler on February 19, 1853 and reappointed on January 9, 1854. Denver was born in Virginia in 1817, moved to Ohio as a child and later graduated from Cincinnati Law School. He served in the Mexican War, and in 1861 was commissioned a brigadier general in the Union Army. In 1852 Governor Bigler placed him in charge of the relief supply trains for overland immigrants arriving in California. The California State Legislature had voted to supply assistance to recent arrivals who were experiencing great difficulties traversing the mountain passages to California. Edward Gilbert, the editor of the San Francisco Alta California, strongly criticized the efforts of Governor Bigler and consequently James W. Denver in his newspaper. Growing animosity led to a duel that was fought between the two on August 2, 1852.

Gilbert’s first shot went wide and Denver shot into the ground and he attempted to leave. Both sets of seconds insisted on the participants firing again. Denver shot and killed Gilbert on the second round of shooting. Dueling had previously been outlawed in California, but public opinion had been so strongly in Denver’s support that no action was ever taken against him.

From the beginning, when the State Library was established through the donation of books, there was an on-going need to continue building the collection. California’s legislators recognized the importance of having an outstanding collection of resources. The Library Fund was created on May 1, 1852. It established fees to be collected by the Secretary of State as a way to build up the Library’s collection. Unfortunately, the Library Fund did not generate all of the funds necessary to create the collection that was envisioned.

James W. Denver, recognizing that the fund would not support the State Library, suggested that the Library be separated from his office and that a more reliable and productive source of revenue be created. He suggested an immediate appropriation of $10,000. He also proposed that continuing fees derived from local land patents sold by the state and fees collected from peddler’s licenses be used to add revenues. In response to his suggestions an act was approved on May 5, 1855 that allocated $2,500 to the Library for contingent expenses. It is important to note that the function of State Librarian was separated from the duties of Secretary of State in 1861.

Denver resigned as Secretary of State on November 1, 1855 upon his election to Congress where he served two years. After his term in Congress, President Buchanan named him as commissioner of Indian Affairs and later as the Governor of the Territory of Kansas, which included Colorado. Perhaps what James W. Denver is most noted for is that the city of Denver, Colorado is named after him.

He died on August 9, 1892 in Washington, D.C. where he had practiced law until his death at the age of seventy-five.

Charles H. Hempstead, 1855 – 1857

Charles H. Hempstead, the third ex officio State Librarian, was a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was born September 29, 1832. Hempstead arrived in California in 1852 and secured a position as personal secretary to Governor Bigler. He was appointed by Governor Bigler as James W. Denver’s successor as Secretary of State on November 5, 1855. Charles had just celebrated his twenty-second birthday five weeks before his appointment. He left the office of Secretary of State in 1857 when President James Buchanan appointed him superintendent of the United States Mint in San Francisco. This position ended in 1861 when President Buchanan left office. Hempstead went to Utah and joined the Union forces under General Connor. His military service was spent in Utah and by the end of the civil war he had attained the rank of captain. After his discharge, he was in the newspaper business and later practiced law. President Grant appointed him United States Attorney for the Utah Territory. He died at the age of fifty-seven in Salt Lake City on September 28, 1879.

David F. Douglass, 1856 – 1858

David F. Douglass, the fourth ex officio State Librarian, was born in Tennessee on January 8, 1821. After a fight and the resulting death of a physician in 1839, he served fourteen months in prison in Arkansas. Later, during the Mexican War, he served with the Texas Volunteers and eventually came to California as a teamster with his regiment. He settled in the San Joaquin district of the California Central Valley and in 1849 was elected to the first session of the California State Senate from this district. In 1850, the Legislature elected him a brigadier general in the State Militia. A year later, President Fillmore appointed him United States Marshall for California. He served again in the Assembly during the sixth session, once more for San Joaquin County. He was a successful farmer and died at his home in San Joaquin County on June16, 1872 at the age of fifty-four.

Ferris Forman, 1858 – 1860

Ferris Forman, the fifth ex officio State Librarian, was appointed Secretary of State by Governor Weller on January 9, 1858. He was already a successful attorney and had served as postmaster of Sacramento and had been judge of California’s Sixth Judicial District.

Born in New York on August 25, 1807, he graduated from Union College in Schenectady and was a trained lawyer. President Martin Van Buren, a friend of his family, appointed him United States Attorney for Illinois and later he was elected a state senator for Illinois. He raised a regiment of Illinois volunteers for the Mexican War and was commissioned a colonel. After the war, he settled in Sacramento, California in 1849. During the civil war his commission was reactivated, but he was denied combat duty and consequently resigned his commission. He resumed his legal career in Illinois and returned to California some twenty years later, where at the age of ninety-four he died on February 11, 1901.

Johnson Price, 1860 – 1862

Johnson Price was the sixth and last ex officio State Librarian. He was appointed Secretary of State by Governor Latham on January 10, 1860 and served until replaced by William H. Weeks on January 11, 1862. He served as ex officio State Librarian until 1861 when legislation placed the library under the control of a board of trustees who had the power to appoint a State Librarian. Price was by profession a physician and had served in this capacity during the Mexican War. He arrived in California in 1849 and practiced medicine in Sacramento. Price’s political career began when he was elected to the California Senate on November 6, 1858 to complete the unexpired term of W. I. Ferguson. He was one of twenty-eight Lecompton Democrats in the Senate. After his term as Secretary of State, Price settled in San Francisco where he became a stockbroker. He died in San Francisco at the age of forty-five from tuberculosis on April 8, 1868.

William C. Stratton, 1861 – 1870

The California State Library was under the control of the California Secretary of State from 1850 to 1861. In 1861, legislation placed the Library under the control of a board of trustees who had the power to appoint a State Librarian. William C. Stratton was the first State Librarian chosen under this system and he served from March 16, 1861 to January 22, 1870. Stratton was born in Albany, New York on December 14, 1826. At the age of 18 he taught school in central New York City, pursued business interests and studied law. He was admitted to the bar and moved to New Jersey. While a resident of New Jersey, he was elected to its legislature and served from 1849 to 1853. In 1856, Stratton moved to California and settled in Placer County. He continued his political career as a member of the California Assembly, representing Placer County from 1856 to 1859. He served as Speaker of the Assembly in 1859. As State Librarian, William C. Stratton was praised in contemporary newspapers as being “active, courteous, industrious and indefatigable in the discharge of his duties”. He is credited with developing the State Library’s collections and classifying materials so that they could be located. Stratton had been hired by the legislature in 1860 to prepare a descriptive catalog of the Library’s collection. He did, however, not escape controversy during his tenure as State Librarian. There were members of the legislature who thought him a Confederate sympathizer. Consequently, members of the Assembly introduced legislation that sought to remove individuals from the board of trustees who supported Stratton. The legislation was postponed, however, and his supporters remained on the board of trustees.

The controversy surrounding Stratton continued when the Sacramento floods of December 1861 and January 1862 damaged some of the library’s materials. The high water mark was thought to have been reached in December 1861, but the second flood in January 1862 was two feet higher! The shelving, weakened by flooding, collapsed and caused books to be thrown into the water. Local newspapers described some of the damaged items as “rare and valuable works.” Eventually Stratton was cleared of blame and the books were rebound or replaced.

Stratton resigned as State Librarian on January 22, 1870. In 1860, before being appointed State Librarian, he had begun a successful law practice in Sacramento. Upon his resignation, he resumed his law practice in Sacramento until his move to Santa Barbara in 1873. Stratton died there on May 2, 1898.

William Neely Johnson, Jan 24, 1870 – Apr 5, 1870

William Neely Johnson was appointed State Librarian on January 24, 1870 and served until April 5, 1870. The board of trustees chose him to fill the rest of the unexpired term of W. C. Stratton. Johnson’s choice as State Librarian was unique as he was blind at the time of his appointment. William Neely Johnson was born in Evansville, Indiana in 1826. He came to California sometime in the early 1850s with his brother John Neely Johnson who was later Governor of California from 1856 to 1858. In 1856, William was appointed secretary of the Board of Land Commissioners. The Board of Land Commissioners at the time consisted of the governor, secretary of state and the state treasurer.

Johnson went on to become head of the Sacramento Land Office in the 1860s and was removed from this position in 1869 when he lost his sight. He had sought initial treatment for his vision loss in California and was treated on the East Coast in 1866, but these efforts failed to restore his vision. Johnson resumed his law practice in June 1869 specializing in cases presented before the United States Land Office in Washington, D.C. A special testimonial was presented to Johnson on February 6, 1870 in the form of a gold stem repeater watch and matching chain. The watch noted hours and minutes by sound. Johnson was honored for his “past services, also as a public officer and citizen of the Capital City and in appreciation of his upright and honorable conduct exhibited in all the relations of private life.” William Neely Johnson left the office of State Librarian and resumed his law practice. He died June 24, 1885 in San Francisco at the age of fifty-nine.

Robert O. Cravens, 1870 – 1882

Robert O. Cravens was the third State Librarian appointed by the board of trustees. He was first appointed on April 6, 1870 and was unanimously reappointed again in 1874 and in 1878. It is interesting to note that the make-up of the board of trustees changed over the years and that Robert O. Cravens was appointed by two of the three different combinations of board members. In 1852, the board of trustees consisted of the governor, treasurer, controller, president of the Senate and speaker of the Assembly. However, in 1861 the board consisted of the governor, chief justice of the Supreme Court (ex officio) and three others. In 1872 the selection of board members became the responsibility of the legislature. Robert O. Cravens was born January 13, 1829 in Harrisonburg, Virginia to Dr. John and Ruhama Cravens. The family moved to Missouri where his father farmed and practiced medicine. Cravens crossed the plains to California in 1850; arrived in Sacramento and sold the supplies which he had carried overland. In 1851 he successfully sought gold in the Georgetown area of El Dorado County. He later moved to Placer County where he was elected Justice of the Peace in 1853. A four-year term as Justice of the Peace convinced Cravens that he wanted to pursue a law career. He was admitted to the California Bar after a period of study as a law clerk and practiced law in Auburn until his return to Sacramento in 1870. The board appointed him State Librarian in 1870 for the first time. Cravens served three terms as State Librarian for a total of twelve years. He left the office on April 5, 1882. His political career continued when he was appointed by President Grover Cleveland as deputy internal revenue collector for California. In 1890 he was elected a Sacramento police judge. He died on January 10, 1917 at the age of 89, just three days short of his ninetieth birthday.

Talbot H. Wallis*, 1882 – 1890

Talbot H. Wallis, the tenth State Librarian, was perhaps most famous for being put on trail for his job performance by the Library Board in 1883. His twenty-year career with the State Library began as a porter from 1871 to 1880, was then promoted to deputy librarian in 1881, and finally attaining the position of State Librarian. He was appointed by the Library Board on April 6, 1882 and re-appointed four years later to another term.Born July 3, 1851 in San Francisco as Talbot H. Green to Talbot H. and Sarah Green. He was later adopted in 1854 by his step-father, Joseph S. Wallis, who was later elected to the California State Senate. Wallis, graduated from the San Jose Institute, and he studied law while working for the State Library and was later admitted to practice in 1879.The events that led to Wallis’ trial were driven by strife and political maneuvering between Wallis, his Deputy State Librarian, Miss M. A. Patton and the Library Board of Trustees. Wallis had fired Miss Patton for various reasons dealing with her job performance. Miss Patton went to J. J. Owens, her supporter on the Library Board with her complaint regarding her dismissal. Owens subsequently told Wallis if he would not reconsider her dismissal, that he would publish serious allegations in the San Francisco newspapers the following day. Rather than reconsider his dismissal of Miss Patton, Wallis asked for an investigation. Charges were published against Wallis for drinking, swearing, smoking, and being incompetent as State Librarian.The investigation took the form of a trial before the Library Board of Trustees. In all, sixty-three defense witnesses testified for Wallis, including state senators, assemblymen, justices and other state officials. They affirmed that Wallis capably performed his duties as State Librarian. None of the charges were proven. He was unanimously re-appointed to another term as State Librarian on April 6, 1886. Wallis faced another round of similar charges in 1887, this time brought by Governor Robert W. Waterman, but the investigation ended without any punitive results.

Even with all this controversy, Wallis’ tenure as Librarian saw the State Library’s collection grow from 51,000 to 73,000 volumes. A law catalog was produced in 1886, and the general book catalog was completed in 1889. He was instrumental in calling for the first meeting of State Librarians that was held during the American Library Association’s annual meeting in St. Louis, Missouri in 1889.

Wallis was not offered a third term as State Librarian by the Board of Trustees in 1890, and left office to resume his law practice. He was working for the Sacramento City Street Department at the time of his death in Sacramento, July 3, 1914 at age 63.

* Adapted from an unpublished article written by Thomas Fante, California History Section, October 27, 1981.

W. Dana Perkins, 1890 – 1896

W. Dana Perkins was the eleventh State Librarian. He was first appointed to a four-year term on February 6, 1890 and reappointed for another term in 1895.W. Dana Perkins was born in New Hampshire in 1831. He arrived in Placer County in 1850 and settled near present day Rocklin. He owned the Pine Grove House on the Auburn and Sacramento Road. Perkins was active in local politics and served as the Placer County Tax Collector for two terms. He was appointed Sergeant-At-Arms of the Assembly for the 1869-70 and 1875-76 sessions. Perkins was a member of the Agricultural Board from 1877 to 1879 and again from 1888 to 1889. In 1870, Leland Stanford employed Perkins as a land agent for the Southern Pacific during that same time that he had held the other positions. Perkins spent twenty years with the Southern Pacific in this capacity. His services where no longer required when Collis P. Huntington became president of the railroad, and he was let go. On December 8, 1895, in his second term as State Librarian, he was stricken with paralysis and was bed ridden until his death on October 18, 1896. In honor of his memory, Governor James H. Budd ordered that all State Capitol offices be closed during the funeral. One of Perkin’s pall bearers was Edward D. McCabe who was later to become the thirteenth State Librarian. Local newspapers described the funeral procession as one of the largest seen in Sacramento. The procession to the cemetery consisted of over forty carriages.

William P. Mathews, 1896 – 1897

William P. Mathews was chosen twelfth State Librarian in 1896 to finish the term of W. Dana Perkins who died in office. He was born in Virginia in 1842 and was a trained physician. He arrived in Tehama County in 1870 and practiced medicine there. It was while a resident of Tehama County that Mathews was first elected to the Assembly. He served in five Assembly sessions from 1880 – 1893.Mathews resigned his position as State Librarian on April 20, 1897. He continued to serve in state governments as director of the State Board of Agriculture. His term as director of the State Board of Agriculture was from 1892 to 1901. Mathews was also a member of the State Board of Health from 1897 to 1903. He was appointed Secretary of the Auditing Board of the State Commission of Public Works in 1903. He retired from public life in 1913 and moved to Oakland where he died December 29, 1921 at the age of 78.

Edward D. McCabe, 1897 – 1898

Edward D. McCabe, the thirteenth State Librarian, was appointed in 1897 when William P. Mathews resigned. At the time of his appointment as State Librarian, he was serving as Governor James H. Budd’s executive secretary, a position he had been given after he had campaigned for Budd’s election in 1895.He was born in Columbia, Tuolumne County in 1859. McCabe graduated from the University Mound College at South San Francisco and in 1884 was one of the early graduates of Hastings College of Law. In 1886, McCabe was elected county clerk of Stanislaus County and served in this capacity until 1891.Upon resigning the position of State Librarian, McCabe was appointed a state building and loan commissioner. When his term as Commissioner was over, he moved to San Francisco and practiced law. Several years later he was involved in mining operations in Idaho and Nevada, but returned to San Francisco in poor health. He died on January 9, 1921 in San Francisco at the age of seventy-two.

Frank L. Coombs*, 1898 – 1899

Frank Leslie Coombs was appointed fourteenth State Librarian of California on April 7, 1898 and served until April 1, 1899. He resigned to become United States Attorney for Northern California. Prior to his term as State Librarian, Coombs had served in a variety of capacities in government including District Attorney for Napa County, three terms as State Assembly member representing Napa County, and a stint as United States Minister to Japan.Although Coombs’ education was not in library science, he did recognize problems with the State Library. At the beginning of his term, books were only arranged strictly by author; no subject access was possible. This constraint made research extremely difficult. Coombs introduced the dictionary catalog to the State Library which allowed access by author, title and subject. Coombs explained that the work involved in assigning subject headings could be performed by existing staff and would extend to newly acquired books.

There was also a problem of borrowers not returning books. When Coombs took office, he discovered that some books had been in circulation for over five years! Through personal effort he was able to recover a large number of the overdue books.Coombs did not like the fact that use of the Library was limited to state officials. He dreamed of seeing the Library become an institution whose collections where available to all citizens of California. James L. Gillis, his successor, expanded on Coombs’ idea of making the state Library’s collections more available to Californians.When Coombs resigned in April 1899 to become United State attorney for Northern California, the California State Library contained 114,000 volumes and was second in size to the State Library of New York.After his term at United States attorney for Northern California, Coombs was elected to Congress and served one term, 1901 – 1903. He spent the next twenty years practicing law, but returned to the California Assembly to serve in the 1921 through 1927 sessions. He carried the Assembly bill that created the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District.Coombs died in San Francisco, October 5, 1934 at the age of 81.

* Adapted from an article by Peter T. Conmy, “Frank Leslie Coombs, California State Librarian, 1898-1899,” News Notes of California Libraries, Spring 1972, vol. 67, no. 2, p.278-282.

James L. Gillis*, 1899 – 1917

The resignation of Frank L. Coombs in 1899 set the stage for the appearance of perhaps the most innovative and influential State Librarian. He would forever change the function of the State Library. James L. Gillis began his term as the sixteenth State Librarian in 1899 and served until his illustrious career ended with his death in 1917.Born October 3, 1857 in Iowa, he spent his early years there until 1861 when the family moved to Nevada. The family moved in 1870 to Sacramento where James attended school. Two years later he became a messenger boy with the Sacramento Valley Railroad Company, a division of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. He eventually worked his way up through the ranks to become assistant superintendent of the company. He left the railroad in 1894 and went to work as chief clerk of the Assembly Committee of Ways and Means. He was also keeper of the archives of the Secretary of State in between his stints as chief clerk. In 1898 he was appointed a deputy in the State Library and State Librarian on April 1, 1899.One of the first things Gillis did as State Librarian was to set about reorganizing the Library. He acted upon recommendations made by his predecessor, Frank L. Coombs, but eventually extended his sights well beyond what Coombs had in mind. The dictionary system of cataloging was extended to all books in the collection, not just new arrivals. A separate Law Department was created to release space in the reference room. This was followed by the creation of a California Historical Department. He also initiated the indexing of California newspapers to provide reference service in the California Department.Through his great organizing skills and ability to recognize talents in others, Gillis was to extend the services of the State Library to all of the residents of California. He established the Department of Traveling Libraries in 1903. By 1906 there were over 200 of these libraries with over 10,000 total volumes sent out to various communities in California. The traveling libraries gave rural areas of California a taste of what libraries could provide. In 1905 he had placed two library organizers in the field to give encouragement and assistance to already established public libraries as well as to help establish new libraries. The next step that Gillis took was to help pass the County Free Library Law of 1909. This law had some shortcomings so again in 1911, Gillis was instrumental in helping to write and pass the 1911 County Library Law. With the passage of this law Gillis realized that there would be a need for trained librarians to help staff the new county libraries that would be created. He first established apprentice courses at the State Library, but later decided that a library school was essential. It was in 1914, that the State Library’s library school was opened to its first class of fifteen students.

The Berkeley campus of the University of California began offering a library course in 1918. Gillis felt that two institutions should not offer the same instruction, and it was his belief that the University was best suited to offer library instruction. Between 1918 and 1920 the instruction given through the courses at the State Library was merged with the instruction offered at Berkeley. The last of a total of seventy-five graduates to finish courses through the State Library did so in 1920. These graduates helped accomplish Gillis’ goals of having trained librarians to work in the library systems that he had helped create. Other accomplishments highlighted the career of James L. Gillis as State Librarian. Among these achievements were the creation of the first union catalog in the United States, the California Information File, and the Books for the Blind department within the State Library. In addition, he provided dynamic leadership as president of the California Library Association for nine years. He died on July 27, 1917 in the office of the Secretary of State soon after he had arrived at the Capitol to begin his day of work.

* Adapted from articles in News Notes of California Libraries, vol. 52, no. 4, October 1957, pp. 635 – 714.

Milton J. Ferguson, 1917 – 1930

Milton J. Ferguson became the sixteenth State Librarian on August 25, 1917 succeeding James L. Gillis who died in office. Ferguson began his career with the Library in 1908 as assistant state librarian. He held this position until 1917 when he became State Librarian.

Milton was born in West Virginia on April 11, 1879. He graduated from the State University of Oklahoma in 1901. In 1902, he attended and received a librarian’s certificate from the New York State Library School. In 1903 he returned to the State University of Oklahoma as a librarian and remained there until 1907. James L. Gillis had personally recruited Ferguson in 1907 to join the staff of the State Library. Ferguson was the first State Librarian to have any formal training in library science.Among his other duties as assistant state librarian, he helped Gillis plan for the establishment of county libraries in California. In order to be better able to answer questions about California law while on reference duty, Milton studied law and in 1912 passed the California State Bar Examination.He was appointed State Librarian on August 25, 1917 upon the death of James L. Gillis. It was his responsibility as State Librarian to carry on with the planning of the new library building in Sacramento. Legislation in 1914 had provided for a new building to house the State Library and the Courts in Sacramento. However, World War I and funding problems delayed construction until the early 1920s and the Library did not move into it’s new quarters until 1928. Ferguson assisted in selecting the text for the inscriptions on the Library and Courts Building.In 1921, during a reorganization, the Board of Trustees was abolished by legislation, and administrative responsibility for the State Library was placed within the newly created Department of Finance. Another aim of the 1921 legislation was to remove the responsibility for county library administration from the county boards of supervisors and place it with the county boards of education. Ferguson managed to stop this from occurring and thus kept Gillis’ county library plan in place. Another reorganization occurred in 19276. Legislation passed that year moved the State Library to the Department of Education and made the State Librarian an appointee of the governor. Ferguson became the first State Librarian to be appointed under this system.Ferguson served as President of the California Library Association for two terms, one spanning 1918–1919 and another 1926–1927. He was also president of the National Association of State Libraries for the years 1918 and 1919. He took a leave of absence as State Librarian in 1928 and 1929. The Carnegie Corporation had hired him to conduct a survey of library services in several countries including the Union of South Africa.Milton J. Ferguson resigned as State Librarian in September 1930 to become the head of the Brooklyn Public Library. He held this position from 1930 until his retirement in 1949. In 1938 through 1939 he served as president of the American Library Association. In retirement, he edited the fifteenth edition of the Dewey Decimal Classification and was a member of the Dewey Decimal Editorial Policy Committee.

He died at the age of seventy-five on October 23, 1954.

Mabel R. Gillis, 1930 – 1951

Mabel R. Gillis became the seventeenth State Librarian on September 15, 1930 upon the resignation of Milton J. Ferguson. She was first woman to serve in this capacity and she was the daughter of James L. Gillis.Mabel was born in Sacramento on September 24, 1882 and was educated in local schools. She graduated from the Berkeley campus of the University of California in 1902 and in 1903 taught in Sacramento public schools for a year. In 1904, James L. Gillis asked her to join the staff of the California State Library as an assistant in the Extension Department. Her career with the State Library spanned forty-seven years.In the position Mabel Gillis held in the Extension Department from 1904 to 1917, her principal task was to help develop services to the visually impaired. National legislation in 1904 provided postage-free mailing of books to the blind. The California State Library was among the first libraries in the country to provide visually impaired readers with reading materials. In 1911 the Books for the Blind department had become a separate section of the Library with Gillis in charge. In 1915 she instituted a state-wide plan for in-house teaching of those who wished to learn sightless reading. Due to Mabel’s organizing work in providing services to the blind, the State Library was chosen in 1931 as one of eighteen regional centers when the Library of Congress initiated a national service to the blind. With the death of her father, James L. Gillis in 1917, Mabel was elevated to Assistant State Librarian when Milton J. Ferguson was appointed State Librarian. One of her responsibilities as Assistant State Librarian from 1917 to 1928 was to help in the planning phase of the new Library Building in Sacramento. Legislation in 1914 had provided for a new building to house the State Library and the Courts in Sacramento. However, World War I and funding problems delayed construction until the early 1920’s. When the building was finished and ready for occupation, Gillis planned the move so no disruption of services would occur when the Library reopened in its new quarters in 1928.In 1930 when Milton J. Ferguson left to become head of the Brooklyn Public Library, Mabel Gillis was appointed State Librarian in 1930 by Governor C. C. Young. As head of the county libraries of California, she instituted an annual conference of California county librarians. Gillis also arranged and held the annual examinations for the special certificate which, by law, all county librarians in California were required to hold. The State Library’s Union Catalog expanded during her term as State Librarian. The catalog included a record of 3 million books held by libraries in California, and increased sharing of rare resources, thus facilitating California libraries’ abilities to cooperate in providing services to Californians. Gillis helped to publicize the Library’s California collection by having newspapers microfilmed for preservation and acquisition by other libraries.

Gillis went on to be re-appointed State Librarian by four different governors. Her total career with the State Library spanned forty-seven years; twenty-one years being spent as State Librarian. The Library’s budget was $36,000 and there were 20 employees when she joined the Library in 1904. When Mabel Gillis retired in 1951, the number of employees had grown to 85 and the operating budget was $378,000.

Mabel R. Gillis died at her home in Sacramento on September 6, 1961, eighteen days short of her seventy-ninth birthday.

Carma Russell (Zimmerman) Leigh*, 1951 – 1972

Carma (Zimmerman) Leigh was appointed California State Librarian by Governor Earl Warren on September12, 1951. She was subsequently reappointed State Librarian by four different governors. She served a total of just under twenty-one years and noses out by several months the time that Mabel Gillis spent as State Librarian. However, Mabel retired with a total of forty-seven years of service with the California State Library.Leigh was born in 1904, near McCloud, Oklahoma. She attended local schools and graduated from the Oklahoma College for Women in 1929. Influenced by her college librarian, she attended the School for Librarianship at the University of California, Berkeley in the fall of 1929 and graduated in June 1930.Her first library job was with the Berkeley Public Library in 1930. In 1932 she was appointed the head of the Watsonville Public Library and held this position until she resigned in 1935. She reentered the workforce to become head of the Orange County Public Library in 1938. Four years later in 1942, she was appointed head of the San Bernardino County Public Library. She was actively recruited in 1945 to become the Washington State Librarian and stayed in this position until 1951.It was Leigh’s experience as Washington State Librarian which led to her recruitment to fill the vacancy created when Mabel Gillis retired. While in Washington, she helped develop county library systems and extend library services statewide. Leigh continued her work on developing cooperative library services in California, an area in which she had been heavily involved in Washington. She envisioned a broader scope of library service that would include cooperation between all types of libraries, not just county libraries. In 1952, she was instrumental in encouraging the California Library Association to adopt uniform standards for library services to Californians. In 1957, the California Public Library commission was created to study how California libraries measured up to the standards listed in 1952. Eventually this effort lead to the passage of the California Public Library Services Act (PLSA) in 1957.

Leigh’s interest in improving library services also had a national scope. She was also active in the national campaign which led to the passage of the Library Services Act (LSA) in 1956 and the improved version, the Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) in 1964. These acts provided federal grants to help improve library services within individual states. The California State Library through its Library Development and Services Bureau was responsible for the distribution and allocation of the resulting federal grants.

Leigh was able to witness the vast improvement in library services that resulted from the programs she worked so hard to establish: the California Public Library Services Act and the Library Services and Construction Act.

Leigh also held national American Library Association committee memberships. She was the second vice president of the American Library Association for 1967 through 1968. The American Association of State Librarians made her its first president in 1957.

She retired in 1972 after a career as California State Librarian that spanned almost twenty-one years. She now lives in San Diego.

* Adapted from articles by Cindy Mediavilla, “Revisiting the Career of Carma Russell(Zimmerman) Leigh, Washington State Librarian, 1945-1951″, ALKI Magazine (December 1997) Volume 13, Number 3, 22-25, and “Carma Leigh,” News Notes of California Libraries, (Spring 1972): 277.

Ethel S. Crockett, 1972 – 1980

Ethel S. Crockett became the nineteenth California State Librarian when she was appointed to the position by Acting Governor Ed Rienecke, on August 14, 1972.Crockett graduated from Vassar College and obtained an M.A. in Librarianship from San Jose State University. She had served as a high school librarian in Redwood City, California and as a children’s librarian at the Corning Memorial Library in New York. Crockett had been with San Jose City College as a General Librarian from 1962 to 1968. In 1968, she became director of library services for the City College of San Francisco and served in this capacity until 1972 when she was appointed as State Librarian.Ethel had been active in professional organizations nationally and at the state level. She participated on the Library Development and Standards Committee of the California Library Association as chairman in 1970. In 1971, the committee drafted The California Library Network: A Master Plan, which was adopted by the California Library Association in December, 1971.During her tenure as State Librarian, Crockett served in 1974–75 as vice-chair of the Council of WICHE (Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education) which was involved in interstate networking and in 1975–76 as president of COSLA (Chief Officers of State Library Agencies).

Library automation developed into a major tool during Crockett’s term as State Librarian. In 1973 CSL began using various online reference databases to assist the reference staff in answering questions. In 1974 the CSL began producing CULP (California Union List of Periodicals) using OCR (optical character recognition) input. The first edition included the holdings of 200 libraries; the third edition in 1977 listed 460 libraries of all kinds.

Also in 1974 the Intersegmental Task Force composed of the State Librarian and librarians of the University of California, and the California State University and Colleges began meeting to discuss intertype networking. Representatives of public, special, private, academic, and community college libraries were added. As a culmination of these meetings, in June 1976, representatives of the publicly funded libraries entered into a joint exercise of powers agreement to establish CLASS (California Library Authority for Systems and Services) to promote resource sharing and provide networking services of all kinds of libraries in California.

In 1977 the State Library began entering some of its cataloging records into the Stanford University BALLOTS (later RLIN) online system. Monthly and annual issues of California State publications were created as a byproduct of this cataloging through the SPIRES system. Crockett also funded a Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) demonstration project to tie together the cataloging of seven public libraries through the state in PLAN (Public Library Automation Network) in the BALLOTS system.

Continuing in the automation arena the State Legislature and governor approved funding to automate CSL’s Books for the Blind and Physically Handicapped circulation and inventory control system serving 8,000 patrons in Northern California.

Services to the blind and disabled benefited greatly while Crockett was State Librarian. In 1974 eleven and one half positions were added to the staff of the Books for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and the whole operation moved into a new, larger off-site facility. In 1978 state funds were authorized to support the Southern California Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped operated by the nonprofit Braille Institute of America in Los Angeles and for toll-free telephone services for the patrons of the two regional libraries.

In 1977 the California Library Services Act (CLSA) was passed replace PLSA, to help public libraries and cooperative public library systems provide coordinated reference services and provide reimbursement for interlibrary loans of materials and over the counter loans to nonresident borrowers. CLSA created the California Library Services Board (CLSB), and as State Librarian, Crockett became its executive officer. The CLSB also became the Advisory Council for the Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) funds that flowed through the State Librarian as grants to local libraries.

Of note, an event of great import took place during Crockett’s tenure, the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 would eventually cause crippling cuts to many public libraries that relied upon local property tax for support.

Following notification by the University of San Francisco that it would not renew Sutro Library’s twenty-year lease that expired in December 1979, Crockett was instructed by the Legislature to seek alternative sources of support for Sutro. San Francisco State University President Paul Romberg offered the possibility of providing a site on the campus. Sutro Library could be located there if other funds were made available for the construction of the Library. This offer ultimately made possible a new home for Sutro Library.
On other building fronts the State Librarian successfully waged the battle to save the original wood frame windows in the Library and Courts Building. This attempt to modernize the library building provided the impetus to move toward placing the building on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

In October 1979 Ethel Crockett announced her intention to retired in August 1980 to allow sufficient time to search for the new State Librarian. She left office in August 1980 at the age of sixty-five. She currently lives in Marin County.

Gary E. Strong*, 1980 – 1994

Gary E. Strong, the twentieth California State Librarian, was appointed by Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. upon the retirement of Ethel Crockett as State Librarian. Strong served almost fourteen years at the pleasure of three different governors until his resignation in 1994.Born in Moscow, Idaho in 1945, Gary Strong attended the University of Idaho and received a Bachelor’s degree in1966. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a Master of Library Science degree in 1967. Strong had worked for the University of Idaho Library from 1963 to 1966 during his under graduate years. His early library career began in 1966 in Idaho with the Latah County Free Library. He returned to Michigan to become the Head Librarian of the Markeley Residence Library at the University of Michigan from 1966 to 1967. In 1967, he was appointed director of the Lake Oswego Public Library in Oregon and remained there until 1973. He continued his career in library management in 1973 with an appointment as director of the Everett Public Library in Washington. He was chosen as associate director for services at Washington State Library in 1976, and he later served as deputy state librarian of Washington from 1979 until 1980.Strong began his term as California State Librarian in August 1980. In 1982, he founded the California State Library Foundation. He edited the California State Library Foundation Bulletin. The Bulletin won the H. W. Wilson Periodical Award.At the end of the 1980’s, California’s economy entered a recessionary period in California that was felt by all levels of library service throughout the state. The California State Library’s budget was reduced and staffing levels dropped during various budget cycles. Strong, however still managed to have the State Library provide services without serious cutbacks. During this time, he established the California Research Bureau to provide non-partisan research on California topics to the Legislature and the Governor’s Office.

The 1980’s also saw the Library outgrow its space. The Braille and Talking Book Library, the Library Services Development Bureau, and the California Research Bureau where all housed in off -site offices. Strong saw the need for another building. In 1990 legislation was enacted to authorize a bond measure to finance the new facility. The bonds were sold and the building was planned and designed when the recession hit California in full force. The recession did not deter Strong’s planning input. Economic conditions caused the construction bids to be lower than anticipated, resulting in the addition of more building features. Strong’s enthusiasm with the planning and actual construction was so fervent that he had his own construction safety helmet. The helmet was needed because he toured the building during each construction phase and documented each phase of the construction with his cameras.

While at the California State Library, Strong also served as the chief executive officer of the California Library Services Board; chairperson of the California Library Construction and Renovation Bond Act Board; member of the California Library Construction and Renovation Bond Act Finance Committee; chairperson of the Governor’s State Literacy Collaborative Council; and member of the Family Impact Seminars Advisory Board.

Gary Strong’s honors during his tenure as State Librarian include the Librarian of the Year award from the California Association of Library Trustees and Commissioners (1994); the John Cotton Dana award from the Library Administration and Management Association (1994); the Advancement of Literacy award from the Public Library Association (1994); and the Exceptional Achievement Award from the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (1992). Strong also served on a number of policy panels, including the White House Conference on Libraries (1992), the Government Technology Conference Advisory Board (1993-1994), for which he received the California Governor’s Award for Exceptional Achievement.

Gary Strong resigned as State Librarian in August 1994 to accept the position of director of the Queens Borough Public Library of New York. He started in his new position in September 1994. The Queens Library has the largest circulating library system in the country and has attained a record circulation level of 16 million items and 15 million library visits in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1998. While at the Queens Library, he has won the 21st Century Librarian Award from Syracuse University, the Charlie Robinson Award from the Public Library Association, and the Humphrey Award from the American Library Association’s International Relations Round Table for his contributions to international librarianship. He served on the New York State Board of Regents Advisory Council for Libraries and the board of directors of the New York Metropolitan Reference and Research Library Agency and was elected vice president of that organization in October 1999. He also served on the International Federation of Library Associations and Institution (IFLA) Committee on Copyright and Other Legal Matters and the board of the section of Services to People with Disabilities. He was co-chief executive officer of the IFLA Boston 2001 NOC and served as the IFLA representative to the United Nations. He is an active member of the International Association of Metropolitan Libraries. He has initiated international cooperation agreements with the National Library of China and the Shanghai Library and created the International Center for Public Librarianship at Queens. He also held the post of adjunct professor at Queens College.

On September 1, 2003, Strong became the seventh university librarian of the University of California at Los Angeles.

Strong has served as a consultant and advisor to the Library of Congress. He is a member of the American Library Association, the California Library Association, the Chinese American Librarians Association, and the Library Administration and Management Association, among other professional organizations and affiliations. He is also a passionate bibliophile and has formed a large collection of fine press books. In addition, he belongs to the Grolier Club of New York and the Zamorano Club of Los Angeles.

Gary E. Strong now resides in Los Angeles. He is married and has two adult children and one grandson.

* Adapted from Gary Strong’s biography on the UCLA Library homepage for Administration and Organization at

Dr. Kevin Starr*, 1994 – 2004

Dr. Kevin Starr became the twenty-first State Librarian upon Gary Strong’s resignation. Governor Pete Wilson appointed Starr State Librarian of California on September 3, 1994 and the California State Senate confirmed him on April 6, 1995. Starr was re-appointed to a four- year term as State Librarian by Governor Gray Davis in January 1999. He is the first California State Librarian to hold a Doctor of Philosophy degree.Kevin Starr was born in San Francisco in 1940. Educated locally, he graduated with a B.A. from the University of San Francisco in 1962. He followed this with two years of service as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, stationed with a tank battalion in West Germany. Starr entered Harvard University after his army duty and obtained an M.A. in 1965 and a PhD in 1969. While at Harvard he was the Allston Burr Senior Tutor in Eliot House from 1970 to 1973. He obtained his Master of Library Science from the University of California, Berkeley in 1974. He continued his studies at the Graduate Theological Union, from 1983 to 1984.His career began with teaching at Harvard University, first as an assistant professor, then later as an associate professor of American Literature from 1969 to 1974. In 1973, he became executive aide to Joseph Eliot, the mayor of San Francisco. He was appointed City Librarian of San Francisco and served in this capacity from 1973 to 1976.Dr. Starr’s teaching career resumed following his departure from the San Francisco Public Library. He has taught continually at the university and college level since 1974. He taught political science as a visiting lecturer and Regent’s Lecturer at two University of California campuses, Berkeley and Riverside, from 1976 and 1977. He was a lecturer on Librarianship at Berkeley in 1978. He held a position as a professor of Communication Arts at the University of San Francisco from 1981 to 1989. In 1989, he became a professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Southern California. The University of Southern California bestowed on him in 1998, the title of University Professor. He continues in this professorship.

Dr. Starr has been involved in journalism as a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner from 1977 to 1983. He continues in the field of journalism since 1994 as a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.

Starr brought to the office of State librarian a unique combination of library science, literature, journalism, and history. He is a renowned author of California history books. His first book, Americans and the California Dream, 1850-1915, was published in 1973. To date he has authored nine major works and has more planned. He has also contributed chapters, forewords and introductions to dozens of books. His writing has received such honors as a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Gold Medal of the Commonwealth club of California, and the Carey McWilliams Award from the California Studies Association.

Known as a dynamic speaker, Starr maintains a full schedule of speaking events where he represents the California State Library and its programs. Since Dr. Starr became State Librarian, an improved California economy allowed for expansion of the Library’s various programs. He has facilitated the creation of the Library of California of which he is the Chief Executive Officer along with the California Library Services Board. In addition, he served as Chair of the California Sesquicentennial Commission, implemented the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, and was instrumental in establishing the California Cultural and Historical Endowment. Upon his retirement from the State Library on April 1, 2004, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him State Librarian Emeritus. In November 2006 he received a National Humanities Medal from the President of the United States.

* Adapted from material on the California State Library homepage at and from material at

Susan Hildreth*, 2004 – 2009

State Librarian of California Susan Hildreth, who Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed in July 2004, has a distinguished career as a leader in public libraries.As State Librarian, Hildreth managed an annual budget of over $88 million in state and federal funds. She oversaw the California State Library as it supported California libraries and cultural institutions in providing for the continued growth of the intellectual, technological, cultural and social literacy of California’s diverse populations.Previously, Hildreth was the City Librarian of San Francisco and Deputy City Librarian. While leading the San Francisco Public Library, Hildreth managed an annual operating budget of over $58 million and oversaw San Francisco Public’s $130 million capital improvement program. Prior to her tenure in San Francisco, Hildreth was the planning consultant for the Library Development Services Bureau of the California State Library, the Deputy Director for Support Services for the Sacramento Public Library, the County Librarian for the Auburn-Placer County Library, and the Library Director for the Benicia Public Library. She also worked at the Yolo County Library and began her career at the Edison Township Library in New Jersey.Hildreth graduated cum laude from Syracuse University and holds a Master’s degree in Library Science from the State University of New York at Albany as well as a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Rutgers University.Hildreth resigned in February 2009 to become City Librarian of Seattle Public Library.

* Adapted from California State Library homepage at

Stacey A. Aldrich, 2009–2012

Stacey Aldrich was sworn in as State Librarian of California on November 19, 2009. Surrounded by an overflow crowd of friends, family, and colleagues, she took the oath of office in the newly dedicated J.S. Holliday Rare Book Room of the California State Library.Stacey was appointed to the post by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who stated in a press release that “Stacey is truly an expert in the field and California is lucky to have her as the State Librarian.” She had been Acting State Librarian since February 2009, and served as Deputy State Librarian from August 2007 forward. As Acting State Librarian, Stacey ably directed a staff of 155, oversaw a budget of $80 million, and worked with state and local officials on multiple projects, bonds, and initiatives of the State Library. She was instrumental this year in securing California’s participation in Opportunity Online, a major broadband initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that will significantly improve and sustain public access to the Internet through California’s public libraries.Stacey is an impassioned futurist who serves on the Board of Directors of the Association of Professional Futurists. In presentations and workshops here and abroad, she challenges librarians to actively shape the future of libraries by examining trends and technologies, building scenarios for possible future outcomes, then developing strategies to deal with those futures. Named one of Library Journal’s Movers & Shakers in 2003, Stacey is recognized as a national leader who’s shaping the future of the library profession.Before joining the State Library, Stacey served as Assistant Director of the Omaha Public Library from 2005 to 2007; held two positions with the Maryland Department of Education–Branch Chief of Public Libraries and State Networking from 2000 to 2005, and Public Library consultant from 1996 to 1999; and served as Senior Associate at Coates & Jarratt, Inc., a futuring think-tank, in 2000. She was Information Technology Librarian for Hood College Library in Frederick, Maryland, from 1992 to 1996. Stacey earned a Master of Arts in library science and a Bachelor of Arts in Russian language and literature from the University of Pittsburg. She belongs to the American Librarian Association, Public Librarian Association, California Library Association, and Beta Phi.

State Librarian of California Stacey Aldrich resigned in October 2012 to accept the position of deputy secretary for the Office of Commonwealth Libraries of Pennsylvania. Aldrich assumed her new responsibilities in Harrisburg in early November. In many respects, this move to the Keystone State represents a homecoming. She attended the University of Pittsburgh for her Master of Arts and Bachelor of Arts degrees and her parents live in Pennsylvania.

Gerald Maginnity, 2012–2014

Prior to the departure of Stacey Aldrich, Maginnity had been chief of the Library Development Services Bureau of the State Library. He joined the State Library in November 2005 with broad experience in a variety of public libraries and cooperative library systems and became the bureau chief in May 2008. Previous work experience in California included coordinator of the Sacramento-based Mountain Valley Library System, associate county librarian in Fresno, and Vallejo branch head for Solano County Library. In addition, he has worked for the Serra Cooperative Library System in Imperial and San Diego Counties and the Lassen County Library. Prior to coming to the Golden State, Maginnity worked for libraries in Canada and Mexico, including the Main Library of the Instituto Tecnológico in Monterrey, Mexico. He received his Master’s Degree from the School of Library and Information Science, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.Maginnity presided over important and pivotal transitions during his term as Acting State Librarian in an era of increasingly strict budget cuts and physical upheaval. He successfully secured ten million dollars in federal funding federal funding for local assistance programs used to help libraries throughout the state, and oversaw the massive renovation of the Stanley Mosk Library and Courts Building, an endeavor which displaced library holdings to a warehouse in West Sacramento. He is credited with ensuring the process run a seamlessly as possible for patrons. Public services were operated out of the Braille and Talking Book Library and the California History Room located in the annex on 9th and N Streets. He was also heavily involved in planning the new home of the Sutro Library Branch in San Francisco.  

Greg Lucas 2014 – Present

Mr. Lucas, appointed by Governor Jerry Brown in March 2014, was a senior editor for Capitol Weekly and has written and edited California’s Capitol, a website he created in 2007 that focused on California history and politics. He was Sacramento bureau chief and a Capitol reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle from 1988 to 2007 and covered the Capitol for the Los Angeles Daily Journal from 1985 to 1988. Lucas has been a board member at the Friends of the California State Archives since 2012. He earned a Master of Arts degree in professional writing from the University of Southern California. As State Librarian Lucas plans to focus on advancing public library literacy projects, as well as securing funding for existing and future State Library programs.


  1. The above information was adapted from an article entitled “California’s Ex-Officio State Librarians, 1850-1861” written by Peter T. Conmy that appeared in News Notes of California Libraries, Volume 69, no. 2-3-4, 1974.

The Historic Library & Courts Building

An Exhibition of Historical Photographs and Contemporary Images by Cathy Kelly


The Library & Courts Building located at 914 Capitol Mall is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful buildings in State Government. Its entrance lobby is unsurpassed and the building features three murals and a variety of attractive decorative features. On May 24, 1984, the Library & Courts Building was named to the National Register of Historic Places. Restoration is now underway of the fifth floor meeting room and its magnificent rotunda.

The Library & Courts Building opened in 1928 as part of the Capitol Extension Group. It faces a twin structure, Office Building Number 1 (now called the Unruh Building). Designed by the prestigious San Francisco firm of Weeks & Day, both neo-classical structures are located across the street from the State Capitol. A circular drive with a fountain in the middle provides a graceful division between the two office buildings. The five-story exteriors are clad in Sierra white granite quarried by the McGilvrary-Raymond Granite Company in Madera County and granitex architectural terra cotta manufactured by Gladding, McBean and Company of Lincoln, Placer County.

The Foundation commissioned noted architectural photographer Cathy Kelly in 1988 and 2001 to photograph this magnificent edifice. Her photographs are supplemented by historic photographs from the Library’s California History Section.

For further information on the history of this fabulous building see: California State Library Bulletin, Issue Number 69 (Fall 2000 / Winter 2001). Copies of the Bulletin may be obtained purchased from the Foundation for $7.50 on the Bulletins page.

Exterior Views

Library & Courts Building Exterior

Library & Courts Building, north facade. 2001. Photograph by Cathy Kelly©

Library & Courts Building Exterior
Aerial photograph of the State Capitol and Capitol Extension Group. The building on the right is Office Building No. 1 or the Jesse Unruh Building, and on the left is the Library & Courts Building. Photograph was taken shortly after the completion of the twin buildings in 1928.
Library & Courts Building Exterior

Library & Courts Building, Cornerstone Laying Ceremony, March 26, 1924.

Library & Courts Building Exterior

State Capitol with Library & Courts Building under construction. Looking south, southwest. McCurry photograph.

Library & Courts Building Exterior

Library & Courts Building, 1926 depicting the east and north facades.

Library & Courts Building Exterior

Library & Courts Building and circle, circa 1930. This view of the north facade was taken shortly after the completion of the landscaping.

Library & Courts Building Exterior

The north facade features a granite pediment group created by New York sculptor Edward Field Sanford, Jr. Composed of seventeen figures and entitled “California’s Gift to the World,” it was the largest pediment in the country at the time of installation.

Library & Courts Building Exterior

The sculptor Edward Field Sanford, Jr. inspects the work on his pediment. In this photograph, the artist is inspecting the work of the craftsmen who carried out his design. The central figure, standing a full twelve feet, represents the fully developed California with a sword of justice in one hand and the owl of wisdom in the other.

Interior Views

First Floor

First floor Library & Courts Building

Memorial Entrance Vestibule. The Lobby is dedicated to California veterans who died in World War I. The most dominating feature of the room is the sixteen black Italian marble pillars. The pillars serve no function other than decoration. Photograph by Cathy Kelly©

First floor Library & Courts Building

Detail of one the decorative urns surmounting the marble pillars. Photograph by Cathy Kelly©

First floor Library & Courts Building

Detail of bronze torch light standards in the Memorial Vestibule. Photograph by Cathy Kelly©

First floor Library & Courts Building

Frank Van Sloan murals. The famed San Francisco artist received a contract from the State of California to paint a series of twelve mural panels illustrating the history of warfare from neolithic times to World War I. He completed the murals in April 1929. Photograph by Cathy Kelly©

First floor Library & Courts Building

Detail of Frank Van Sloan murals. Photograph by Cathy Kelly©

First floor Library & Courts Building

Grand staircase. Photograph by Ross Steiner©

First floor Library & Courts Building

Courtroom. Recognized as one most beautiful courtrooms in the country, it is used by the Third District Court of Appeal, and for six days a year, the California Supreme Court. Photograph by Cathy Kelly©

Second Floor

Second floor Library & Courts Building

State Librarian’s Office. The office features important California landscape and portrait paintings. Recently, the Library’s Foundation acquired from Marcia and Robin Williams the Maynard Dixon painting called “Allegory.” It is shown above the roll top desk. Photograph by Cathy Kelly©

Second floor Library & Courts Building
Second floor Library & Courts Building

The Anoakia Murals by Maynard Dixon. Located on the second floor corridor, these murals were originally commissioned by Anita Baldwin McClaughry for her mansion in Arcadia, California. The McCaslin family, the owners of the mansion, donated the murals to the Library in 1997. These murals, Dixon believed, dated the start of his true creative life. A bronze statue of Dixon by Gary Smith was purchased through Foundation funds stands in a niche between the paintings. Photograph by Cathy Kelly©

Second floor Library & Courts Building
Second floor Library & Courts Building

Ceiling details. The ceilings of the public floors are painted with figures from mythology including this portrait of Medusa. Photograph by Cathy Kelly©

Third Floor

Third floor Library & Courts Building

Gillis Hall, 1929. Named in honor of State Librarian James L. Gillis, this stately room serves as the main reference center for the Library.

Third floor Library & Courts Building

A Pageant of Tradition. Created by Maynard Dixon in 1928, this immense mural in Gillis Hall measures fourteen feet high by sixty-nine feet in length. For this mural, Dixon selected California’s historical progress and pioneering ambition as his theme. It was Dixon’s largest mural. Photograph by Cathy Kelly©

Third floor Library & Courts Building

Maynard Dixon at work on the mural. Dixon worked from a scaffold. For three and a half months, Dixon labored daily in Gillis Hall finally completing the mural in November 1928.

Third floor Library & Courts Building

Circulation and Catalog Room, 1929. The room is graced by a highly ornamented ceiling, terrazzo floor, and bronze chandelier.

Third floor Library & Courts Building

Bronze entrance gate to the Circulation and Catalog Room, 1929.

Third floor Library & Courts Building
Third floor Library & Courts Building

Two elevated bronze statues by Edward Field Sanford, Jr. flank both sides of the Circulation and Catalog Room. The female figure is called Inspiration and the male figure Wisdom. Photographs by Cathy Kelly©

Library & Courts II Building

The Library & Courts II Building was created as an annex for both the Library and the Third District Court of Appeal. Outgoing State Librarian Gary E. Strong and incoming State Librarian Dr. Kevin Starr dedicated the building in October 1994. It houses the Braille and Talking Book Library, California History Section and Special Collections, Preservation Office, Information Technology Bureau, California Research Bureau, Technical Services Branch, and Library Development Services. The Court of Appeal occupies the fourth floor.

The Library & Courts II Building
The Library & Courts II Building
The Library & Courts II Building

View of east facade from Fragrance Garden. Photograph by Cathy Kelly©

Historial California Posters

The California History Section of the State Library preserves and makes available an immense collection of California-related posters covering a wide variety of subject matter and dates. The following reproductions represent a sampling of the best examples from the collection. Permission to reproduce must be obtained directly from the California History Section, P.O. Box 942837, Sacramento, CA 94237-0001. 916-654-0176.

Email to:

California State Fair

National Orange Show

Other Fairs & Events

Southern Pacific

Exhibit Archives

Yosemite exhibit in the Annex

Gary Kurutz is curating an exhibit celebrating the sesquicentennial of the Yosemite Grant, when President Lincoln signed an act of Congress turning over Yosemite Valley to the State of California. It was the first time in history that a large tract of land was set aside for public recreation and enjoyment. The first floor lobby features spectacular images of the valley. The exhibit continues on the second floor with a visual journey through time, as Yosemite becomes a tourist destination and national park. Library preservationist Dan Flanagan installed the exhibit with the help of Vincent Beiderbecke, Matt Bartok and Kira Healey. Pictured is a chromolithograph based on a painting by Albert Bierstadt, ca. 1872.

Asian Art exhibit at the Sutro Library

Adolph Sutro’s collection of Asian art is on exhibit at the Sutro Library through June. On view are beautiful examples of Chinese trade painting books, created as souvenirs for westerners in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as some truly unique and rare Japanese block prints known as ukiyo-e or “images of the floating world.” [The Foundation would like to thank Kim Brown, Communications Officer at the California State Library, for providing text for this post.]



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