County Library System All Began With ‘Little Women’

The Los Angeles City Library was founded in 1872 when Myer J. Newmark, William Workman, Samuel Foy and others opened a reading room of donated books and periodicals at Los Angeles and Arcadia streets, where the 101 Freeway meets Pueblo de Los Angeles park Downtown.

Operators established an entrance fee of $5 and monthly dues of $1, but the enterprise was short-lived.

Later that year, more than 200 city leaders met at the Merced Theater on Main Street and founded the Los Angeles Library Assn. The organization’s first library was set up in four small dark rooms over a saloon, where the Federal Building stands at Los Angeles and Temple streets. The association was given three months’ free rent.

Account books show the librarian spent 25 cents for ice to put in the tin water cooler and chess tables were part of the equipment.


According to the city’s first librarian, Mary E. Foy, the downstairs bar customers often walked up to settle their bets. “Which Webster wrote the dictionary?” asked one wavering saloon customer. “Daniel or Noah?”

The county library system was established in 1912. The first branch was opened in Willowbrook in the home of Belle B. Jenks, who served as the branch’s librarian until she retired in 1945.

The first act of the county district’s librarian, Celia Gleason, was to open an office consisting of one typewriter and one desk on the then-unfurnished 10th floor of the Hall of Records. She ordered the first book for the new library system, “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott.